Not Getting Enough Sleep At Night May Be Affecting Your Health

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We’ve all been there. It’s late at night and you should be asleep, but your brain is filled with ideas that keep you awake.

Sleep is a vital process to maintain our health that takes up one third of our whole lives.

Insufficient sleep can impair cognition, lower daily energy levels and has been linked to several illnesses. Not to mention, affecting our mood.

Yet the brightest minds in science cannot fully explain why sleep is so critical. However, new research has come up with a compelling theory that sleep allows our brains to clean themselves.

In a paper from University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) recently published in Science magazine, the research team built upon previous work that had identified what’s called the glymphatic system.

Where the lymphatic system clears unwanted byproducts, toxins and other materials from the body, the glymphatic system does a similar job for our brain’s gray matter.

"We’ve known for a long time that the brain lacks a traditional lymphatic system. But the glymphatic system, we now know, eliminates waste buildup instead."Rashid Deane, a neurologist at URMC
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Using an imaging technique known as two-photon microscopy, the researchers found that the glymphatic system was significantly more active when mice were asleep compared to when awake.

"What we found was about a tenfold increase in activity. That tells us that sleep appears to be significant in helping the brain eliminate unwanted byproducts."
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What’s most fascinating is the physical difference in the brain when asleep. The team found that space between brain cells increased during resting states, which allows more room for the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to flow along and pick up waste products as a part of the cleaning process. From there, waste is ushered out of the brain and eventually broken down in the liver.

The researchers believe the glymphatic system speeds up during sleep due to reallocation of the body’s energy. The process requires significant energy consumption, so when the brain and body is less active, the cleaning process can do a much better job.

"You can think of it like having a house party. You can either entertain the guests or clean up the house, but you can’t do both at once."
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Maintaining a healthy glymphatic system is important for brain health and may play a role in neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Other theories on why we sleep suggest it’s vital for memory storage and consolidation, or simply that sleep allows the body time to repair damaged tissue and for muscle growth.



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