There have been many studies around why sleep is so important to our functions, although we don’t need to read a report to know that without enough sleep each night, us humans don’t function at full throttle. Many people are interested in all aspects of sleep and sleep deprivation and even what our dreams mean. For the first time ever though, scientists have evidence of one of the specific reasons that our brains need sleep.
Scientists from the University of Rochester discovered that during sleep, our brains are able to clear the toxic waste byproduct that our brain cells produce during the waking hours. It is this process that contributes to our well-rested, clear headedness feeling that we achieve after a good night’s sleep.
While our brain cells are active, they produce a byproduct called amyloid beta. A buildup of this metabolic waste can eventually destroy neurons. Fortunately, metabolic waste is generated throughout the body and the body disposes of it through the lymphatic system. But the brain is not connected to this system so it has to use its own waste disposal system. This system uses the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to carry the waste material down the body to the liver where it is disposed of.
The scientists injected different colored dyes into mice’s CSF and studied how the dye travelled when the mice were awake and when they were asleep. They found that the dye moved far quicker when the mice were asleep. Further study showed that this was in direct relation to the fact that the gap between the brain cells was wider when the mice were asleep than when they were awake, widening the path for the CSF to run more quickly.
The study is a significant find for the world of neurodegenerative disorders. Patients who possess conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia have higher levels of amyloid beta. It’s vital that people get enough sleep each night to let our brain garbage men do their job and help to keep our neurons firing.
[Image via mmcneuro]