There’s a reason we wake up after a good night of rest and feel refreshed and rejuvenated. And no, it’s not just because we didn’t work, solve a problem, or talk to anyone for hours on end.
During the day our brains are clogged with information from various places. Social media, work, school, news, TV, books, ads, the people around us. It’s an onslaught of words, information, and noise. So when nighttime comes, you’d think that our brains would be ready to sleep too, but they are actually still at work, cleaning up from the day’s information overload.
While we sleep our brains clean
While we sleep, our brain works “like a dishwasher,” according to Dr. Maiken Nedergaard of the University of Rochester, cleaning and extracting extra proteins and harmful waste buildup between brain cells. This cleaning process clears the way for our brain cells to expand and function to the level they need to during the day. From thinking to talking to only moving around, when our systems are full-force, our brains are at work.
What exactly is a sleep wash?
While asleep, your brain is the only glymphatic (also known as the brain’s sewer system), the system that continues working just as hard, if not harder, than when you are awake. When your brain ‘washes’ or ‘cleanses’ itself during sleep, it does so automatically, without any work from you. What exactly happens is an increase of cerebrospinal fluid is released and circulated throughout the brain and nervous system at a very rapid pace.
In a study carried out on mice, scientists noticed that while the mice were sleeping, brain cells shrunk, allowing the cleaning fluid to work around the cells much more thoroughly and quickly. This space increases by around 60% during sleep, allowing the liquid to encircle cells and arteries aggressively. When the mice awoke, the brain cells enlarged again, making cleaning harder.
Why is sleeping important?
The sleep cycle is vital to survival. Research has shown that humans and animals can die from exhaustion, even though scientists are just learning why. The process of “flushing the brain” allows brain cells to expand to their normal size and take up the space they need, without the intrusive proteins and buildups hindering them. These proteins and accumulations could have something to do with the onset of dementia in adults. Studies are still undergoing, but early research shows the potential.
Researchers speculate that this is the reason why our brains don’t seem to work as fast or as well after a poor night of sleep. Because the buildup of material is preventing our brain cells from returning to their full size, we aren’t operating at full brainpower.
A lack of sleep has been linked to things such as obesity, sensitivity, hypertension, and even how we learn. Getting a good night of sleep is not only a daily activity, but it’s vital in allowing our body to continue functioning since important work is being carried out on your brain every night as you sleep.