The work that is sleeping

I can’t believe I’ve only read about this today!

Studies published in 2013 revealed that our brain actually – and I mean literally – cleanses itself of toxins while we sleep. Well, with a bit of help from the cerebral spinal fluid, which flows through the brain far more actively when we’re asleep or under anaesthesia, and carries away toxins built up during waking hours.

When you think about it, it makes sense that the brain needs a process like this. After all, when you exercise hard, after a while your muscles become fatigued, right? One reason for that is that toxic byproducts of your muscle cells’ exertions are building up faster than the lymphatic system can drain them away.

Apparently a similar system – dubbed the glymphatic system – does a similar thing in mammalian brains, increasing the flow of cerebrospinal fluid up and through the brain along defined channels. Awesome!

It’s hypothesized that prolonged lack of sleep may lead to an accumulation of toxic byproducts in the brain, which might lead to earlier onset of Alzheimer’s and other neurological problems.

So: we all knew it, but now it’s clearer than ever! Sleep is important, and our body is working hard to clean our brain for us.

As Danish biologist Maiken Nedergaard said, “Sleep is such a dangerous thing to do, when you’re out in the wild, that it has to have a basic evolutionary function. Otherwise it would have been eliminated.”

I may put a bit more effort into my brain’s housework this evening, simply to celebrate this new knowledge – if you know what I mean!

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