How Much Electricity Does the Brain Use?

This article will answer the question of how much electricity the brain uses. It will also cover in-depth information on the human brain and its various functions. The article also answers some frequently asked questions about the brain in the end.

How Much Electricity Does the Brain Use?

The brain works with 20 watts. The human brain generates around 23 watts of power, which is enough to power a lightbulb (Attwell & Iadecola, 2002).

This power calls for the need for rest. Good sleep helps in maintaining the pathways in the brain. Sleep deprivation can increase the accumulation of a protein in the brain which is linked with Alzheimer’s disease.

The brain consists of brain cells called neurons that are responsible for processing and transmitting information in the brain, and from the body to the brain and vice versa. In order to communicate with each other, neurons in the brain use electrical as well as chemicals known as ions. Ions are electrically charged particles that enable neurons to communicate with each other. 

Neurons are thus said to have electrochemical signs consisting of both electrical and chemical charges. These charges change on the basis of whether the neuron is on rest or is active. When the neuron is active, it is either sending a message or receiving it (Furber, 2012). 

Neurons consist of fluids inside them that contain ions. These ions either have a positive or a negative charge. When at rest, the neuron consists of more negative ions on the inside and positive ions on the outside. This gives its membrane a negative charge. Whenever there is a signal of brain activity, positive ions rush through the channels into the neuronal membrane. When the charge is strong enough, it starts sending signals to nearby neurons to communicate with them. 

Electrical brain stimulation is increasingly being considered a safe and effective way to alter the activities in the brain without having to go through brain surgeries. What are the reasons why people may want to alter their brain activity? 

  • People suffering from mental disorders such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and anxiety can resolve their problematic brain activity with the help of stimulation therapy.
  • People who may have altered brain patterns as a result of injury or brain damage can also benefit from stimulation activity as it helps in changing brain activity. 
  • Even people with healthy brain functioning can benefit from stimulation therapy as it also helps in improving emotion regulation, learning, problem-solving, attention, decision-making, and memory abilities.

Stimulation therapy is done by attaching stimulating machines and activating electricity that travels through the skulls that affect electrical signals that are in charge of brain activity. 

The main source of energy for the brain comes from glucose. The brain requires more and more energy as its size and complexity increase. The brain is the most hungry organ in the human body in terms of consuming energy. 

This also makes the brain vulnerable. If the brain’s energy supply falls short, for even about 10 minutes, it can lead to permanent damage. No other organ in the human body is as sensitive as the brain when it comes to energy supply issues. 

When we work too much or think too hard, a common reaction to it is temporary mental exhaustion. It is a common phenomenon and should be distinguished from chronic mental fatigue that could result from mental illnesses or severe sleep deprivation. 

Everyday mental exhaustion can be understood and it also makes sense in intuition. Just as when we exercise too much, we experience physical fatigue, mental exertion can cause the brain to get tired.

However, recent studies have shown that this idea of regular weariness is too simplified and trivialized. This is because whether we are trying to solve a difficult math problem or just scrolling through Instagram, the brain burns huge amounts of energy irrespective of the task. In fact, it uses way too much energy when compared to its size.

When neurons fire, they summon extra blood, oxygen, and glucose. Hence, any increase in the local energy levels is considered to be tiny when compared with the brain’s usual consumption. Hence, when the mental effort is exerted for a short period of time, we only require a little more brain power than usual. 

But, we cannot draw any permanent or generalised conclusions as there haven’t been studies where participants in the laboratory have been exposed to long hours of mentally challenging tasks. Thus, there must be some underlying explanation for the feeling of mental fatigue and believing that the brain expending a lot of effort is the explanation for it is too simplistic (Rock, 2010).

Information About the Human Brain

The brain is comprised of well-specialised areas which work together in unison:

  • The cortex is in charge of thinking and voluntary movements and is situated in the outermost layer of the brain.
  • The brainstem is situated between the spinal cord and the brain. It is responsible for the functions of breathing and sleep.
  • The basal ganglia situated in the centre of the brain is responsible for the coordination of messages between several parts of the brain.
  • The cerebellum is situated at the base and the back of the brain and is in charge of coordination and balance (Strick et al., 2009). 

The brain is further divided into four lobes (Casillo et al., 2020):

The Frontal Lobe

The frontal lobe is in charge of problem-solving, judgment, decision-making, and motor functions (Stuss & Alexander, 2000).

The Parietal Lobes

The parietal lobes handle sensation, handwriting, as well as the position of the body.

The Temporal Lobes

The temporal lobes are responsible for memory and hearing.

The Occipital Lobes

The occipital lobes include the visual processing system of the brain.

The brain’s memory storage capacity is assumed to be virtually unlimited. The brain contains about 86 billion neurons, which form connections with each other. This adds up to one quadrillion connections or 1,000 trillion connections. These neurons, over time, combine and further increase the storage capacity.

It is important to note that in Alzheimer’s disease, a lot of neurons can get damaged and stop working, resulting in affecting memory.

Brain information can travel up to 268 miles per hour. Neurons, when stimulated, generate electrical impulses which can travel from cell to cell and transmit information. When this process is disrupted, it can cause seizures or epilepsy.

Conclusion

This article answered the question of how much electricity the brain uses. It also covered in-depth information on the human brain and its various functions. The article also answers some frequently asked questions about the brain below.

Frequently Asked Questions: How Much Electricity Does the Brain Use?

What are brains made up of?

Soft tissue, including the grey matter, white matter, nerve cells, and non-neuronal cells make up the brain. The brain also includes small blood vessels. Brains also have high water content and nearly 60% of fat.

Which animal has the biggest brain?

Sperm whales have the biggest brain, which weighs about 8 kgs or 18 lb.

Which animal has the smallest brain?

Ragworm has the smallest brain ever, and it is a cousin of the earthworm. Interestingly though, ragworms have a similar amount of neurons as human brains, even though the width of their brain is equivalent to human hair.

Is there any animal that does not have a brain?

Mostly all animals have a brain except one organism which has no brain or even nervous tissue of any sort. The name of this animal is the sponge. They are simple animals and they survive on the sea floor, intaking any nutrients available into their porous body.

References:

Attwell, D., & Iadecola, C. (2002). The neural basis of functional brain imaging signals. Trends in neurosciences, 25(12), 621-625.

Casillo, S. M., Luy, D. D., & Goldschmidt, E. (2020). A History of the Lobes of the Brain. World Neurosurgery, 134, 353-360.

Furber, S. (2012). To build a brain. IEEE spectrum, 49(8), 44-49.

Rock, D. (2010). Your brain at work: Strategies for overcoming distraction, regaining focus, and working smarter all day long. Journal of Behavioral Optometry, 21(5), 130.

Stuss, D. T., & Alexander, M. P. (2000). Executive functions and the frontal lobes: a conceptual view. Psychological research, 63(3), 289-298.

Strick, P. L., Dum, R. P., & Fiez, J. A. (2009). Cerebellum and nonmotor function. Annual review of neuroscience, 32(1), 413-434.

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