NINDS says that toxins may be flushed from brain during sleep
Published: Monday, October 28, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 29, 2013 02:10
The brain may flush out toxins during sleep, according to a recent study by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
Researchers used mice to show that space between brain cells may increase during sleep, which allows the brain to flush out toxins that builds up when people are awake.
Scientists for years have questioned why people sleep and how it affects the brain. This study is the first time scientists have found that during sleep, the brain may cleanse itself of toxic molecules.
“Sleep changes the cellular structure of the brain. It appears to be a completely different state,” said Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M. Sc ., a leader of the study and co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.
Nedergaard’s lab discovered the glymphatic system that helps control whether cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), a clear liquid surrounding the brain and spinal cord, flows through the brain.
NINDS researchers injected dye into the CSF of mice and observed it flow through their brains while at the same time monitored electrical brain activity. When the mice were asleep, the dye flowed rapidly. However, the dye barely flowed when the same mice were awake.
“We were surprised by how little flow there was into the brain when the mice were awake,” Nedergaard said. “It suggested that the space between brain cells changed greatly between conscious and unconscious state.”
Researchers then inserted electrodes into the brain to directly measure the space between brain cells. They found that the space inside the brains increased by 60 percent when the mice were asleep.
Jim Koenig, Ph.D., program director of NINDS, said that the study could mean treatment for various neurological disorders.
“These results may have broad implications for multiple neurological disorders,” Koenig said. “This means the cells regulating the glymphatic system may be new targets for treating a range of disorders.”
According to NINDS, the study reveals the importance sleep has on the brain. Nedergaard agrees that sleep is necessary for health.
“We need sleep,” Nedergaard said. “It cleans up the brain.”
According to the National Sleep Foundation’s website, adults need seven to nine hours of sleep. The website also has steps to make sure that sleep is a priority in daily lives. They recommend consistent sleep schedules, a relaxing bedtime routine, exercising regularly, and avoiding caffeine and alcohol products close to bedtime.
A survey done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that adults over the age of 20 have more difficulty concentrating due to sleep deprivation.