The physical and psychological benefits of getting a good night’s sleep have been well documented. Regular sleep has been shown to help fight stress, premature aging, weight gain, depression and more. The list truly goes on and on. Most experts already agree that a healthy sleeping pattern improves thinking skills and decision-making, but new research is indicating that regular sleep may also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The research shows that this is likely due to how the brain removes harmful toxins throughout the night.
The Brain-Cleaning Process
Yes, you read the right – a good night of sleep washes out harmful waste proteins that form between brain cells during the day. Researchers are calling this phenomenon the “brain-cleaning process.” It has been observed in rats and baboons, but conclusive studies have yet to be conducted on humans. Essentially, cerebrospinal fluid is propelled into the brain by the nervous system during the day, but then it drains out while you sleep. When this happens, toxic waste proteins also stream out along with the cerebrospinal fluid.
Researchers also noticed that the actual size of the brain cells changed during this process. They contract at night when the fluid needs to circulate around and clean the brain, and they expand during the day, causing more proteins to build up. When we don’t get enough sleep, we don’t allow for the various toxins to get washed out in the night. This could explain why we often appear foggy and unfocused when we don’t get enough sleep – and why people can actually die after several consecutive nights without sleep.
The Link Between Sleep and Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s, dementia and other neurological diseases have already been linked to sleep disorders.By studying the brain in the sleeping state, researchers might have made a huge breakthrough in understanding Alzheimer’s and why we actually need sleep. One of the waste products removed during sleep is a plaque forming protein known as beta amyloid. Too much beta amyloid causes amyloidosis, which can possibly lead to Alzheimer’s. So, by getting ample sleep (doctors recommend 7-9 hours of sleep per night), more beta amyloid is removed, thus reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
If you don’t have one already, create a good sleep routine for yourself. You can accomplish this by going to bed and waking up around the same time every night of the week. Avoid exercise and caffeine two hours before bed. Watching TV, reading and doing other activities in bed can send your body the message to put your thinking cap on when going to bed; therefore, keep your bed activities limited to sleep and sex so your body recognizes the cue to power down when you go to bed.