This post is a bit technical but very exciting when we realize the implications in understanding that something as simple as sleep can have such a benefit. In a recent report on NPR we learned that when the brain is asleep, harmful toxins are cleared out. Researchers say that this process may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and other such diseases. “It’s like a dishwasher,” says Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, a professor of neurosurgery at the University of Rochester and an author of the study published in Science. They discovered that the brain’s flow of cerebrospinal fluid is increased during sleep which helps to wash away harmful waste proteins that build up in between brain cells during waking hours. The research team found this process of brain cleaning while they were studying the brains of sleeping mice. If this study proves to be true in humans as well as mice, it could explain the connection between brain diseases and sleep disorders.
The researchers noticed that the system that causes the cerebrospinal fluid to circulate through the nervous system pumped fluid into the brain and removed it rapidly during sleep. The reason this cleaning process doesn’t happen all the time is most likely because the process takes a lot of energy so it is most efficient during times when the brain is not being fully used such as during sleep. Researchers also noticed that during sleep, the brain cells shrink which makes it easier for the fluid to circulate. When the animal is awake, the brain cells enlarge and the flow between cells is reduced to a trickle. Nedergaard says “It’s almost like opening and closing a faucet, it’s that dramatic.” One of the waste products removed from the brain during sleep is beta amyloid, the substance that forms sticky plaques associated with Alzheimer’s. Giving the brain time to remove such toxins has a beneficial effect and helps to avoid the pitfalls that may come with toxic buildup.
What is the relevance of this research for those of us who may have problems falling asleep? Mainly, it calls our attention to the important restorative process that sleep provides in healing and general well being by removing toxins from the brain. How can people improve their sleep experience in this day and age when people are so busy and often struggle to fall asleep at the appropriate time. In order to help people in falling asleep and staying asleep, we created the album A Sound Sleep: Guided Meditations with Relaxing Music & Nature Sounds. Because we don’t know how to let go of the thoughts or concerns that may be bothering us that we often have a problem with sleep. Fortunately, there are tools and techniques to aid in the process. A Sound Sleep can help and the liner notes also provide suggestions that enhance creating a healthy sleep process. Sweet dreams!