We drink green smoothies and lemon water and refrain from sugar like the plague, but scientists are now uncovering the processes through which sleep cleanses the brain better than any supplement or detox.
Previously, scientists thought the brain only cleaned itself by trickling toxins through brain tissues, but according to Maiken Nedergaard, co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicin at the University of Rochester Medical Center School of Medicine and Dentistry, wastes are forcefully pushed through the brain at a much faster and higher pace.
Nedergaard dubbed this liquid cleaning system “the glymphatic system,” a name that was derived from the lymph system, (the important system in the body which filters toxic waste products out of the body). The waste products that are filtered through the brain prevent neurological illnesses like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Nedergaard’s research was followed up by a 2013 study which found “hidden caves” open up in the brain while we sleep, allowing cerebrospinal fluid to flush neurotoxins through the spinal column in copious amounts.
The cerebrospinal fluid in your body sits around your brain and spinal cord and every six to eight hour period, filters through the brain while you’re asleep. The whole process takes six to eight hours - similar to the amount of sleep we should get in a night. The process clears neurotoxins out of your brain, specifically one called beta-amyloid, which has been found in clumps in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. When this system can’t function properly due to lack of sleep, harmful remnants, like beta-amyloid, are allowed to build up.
A 2015 study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience was one of the first to look at humans rather than animal subjects when examining how sleep can fight against memory impairment. As it turns out, beta-amyloid also works to prevent your body from getting the rest it needs, creating something of a vicious cycle for the chronically sleep-deprived. As Matthew Walker, one of the neuroscientists who authored the study, wrote:
CEOs have long bragged of their ability to only sleep four to five hours a night, but Swart says this bravado misses the point: even if you don’t feel sleepy, your brain needs those six to eight hours to cleanse itself every day. (Then there’s the multitude of research that shows a rested and resilient brain performs better, is better able to regulate emotions and think creatively.)
If having enough time to sleep is a challenge for you, Swart suggests naps. Taking even 20 minutes of shut-eye is comparable to “literally plugging in your phone battery,” says Swart, similar to a power boost. For 30 minutes of downtime, your brain will experience improved learning and memory. For those fortunate enough to snag 60 to 90 minutes of rest, “new connections can form which can unleash creativity in the brain.”
Enough reasoning for every workspace in the future to have nap pods?