Post by Kyle St. Romain.
Last week we discussed how sleeping on a problem can boost your creative problem solving abilities — specifically, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. While I was researching that article, I came across another interesting study that I want to share with you.
The study up for discussion today is titled, Sleep Drives Metabolite Clearance from the Adult Brain. In a nutshell, the study found that your body rids the brain of toxic metabolic waste while you sleep. Yes, your brain needs to be cleaned with some regularity — like every day.
When we sleep, the brain cells shrink to facilitate the circulation of a special type of brain fluid that actually washes away the gunk and grime that accumulates between brain cells throughout the day. When we don’t get enough sleep (read: the body doesn’t have a chance to clean the brain) brain function is impaired and neural pathways are destroyed. The process is likened to “a dishwasher…. pumping fluid into the brain and removing fluid from the brain in a very rapid pace” according to Dr. Maiken Nedergaard who coauthored the study.
In addition to the temporary cognitive impairment (the brain fog you experience after a restless night), a prolonged lack of sleep is also thought to be a contributing factor to a number of permanent neurodegenerative problems, including Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, the authors of the study speculate that we may even be able to control sleep in a way that helps prevent Alzheimer’s and other diseases associated with dementia. The varying rates that our brains accumulate waste may also be one of the reasons why some people need more sleep than others to feel rested. In other words, our bodies tells us when it’s time to take out the trash, and how long it’s going to need; a message that shouldn’t be ignored.
However, lack of sleep alone does not paint the entire picture. Another related study believes that some people may have a faulty glymphatic system (the brain’s equivalent of a lymphatic system). And if your body doesn’t have the proper facilities to remove waste from the brain, all the sleep in the world won’t help.
So, until these doctors and scientists figure out how to diagnose/treat a faulty glymph system, your best bet to maintaining a healthy brain is to be sure you’re getting enough sleep!