Sleep Deep Cleans Your Brain

deep cleansBeep, beep, beep, beep! Snooze……Beep, beep, beep, beep!

You open your eyes, roll out of bed and start wondering why you stayed up so late to watch another episode of your favorite TV series, play another video or computer game, or catch up with your friends, etc. We have busy and full lives, which results in less and more disrupted sleep; this is especially the case for women. The National Sleep Foundation suggested that we are sleeping 20% less than we did a century ago and that 76% of Americans want to improve the quantity and quality of their sleep. Besides not wanting to feel as tired, why is sleep important?

An interesting opinion article in The New York Times discussed sleep research conducted by biologist Maiken Nedgergaard, M.D., D.M.Sc (see link to article below). Dr. Nedgergaard hoped to better understand the function of sleep since we have evolved to sleep despite it not appearing to be productive (i.e., it can’t be for nothing!). After researching the brains of mice at rest, she concluded that sleep may provide the brain with the opportunity to do a “deep clean” and rid the brain of the waste accumulated during waking hours. Dr. Nedgergaard termed this system the “glymphatic system” to reflect the similar concept of the lymphatic system, which serves as a cleansing and filtering system within the body.

Dr. Nedgregaard is planning similar research to determine if human brains have a similar process to that observed in the mice. If this is the case, a lack of sleep, and therefore a lack of thorough cleaning and “neural trash” buildup, may be further linked to neuronal degeneration and dementia.

Check out The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) website for information about physiological and psychological consequences resulting from sleep deprivation including weight gain, decreased ability to pay attention and increased risk of heart problems as well as depression.

NSF recommends adults get between 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

Here are some of their tips to get a better night sleep:

1. Stick to the same bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends
2. Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual
3. Avoid naps, especially in the afternoon
4. Exercise daily
5. Evaluate your room
6. Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows
7. Use bright light to help manage your “body clock”
8. Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals in the evening
9. Wind down. Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading
10. If you can’t sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired.

See the NYT article to read more about the effects of short term versus long term sleep deprivation.