“Sleep is the best meditation.” ~ The Dalai Lama
Intuitively, we all know that a good night’s sleep is beneficial. It improves our mood, and it has physical health benefits as well. Proper sleep reduces the risks of:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Chronic low grade inflammation
- Kidney disease
Sleep helps promote:
- Immune function
- Muscle and connective tissue recovery
- Improved mood and psychological health
- Memory and attention
- Retainment of new and complex information
What is newly discovered about sleep, is also a new discovery about how the brain “cleans” itself. Amyloid-β (Aβ) is a protein of special interest to researchers because its accumulation in the brain is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s Disease (the most common neurodegenerative disease and form of dementia). The production and clearance of Aβ continues to be studied, but the important findings thus far are summarized below:
- amyloid-β is a by-product from your brain cells and can accumulate and plaque in around the cells if there is an imbalance between its production and clearance.
- amyloid-β continues to accumulate during the day while you’re awake and is best cleaned and cleared from your brain cells during deep sleep.
- There are a number of clearing mechanisms which interact and work together to keep your brain “clean” and avoid accumulation of amyloid-β and other waste. Many of those mechanisms are newly discovered as early as 2015 and continue to be studied today.
- When you sleep it’s as if the “spin cycle” is put on and these clearing mechanisms are able to go to work. Some of your brain cells (glial cells) become smaller, creating pathways called glymphatics which allow cerebrospinal fluid to penetrate and clean deeper into the brain during this “spin cycle”.
- Your body’s lymphatic system is a network of organs and tissues which help clear out waste, toxins, and cellular debris. The lymphatic system was previously thought to not have networks in the brain, but it does!
- The lymphatic immune connection in the brain is shedding new light on how scientists think about not only Alzheimer’s disease, but other neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis.
- It is now believed that the main purpose of sleep is to allow the brain clean itself of proteins and toxins which accumulate during the waking state.
“11 Surprising Health Benefits of Sleep.” Health.com, www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20459221,00.html#sharpen-attention-0.
Hamilton, Jon. “Brains Sweep Themselves Clean Of Toxins During Sleep.” NPR, NPR, 17 Oct. 2013, www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2013/10/18/236211811/brains-sweep-themselves-clean-of-toxins-during-sleep.
Hamilton, Jon. “Brain’s Link To Immune System Might Help Explain Alzheimer’s.” NPR, NPR, 3 Oct. 2017, www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/10/03/555353033/brains-link-to-immune-system-might-help-explain-alzheimers.
“New Study Says “Glymphatics” may Influence Alzheimer.” The AD Plan, theadplan.com/alzheimersdietblog/alzheimers-disease/new-study-says-glymphatics-may-influence-alzheimers-disease-while-we-sleep/.
Tarasoff-Conway, Jenna M., et al. “Clearance systems in the brain—implications for Alzheimer disease.” Nature Reviews Neurology, vol. 11, no. 8, 2015, pp. 457–470., doi:10.1038/nrneurol.2015.119.
“Why Do We Sleep, Anyway?” Why Do We Sleep, Anyway? | Healthy Sleep, healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/why-do-we-sleep.
“Why Is Sleep Important?” National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 7 June 2017, www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why.