Let’s talk about sleep (baby, let’s talk about you and me, let’s… no? no. fine). More specifically, let’s talk about how sleep is très importante, because the waking world is TOXIC.
Yeah, I went there.
Really, though. Research done by a Whole Buncha Scientists™ has shown that the very state of being conscious results in a buildup of harmful waste proteins (which our prof called “metabolic toxins”). Being awake = harmful to your health? Huge surprise, I know. Next time your parents/dogs/kids/significant-others try to get you out of bed, this offers the perfect justification for nailing them in the face with a pillow.
Unfortunately, the waking world is full of fun stuff to do, so we have to engage with it sometime. Luckily, our bodies have this amazing way of dealing with brain toxins- it’s called sleep.
Well, it’s actually called the glymphatic system, but that sounds so much less appealing. The glymphatic system is kind of like the brain’s plumbing apparatus; at night, when we sleep, it pumps cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) through the brain’s tissue, flushing the waste toxins right out of the brain. To facilitate the process, your brain cells actually reduce in size so that the waste can be removed more effectively.
Our brains actually shrink during sleep- how crazy is that? I knew there was a reason I’m not a morning person.
Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, a professor of neurosurgery at the University of Rochester and author of the study in Science, says that this could explain “why we don’t think clearly after a sleepless night and why a prolonged lack of sleep can actually kill an animal or a person.”
So if this whole removal of brain-killing toxins thing is so important, why doesn’t our slacker-ass glymphatic system work more than a handful of hours overnight? Well, apparently the whole shrinking your brain and circulating CSF through your brain to your liver thing takes a lot of energy. The glymphatic system is minimally active when we’re awake, but it’s ten times more active when we’re asleep. Check out the image for a look at the difference.
Dr. Nedergaard notes: “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 really do both at the same time.”
At least, not without inviting the glymphatic system, as well. Talk about a party pooper.
Side note: The articles at NPR and The Independent (below) talk a bit more about the implications of all this for diseases like Alzheimer’s, which may result, in part, from a build-up of certain kinds of metabolic waste in the brain. For my purposes, I’m going to hold off until next post, and then muse on how this may all affect the process of learning and the recording of memory.
1. NPR: http://ow.ly/AfFX8
2. The Independent: http://ow.ly/AfG1d
1. Toxic: http://ow.ly/Ai86e
2. Glimpse of the Glymph: http://ow.ly/AfG1d