A new study finds a link between sleep and Alzheimer’s that explains why harmful plaque builds up in the brains and impedes proper function.
From a biological perspective, the need for sleep doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It leaves humans and animals alike, vulnerable to attack. Why would we spend most of our waking hours just trying to stay alive, only to surrender full consciousness for hours at a time?
The answer has to do with the restorative benefits of sleep and an internal maid service that sweeps through your brain while you slumber. Throughout the day, your cells naturally release waste. Once you fall asleep, your brain cells shrink by up to 60% allowing more room for cerebrospinal fluid, otherwise known as nature’s Clorox, to move through and clean out built up toxins. The collected waste is sent into your bloodstream and travels down to your liver for the final stage of detoxification. If toxins are allowed to accumulate without being regularly flushed out, they will turn into plaque, which is directly linked to degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Essentially, the problem isn’t so much that cells are releasing waste, which is a necessary evil, the real trouble starts when those toxins aren’t adequately cleared out. If we don’t give our nocturnal maids enough time to do their work, we are putting ourselves at risk. The importance of adequate sleep goes beyond the aesthetics of “beauty rest.” We now know that sleep is a key factor in maintaining our brain health.
At this point you might be looking at your dog and wondering why he seems to sleep all day. Scientists think that the answer has to do with brain size: “Larger brains should have a relatively larger volume of space between cells, and may need less time to clean since they have more room for waste to accumulate throughout the day.” While this is only a theory, it may explain why elephants only need three hours of sleep while Fido seems to nap all day.
While the brain remains the final frontier of medicine, we are one step closer to understanding a disease that is expected to affect 13.8 million people by 2050. With little else known about this debilitating disease, the least we can do now is give our bodies enough time to clean out the cobwebs and run through the natural processes are already in place to protect us. In other words: no more all-nighters. Get your eight hours.