Another Great Reason to Get Enough Sleep

The glymphatic system in the brain.  Image credit: University of Rochester Medical Center

The glymphatic system in the brain. Image credit: University of Rochester Medical Center

Today is Friday, November 1, 2013.

“While we are asleep, our bodies may be resting, but our brains are busy taking out the trash.” – Meeri Kim, The Washington Post

A recent study involving the brains of mice has shown that the glymphatic system in the brain functions to flush toxins from the our brains while we sleep.  The cells in the brain actually shrink a bit during sleep so that cerebrospinal fluid can flow around them, allowing the fluid to wash the area clean of waste proteins that are toxic to brain cells.

This may be why our brains seem to work best after a good night’s sleep, and why our brains don’t function as well when we don’t get enough sleep.  Interestingly enough, Alzheimer’s and all other diseases associated with dementia are linked to sleep disorders.  If we could understand more about the mechanics of how the glymphatic system works, we might be able to figure out a way to reverse Alzheimer’s, or at least prevent it.  Other diseases, such as Parkinson’s, are also associated with a backup of too much cell waste in the brain.

Why can’t the brain clean itself out during the day?  Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, a professor of neurosurgery at the University of Rochester and an author of the study in Science magazine, says that it takes a lot of energy to perform the cleaning.  “It’s probably not possible for the brain to both clean itself and at the same time [be] aware of the surroundings and talk and move and so on,” she says.

So far, this system has been observed in mice, rats and baboons, but not yet in humans.  I have no idea how they will ascertain this for human beings, but I hope that they will one day do so, and that their new understanding will provide relief for those with neurodegenerative diseases.  In the meantime, this is another excellent reason to get enough sleep!  🙂

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