Sleep Literally Washes Away Toxic Gunk that Accumulates in the Brain
Tue, April 20, 2021

Sleep Literally Washes Away Toxic Gunk that Accumulates in the Brain

New research conducted by the Boston University researchers showed that as people fall asleep, the neurons go quiet. / Photo by: bowie15 via 123rf

 

Like drains and rain gutters, our brain operates at its peak efficiency when there is no congestive gunk building up in its pipes. Instead of substances and fall leaves, the culprits behind the clogging up in the neural circuitry though are the molecules that gather in the smallest gaps between our brain cells and builds up over time.

Cerebrospinal Fluid Washes Away the Buildup

New research conducted by the Boston University researchers showed that as people fall asleep, the neurons go quiet. A few seconds later, blood will flow out of the brain and a liquid called cerebrospinal fluid or CSF will flow in. The purpose of such fluid is to wash the toxic gum that accumulates in the brain, doing so in pulsing and rhythmic waves.

The BU study is the first to ever illustrate how the CSF pulses when a person is asleep and how these motions are related to brain blood flow and brain wave activity. BU College of Engineering’s assistant professor of biomedical engineering Laura Lewis, who is also the co-author of the study, said via the university research news platform The Brink that they are aware of the electrical waves happening in the neurons. Yet, what they didn’t know was that there are waves in the cerebrospinal fluid too.

Lewis hoped their study will one day lead to more insights about various psychological and neurological disorders that are associated when a person has disrupted sleep patterns. An example of said disorder or condition would be Alzheimer’s disease and autism.

 

Lack of sleep or getting poor quality sleep increases one’s risk of disorders such as obesity, depression, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure. / Photo by: Dmitriy Protsenko via 123rf

 

“Brainwashing” During Sleep

The group’s research detailed that toxins accumulate around the brain as part of its normal function and sleep washes away those buildups. While the importance of sleep in our health is not a secret, the BU research has added to the long list of reasons why we should do so. Even the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke published that sleep is playing a “housekeeping role” by removing the toxins in the brain that has accumulated while we are awake. 

Lack of sleep or getting poor quality sleep increases one’s risk of disorders such as obesity, depression, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure. It also affects other systems and tissues in the body from the lungs, heart, brain, metabolism, disease resistance, mood, and immune function.

Lewis and the team moreover believed that their findings can provide ideas about age-related impairments. For example, that slow-wave activity and CSF flow can help flush the memory-impairing proteins from our brain. Most often, brains generate fewer slow waves, affecting the normal blood flow and reducing the CSF pulsing during sleep. This leads to toxic protein buildup in the brain and a decline in memory skills.

The Boston University researchers continued that they are planning to further study how aging may affect the CSF and blood flow in the brain. For this future research, they plan to recruit older adults because the subjects in their current research were all between 23 and 33 years old. Their initial subjects wore EEG caps to see their brain waves but they dozed off in a “noisy MRI machine.” For their next research, they plan to use a more sleep-conducive method but believe that such a feat is not going to be easy. Lewis added that they wanted to know more about how exactly the brain waves, CSF, and blood flow are coordinating perfectly during sleep.

Percentage of Older US Adults Getting Less Than Six Hours of Sleep

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shared the percentage of older adults in the US who reported getting less than six hours of sleep per night in 2016: Washington (77.1 percent), Oregon (76.1 percent), California (69.1 percent), Idaho (78.7 percent), Montana (78.7 percent), Wyoming (78.0 percent), Colorado (78.1 percent), Utah (76.3 percent), Arizona (75.3 percent), and Texas (76.1 percent). Other states were also included in the healthy aging data and the older adults mentioned were people 65 years old and above.

Considering that a majority of people are not getting enough sleep, it could affect their health and productivity. Charitable organization National Sleep Foundation likewise published that a healthy sleep range for older adults should be between 7 to 8 hours a day. For adults (aged 26 to 34), it should be between 7 to 9 hours. For younger adults (18 to 25), the sleep range is 7 to 9 hours as well. For teenagers (14 to 17), the sleep range widened by one hour, which is 9 to 11 hours. For preschoolers (3 to 5), it should be 10 to 13 hours and toddlers (1 to 2 years old) 11 to 14 hours. The recommended sleep for infants (4 to 11 months) is 12 to 15 hours and for newborns (0 to 3 months) 14 to 17 hours.

The organization reminded people that if they want to live a healthier and happier life, they need to follow a regular sleep schedule. This is because an erratic sleep pattern can leave a person feeling “out of whack.”  

The study just proved the saying that the less sleep one gets, the worse they do, whether that be in their job or other responsibilities in the day.