Beauty Sleep: Inside and out; Sleeping flushes out toxins from your brain – reveals a study.
Once seen a waste of time considering we spend one third of our lives sleeping, scientists have been trying to wrap their head around this activity or lack of it. Over the years, a lot of revelations have been made in trying to give sleep a purpose.
Studies have attributed sleep to various activities and benefits ranging from increasing concentration to regulating metabolism, healthy skin, boosting alertness and the immune system.
A study has revealed another benefit of what they call the ‘first direct experimental evidence at the molecular level’ directing that this could be a breakthrough in revealing the core purpose of sleep, that could put the age old adage of beauty sleep to shame; sleeping flushes out all the harmful toxins or metabolic by products that have built up in the brain due to a day’s activity.
According to a research funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the American National Institutes of Health (NIH), found that cells in the brain, namely Glial Cells which are responsible to keep nerve cells alive, shrink during sleep to increase the interstitial space or gaps between neurons and allowing the flow of fluid and enabling the brain to flush out toxins that build up during the time one is awake.
Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M.Sc., co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, and a leader of the study unexpectedly found out that sleeping allows the brain to clean itself of toxic molecules accumulated during the day thus suggesting that failing to cleanse some toxic proteins may also play a role in brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s.
Although the results were deduced with high tech imaging on mice; the human brain is similar to that of a mouse. The imaging disclosed that the brain rids itself of accumulated toxic molecules at a much faster rate than while awake.
The researchers discovered that during sleep, the contraction of brain cells results in the expanding of the areas between brain cells by as much as 60 percent thus enabling the Cerebrospinal Fluid to move more freely than its usual state.
Comparing the results during sleep to “turning on a faucet,” Nedergaard says,” it appears that a sleep state is necessary for this “active clearance of the by-products of neural activity” to take place. This would offer a convincing explanation of why sleep has such an essential restorative function, she says
How Does it Concern You?
Neurodegenerative disease is a blanket term to define the various conditions primarily affecting the loss in function or death of neurons in the human brain.
Neurons can be considered as the building blocks of the nervous system. Since Neurons don’t reproduce or replenish themselves, they die on being damaged. Examples of neurodegenerative diseases include Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Huntington’s disease.
Most Neurodegenerative diseases cannot be cured and can be life threatening. These diseases can incapacitate the body resulting in loss of body movements, or mental functioning or heart function.
Nedergaard and her colleagues have discovered a network that removes build up waste from the brain by circulating cerebrospinal fluid throughout the brain tissue and washing out any resulting toxins into the bloodstream, which then transfers it to the liver for detoxification. They termed this as the “Glymphatic System”.
The “Glymphatic System removes wastes such as proteins called Amyloid-beta which accumulate into the plaques and may contribute to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Coupling the revelations of both studies, it appears that the cleansing system is ten times more active during sleep than while awake gives rise to very confusing, contradictive deductions: Either poor sleep may be causing accumulation of the toxin or poor sleep is a result of too much toxin.
It is still not known if sleep is regulated by the active removal or the buildup of waste products, if we were to reverse the study’s revelations; for instance, if the accumulation of metabolic byproducts makes us sleepy or the active removal of these harmful toxins keeps the body from sleeping; thus improving neuron functionality.
Although, this study has opened up an entirely new avenue for debate and unanswered questions, we may have gotten a step closer to knowing the reason for us dedicating a third of our lives to sleep.
For now, if actively proven correct for humans, Nedergaard is confident that the same waste disposal system will be found in humans as the ones at work in mice. She believes that this revelation could pave the way for medicines that could help slow the onset of dementias caused by the build-up of waste by-products in the brain, and even help those who go without enough sleep.
Alas, we may be able to find a way to actively dispose waste toxins without the need to sleep, thus saving the sleeping time to do something more productive!
This article was first published in 2014 and is currently republished for its importance.