Clear Your Head – Literally! – With a Good Night’s Sleep

October 29, 2013

Recent research conducted by the University of Rochester provides breakthrough insight into the benefits of sleep and its power to ward off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  Scientists have often wondered why humans sleep.  Some theorized that it was to conserve energy, but studies showed that the brain consumes nearly as much energy when we sleep as when we are awake.

The study performed in Rochester suggests that a key role of sleep is to let the brain cleanse itself of waste proteins that accumulate within it.  The implications for understanding and treating conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s are huge.  In this age of dementia awareness, it’s comforting to learn that getting a good night’s sleep might be one of the best things we can do to reduce our risk of this disease!

Everyday our brain cells produce waste products.  Every night when we sleep, the brain flushes itself of waste.  In studies conducted in mice, the researchers observed that brain cells shrink in size, allowing for the waste products to be more easily carried away.  In the case of mice, the passages between the cells increased by as much as 60 percent, making it easier for the brain to do this self-maintenance.

The researchers named the system in the brain that conducts this cleansing process the glymphatic system.  During sleep the glymphatic system works when cerebrospinal fluid circulates through brain cells and carries the waste products to the liver where the toxins can be removed.

Similar systems have been observed in the brains of other animals, such as dogs and baboons.  Scientists assume that the human brain has a similar system, and additional research will focus on observing the glymphatic system in humans.



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