Sleep is universal, tightly regulated, and its loss impairs cognition. But why does the brain need to disconnect from the environment for hours every day? The synaptic homeostasis hypothesis (SHY) proposes that sleep is the price the brain pays for plasticity. During a waking episode, learning statistical regularities about the current environment requires strengthening connections throughout the brain. This increases cellular needs for energy and supplies, decreases signal-to-noise ratios, and saturates learning. During sleep, spontaneous activity renormalizes net synaptic strength and restores cellular homeostasis. Activity-dependent down-selection of synapses can also explain the benefits of sleep on memory acquisition, consolidation, and integration. This happens through the offline, comprehensive sampling of statistical regularities incorporated in neuronal circuits over a lifetime. This Perspective considers the rationale and evidence for SHY and points to open issues related to sleep and plasticity.
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