Sleep Cleans Your Brain

Shut-eye Good for Neural Maintenance

During sleep, your "glymphatic system," or brain-cleaning system, kicks into high gear–sweeping away all "by-products of neural activity" that clog the brain, says author of study Maiken Nedergaard.     Photo: RelaxingMusic/Flickr

Getting enough sleep ensures a clean brain and a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease, researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center told NPR.

The study, conducted on mice, reveals that the system in charge of washing toxicities from the brain ramps up during sleep. In mice, the brain also contracts, making room for a fluid to flush out the spaces between neurons and drain plaque-like proteins into the bloodstream.

"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," says Maiken Nedergaard, professor of neurosurgery at the University of Rochester and author of the study published in Science.

This explains why we can have trouble thinking after a sleepless night; neural maintenance appears most effective while we snooze.

The results also offer scientists a place to start in the development of controlled sleep as treatment for those at risk of Alzheimer's. Nedergaard notes: "Isn't it interesting that Alzheimer's and all other diseases associated with dementia—they are linked to sleep disorders?"

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