New research shows that sleep acts as a “scrubber” for the brain, ridding it of waste that collects during the day.
The study was conducted at the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Researchers there used new imaging technology to peer into the brains of mice, which are remarkably similar to human brains.
In previous research, Rochester scientists found that the glymphatic system pumps cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) through the spaces around the brain cells, flushing waste. In the more recent study, they found that brain cells contract during sleep, increasing the space between the cells by as much as 60-percent and allowing the spinal fluid to wash more freely through the brain tissue. They also learned that the glymphatic system is almost 10-times more active during sleep than when awake.
All of this means that your body is much more efficient at cleaning natural waste from brain tissue when it’s asleep than when it’s awake.
One of the waste products that is cleaned out is the protein amyloid-beta, which accumulates and forms plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. While researchers don’t yet know if these plaques are a cause or a result of neurodegenerative disease, the new insights about the way sleep clears waste from the brain could lead to new treatment approaches.
The research was published this week in the journal Science.