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Study: Sleep May Clear Brain of Toxins

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A good night’s sleep may flush from the brain the harmful toxic proteins that play a role in disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. At least that is what a group of researchers led by Dr. Maiken Nedergaard from the University of Rochester Medical Center suggests in a study in the journal Science.

“Their findings build on last year’s discovery of the brain’s own network of plumbing pipes—known as the glymphatic system—which carry waste material out of the brain.

“Scientists, who imaged the brains of mice, showed that the glymphatic system became 10-times more active when the mice were asleep.

“Cells in the brain…shrink during sleep. This increases the size of the interstitial space, the gaps between brain tissue, allowing more fluid to be pumped in and wash the toxins away,” BBC reported.

Scientists agree that sleep is essential. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), “Sleep appears necessary for our nervous systems to work properly. Too little sleep leaves us drowsy and unable to concentrate the next day. It also leads to impaired memory and physical performance and reduced ability to carry out math calculations…Some experts believe sleep gives neurons used while we are awake a chance to shut down and repair themselves. Without sleep, neurons may become so depleted in energy or so polluted with byproducts of normal cellular activities that they begin to malfunction…”

The study reinforces “what Charles Czeisler, a sleep researcher at Harvard Medical School in Boston, calls the ‘first direct experimental evidence at the molecular level’ for what could be sleep’s basic purpose: It clears the brain of toxic metabolic byproducts” Science reported.

A lack of sufficient sleep “…can add to a person’s impairment and cause confusion, frustration, or depression,” according to NINDS.

“Many neurological diseases—from Alzheimer’s disease to stroke and dementia—are associated with sleep disturbances, Nedergaard notes. The study suggests that lack of sleep could have a causal role, by allowing the byproducts to build up and cause brain damage. ‘This could open a lot of debate for shift workers, who work during the nighttime,’ Nedergaard predicts. ‘You probably develop damage if you don’t get your sleep’” (Science).


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