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How Sleeping Shrinks Synapses And Keeps Your Brain Healthy
The Importance of Sleep for a Healthy Brain
Getting adequate sleep is extremely important for maintaining a healthy brain. In addition to the pruning of the synapses mentioned above, sleep also helps to clean out toxins which accumulate in the brain as a byproduct of neurological activity.
Researchers led by Dr. Maiken Nedergaard at the University of Rochester Medical Center have uncovered how the brain cleanses itself of impurities during sleep. Glial cells in the brain allow cerebrospinal fluid, which is stored in the spinal cord, to flow into the brain while you’re asleep. The process works in a similar way to the lymphatic system. The brain isn’t connected to the lymphatic system, so for many years it was a mystery how the brain managed to rid itself of the impurities that accumulate around its cells.
To test their hypothesis, the researchers injected a special dye into the cerebrospinal fluid of mice, and then monitored the flow of the fluid using brain-scanning technology. While the mice were awake, the fluid stayed in the spinal cord. But while they slept, the brain was flooded with the dyed cerebrospinal liquid.
The fluid helps clear out impurities like beta-amyloids, a toxic protein that accumulates in the brain over the course of the day. Scientists have found a definitive link between the buildup of beta-amyloids and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related neurodegenerative conditions associated with memory loss.
Other studies have established at clear link between sleep deprivation and an increased risk of dementia, and this cerebrospinal fluid study may be the smoking gun that proves why this is the case. Somewhere between 50 and 70 million adults in the United States suffer from some type of chronic sleep disorder, and 80 percent don’t get sufficient sleep in general. Not getting enough sleep also leads to poorer cognitive performance and a weakened immune system.
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To ensure that you have a healthy brain and body, steady levels of energy and a lower risk for neurodegenerative conditions as you age, make it your business to get enough sleep. Having one less cup of coffee or going to bed just on hour earlier may be all that you need to give your brain the time it needs to “trim the hedges” on your synapses and help you wake up feeling rested and productive the next day.