Without a doubt, sleep is good for us. Getting enough is essential for staying energized, mentally sharp, and healthy overall. Scientists have found another important benefit of sleep: flushing out harmful toxins in the brain.
Photo by robscomputer.
Some changes in the brain only happen during sleep, including cleaning out fluids that build up in the brain which are linked to Alzheimer's and other diseases. Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center studied the flow of these waste fluids in rats' brains and found that during sleep, the rats brains worked better to remove those toxins. During sleep, cells in the brain shrink by 60 per cent, creating more space between the cells so the waste can be cleared better.
One of the researchers explains it this way, Live Science reports:
"The brain only has limited energy at its disposal, and it appears that it must [choose] between two different functional states — awake and aware, or asleep and cleaning up," Nedergaard said in a statement. "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."
This is just another reason why sleep is so important and why we should do what we can to upgrade our sleep if necessary.
For a more thorough explanation of how our brains rid themselves of toxins every night, see this article on io9.
Sleep Drives Matabolite Clearance from the Adult Brain (Abstract) [Science via Live Science]