U of R: Brain cleans while we sleep
Updated: Friday, October 18 2013, 02:28 PM EDT
Rochester, N.Y. Here's a reason to get some shuteye: A new study suggests our brains go on a cleaning spree during sleep, flushing out gunk that builds up while we're awake.
Though the cleaning was observed in mice, scientists think it happens in people too.
The findings were reported in Friday's issue of the journal Science and may provide new clues to treat Alzheimer's and other brain diseases.
University of Rochester researchers found that the brain’s method of waste removal, called the glymphatic system, is highly active during sleep. Cells also decrease in size by 60 percent allowing for toxins or waste to be flushed out more easily.
“When we wake up, the system is fired up,” researcher Rashid Deane said. “The brain is more active, the cells are they are busy doing their job. They are sending signals to various parts of the body. When we sleep the cells change their role.”
People who are sleep-deprived have trouble learning and making decisions. But despite decades of research, scientists can't agree on the basic purpose of sleep.
For the study, researchers the brains of mice while awake and asleep. They found cellular waste flowed faster out of the brains of sleeping mice than mice that are awake.
Deane explains that the lack of sleep could cause the waste to build up—the waste is made up of the same toxins responsible for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders.
Dr. Wilfred Pigeon, an associate professor of psychiatry at UR, says this finding about sleep and the brain’s waste removal could have significant implications for treating diseases like Alzheimer’s.
“Cutting edge research like this provides signals that we can hone in on and investigate further,” Pigeon said. “That's the case here. This dramatic discovery is leading us to ask questions... what does this mean for sleeping disorders, could it be the cause or consequence?”