It feels so good when we’ve had a good night’s sleep. It helps us feel refreshed, energetic and ready to face the day with a clear mind. On the other hand, when we haven’t gotten a good night’s rest, (nearly 80% of the population) it leaves us exhausted, foggy headed and causes problems with focus and concentration. That’s not to mention the long-term consequences of insomnia such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, anxiety and depression.
Besides processing memories and forming new neuronal connections, sleep may play a more critical role in the maintenance of our brain’s physiology. What does that mean?
As you sleep, your brain is very active primarily cleaning up toxins from the day before. It flushes out dangerous proteins and even certain molecules such as beta-amyloid which build up in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
Investigators from New York developed a technique for measuring the interstitial space (the fluid filled area between tissue cells) in the brains of living mice. The space is bathed with cerebralspinal fluid. The investigators found that when the mice slept, or were under anesthesia, this interstitial space actually expanded by 60%. The result is that the fluid removed the cells’ wastes more rapidly so it can enter the bloodstream and be detoxified by the liver. In the awake brain, the cerebral spinal fluid would only flow 5% of what was seen during sleep.
Similar work for humans may hopefully be in the future. Since a significant amount of the population is sleep deprived, that means their housekeeping systems in the brain are broken down. This can disturb the brains normal metabolism and cause significant cognitive dysfunction. Being chronically sleep deprived can lead to premature aging, heightened vulnerability to other insults, and irreparable damage to the brain. As mentioned before, this can lead to extreme cases in the form of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s.
Using sleep aids may not be as effective as natural sleep in sweeping away yesterdays toxins, although more studies need to be done. As these toxins accumulate, it can lead to further disruption of sleep, more difficulty recovering and further mental fogginess.
If you are struggling from lack of sleep, talk to your practitioner to find out why and seek proper treatment. Sleep is an important part of your health that not only effects the quality of your days, but protects you from neurological damage down the road.