How Sleep Cleans Your Brain of Harmful Proteins and Toxins

When it comes to having poor sleeping patterns, we have all experienced that heavy feeling in the morning, the eyelids that don’t want to open, and the brain fog that only clears up after a coffee or two. These unpleasant feelings of needing more sleep can cause us to have impaired reasoning, lack of attention to detail, and become “dim-witted” when it comes to problem-solving.

However, other than keeping our faculties in top shape and storing our memories, there’s an even greater component to getting a good night’s sleep; it clears out harmful proteins and toxins that have built up in the spaces between our brain cells during the day. Why is this important? It may reduce certain neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s, that occur due to an increase in beta-amyloid concentrations.

How Does The Brain Clean Itself Out At Night?

According to Nedergaard at the University of Rochester Medical Center, the brain has a system that it uses to drain away waste products. This system is called the glymphatic system because it is managed by the brain’s glial cells which are a supportive cell within the central nervous system that surrounds and insulates neurons. When an individual is sleeping, the glymphatic system circulates cerebrospinal fluid through the nervous system, including the brain, through a series of channels that surround our blood vessels. When this clear liquid is flushed through the brain, it is done at a very rapid pace, causing the brain cells to shrink in size during sleep and enlarge during waking hours.

Why Does The Brain Only Do This During Sleep?

Nedergaard believes that the brain is incapable of cleaning itself and being aware of your external surroundings at the same time because it takes up a lot of energy to clean. In addition to this, we already know that after several sleepless nights and a prolonged lack of sleep, you can actually die from sleep deprivation. The most common reasoning for this is because you cannot think clearly due to the amount of toxin build-up within the brain. This cleaning process and need for sleep has also been observed in other animals such as baboons and rats, so it is likely that humans need a similar kind of housekeeping if you will.

How Can This Help Neurological Disorders Like Alzheimer’s?

One of the findings in the study noted that this cleaning of the brain can actually help remove out a toxic protein called the beta-amyloid. When this toxic protein accumulates, due to a lack of sleep, it can cause a build-up of plaque which is present in the neurological disorder Alzheimer’s. Those who get the poorest quality of sleep will have the most beta-amyloid build up in the frontal lobe when they are awake, which is where memories are stored for long-term recall. In addition to this, the more you have in your brain the worse your sleep will be and therefore increased memory problems. However, when you get an excellent night of sleep, the cerebrospinal fluid can effectively decrease how much beta-amyloid you have in the brain, clearing out what causes memory issues and the plaque that leads to Alzheimer’s.

In Conclusion: Get Your Sleep!

When it comes to getting your sleep, take it seriously, because it is critical for healing your body, helping you create long-lasting memories, and more importantly for keeping neurological disorders from forming. If you find yourself not getting enough sleep and then experience issues with memory, issues with problem-solving, brain fog, or issues with attention to detail, toxic proteins could be the reason why.