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A pernicious cycle exists: We work several jobs; longer hours; experience more stress; and sleep less. Thus we impair our brain’s ability to clean up and repair itself by not sleeping enough. Adequate sleep is not a waste of time…it may ensure excellent health and wellness.

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Getting enough sleep is very important. Recent scientific studies by biologist Maiken Nedergaard, University of Rochester Medical School, underscore its role in having good health. To many sleep seems to be a waste of time when work and other activities are more desirable. However, there is a role that sleep has in human physiological development and its evolution.

For some time common sense established that sleep is essential for having wellness. Now it’s known that forming and consolidating memories happens during sleep. Sleep plays a central role in the formation of new nerves, repairs, and pruning. Sleep plays a crucial role in the physiology of one’s brain, its changes, and the ‘janitorial maintenance’ needed to remove ‘metabolic debris’ created by consuming 20% of your total body’s energy. While one is sleeping soundly, the brain’s janitorial functions are very busy cleaning up your brain’s house by removing its metabolic garbage.

The brain’s thoughtful activities use 20% of the total body energy produced. Consider your physical exercise….muscles get tired when too much lactic acid accumulates. Athletes need rest periods to allow the removal of metabolites such as lactic acid and carbon dioxide. Blood circulation is essential to this restoration recovery process in muscles. The same sort of process is now known to happen in the brain. It is done by the circulation of ‘lymph fluids’ in pathways whose existence is now established by nuclear tracer technology at the molecular level. The lymphatic system is now appreciated as being the custodian that cleans up the brain after any strenuous workout. The metabolic litter in the brain is cleared out. Metabolites associated with Alzheimer’s diseasesuch as the protein beta-amyloid must be dealt with. Consider a pet fish tank. The air bubbler and filter must work
continuously to provide oxygen and remove excrement. When these functions are impaired, the fish dies.

Until recently, the brain was thought to clean itself by a recycling process within its brain cells. When that recycling process begins to fail, diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, become evident with the accumulation of beta-amyloid proteins. Biologist Nedergaard believes that the recycling process is not enough. The brain is too busy to recycle all of its metabolic byproducts. An established network of cerebrospinal fluids (spinal fluids) provided the circulation of lymph that cleans things out inorder to maintain a normal healthy environment within the brain. Special ‘glial cells’ are associated with this ‘glymphatic system’. Glial cells support the brain by protecting neurons and maintaining the proper metabolic environment(homeostasis).

Using special fluorescent tracer dyes and advanced microscopy, Nedergaard’s research team defined the brain’s interstitial space
networks (ISN) which amount to 20% of the total brain volume. The cerebrospinal fluid flows through these interstitial spaces and is devoted to the removal of noxious metabolic waste products produced daily when one uses his/her brain. During sleep, these ISN’s continue to clean up and catch up so as to return the brain to its normal  clean’ environment. Nedergaard believes that during sleep the brain
is processing much information by reassessment process, and filing it in storage bins to create one’s memories, which can be recalled and used later on.

Using the mouse brain as a model, it was established that during sleep the interstitial spaces increased from 5% to 20% of the brain’s volume. This facilitates the custodial maintenance and clean-out process. The ‘awake brain’ had only 5% flow rate compared to the ‘sleeping brain’s flow. Notably, the same procedures on baboons, dog and goat brains yielded similar results. Dr. Nedergaard and her  colleague, Dr. Helene Benveniste, an anesthiology specialist, have asked for medical board approval to use volunteer (human) patients.

Modern society’s peer pressure to be physically active too much of the time does not permit adequate sleep recovery time for one’s brain. The National Sleep Foundation’s available data show that 80% of working adults are afflicted with sleep deprivation. Adults should sleep 7 to 9 hours per day, a basic recommendation. Data reveal that working adults are getting 5 to 7 hours of sleep. Some 50 to 70 million
Americans currently suffer from some form of chronic sleep disorder. Whatever causes us to sleep too little results in our brains not having enough time to clean up their internal house environment.


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