A new study shows our brain cleanses itself of toxins while we sleep. Maiken Nedergaard, a University of Rochester Neurosurgeon, has found the cleanup system in our brain responsible for getting rid of toxic waste products our cells produce on a daily basis goes into overdrive during those nightly rest hours. Nedergaard used mice for the study and even found that their cells shrink to make the cleanup process easier.
“Sleep puts the brain in another state where we clean out all the byproducts of activity during the daytime,” said Needergard in an interview with the Washington Post. One of those byproducts include beta-amyloid protein. This particular protein forms clumps of plaque found in Alzheimer’s patients.
Pulling an all-nighter as most college students do prevents the brain from removing these toxins. Last year Nedergaard and her colleagues found a network that drains waste from the brain which they call the glymphatic system. What the system does is flush out any brain waste into our bloodstream. The waste then gets carried to the liver for detoxification. Not sleeping greatly hinders this process and is the reason why little sleep results in mental fog, crankiness, and increased risks of migraine and seizure. Rats who become deprived of sleep die within weeks.
Dr. Nedergaard’s research has also found that sleep plays a vital role in memory formation by mentally going through daily events and stamping the most important memories into the brain. While sleep is important in that respect, the doctor says sleeping too much is excessive.
NYU’s cell bilogogist and Alzheimer’s specialst Ralph A. Nixon says these findings could be extremely helpful with Alzheimer’s research. The overproduction of beta-amyloid, and lack of cleaning it out by not sleeping could be linked to the development of the disease. Other neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s or chronic traumatic encephalopathy can also be attributed to too much waste in the brain.
Nedergaard’s next step is to develop a drug which mimic’s the effect of the sleep cycle to force a brain cleanup.