I've repeatedly talked about the dangers of not getting enough sleep. High blood pressure, memory problems, vulnerability to Alzheimer's Disease, weight gain and on and on and on. None of these seemed to make the impression on me like this brain eating thing.
And, why should I care, you ask? Because if you don't sleep and let your brain sweep up after itself, you're going to look old and feel old before your "time". Got your attention now? We've all seen those people who look older than their age. "Rode hard and put up wet" as the cowboys say. Do you want that to be you? Then read on.
Now, we know the brain has a "glymphatic system" that rids the it of waste and this "housekeeping" is done at night.
When we don't get enough sleep, parts of the brain's synapses (the connections between cells) are actually eaten by other brain cells.
The brain's self-cleaning system acts like a dishwasher which works only when you're asleep. The dishwasher clears out the harmful toxins that build up during the day. The process reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
Why Alzheimer's? One of the waste products that is swept away is beta amyloid. Beta amyloid is the substance of which the sticky plaques that are found in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. Chronic sleep deprivation increases the risk of Alzheimer's because of the beta amyloid.
Beta amyloid continues to increase when you are awake and decreases during the period of time while you're sleeping.
This washing process requires a great deal of energy and it's best done while you're sleeping. There's only so much energy to go around.
You may recall in an earlier article about schizophrenia that the World Health Organization learned that the severe increase in the disorder decades ago was due to a specific kind of flu that pregnant women caught that increased the size of two of the four ventricles in the brain that house the cerebrospinal fluid. The sacs, or ventricles, holding the fluid that became larger due to the effects of the flu, creating schizophrenia.
You can appreciate the importance of this system. You can also appreciate the relationship between brain diseases and sleep disorders. Those with brain disorders often have highly disrupted sleep.
No, actually, the speed increases mostly due to the brain cells shrinking when we go to sleep, making it easier to flush out and sweep up the debris. Housework. It's everywhere you go.
When we wake up, the cells enlarge very quickly and gear up for work. It's quite dramatic as brain processes go.
Astrocytes. Astrocytes are a kind of brain cell that helps to clean out the worn-out cells and other debris from the brain so that it works more efficiently.
These cells are the most active when we're sleep-deprived. The astrocytes actually eat portions of the synapses. [Synapses are the areas where brain cells communicate by using chemicals. Brain cells never touch]. But that's not especially a bad thing. The synapses, or connections between brain cells, that tend to get eaten are the larger, older ones that could benefit from being "cleaned up".
More of a worry from the research findings was that "microglial" brain cells, which hunt down damaged cells and debris, were also more active in people who are sleep deprived. Sustained activity in these microglial cells have been seen in Alzheimer's and other diseases that involve deterioration of the brain.
I've given you the reasons why, now get to bed. Stop surfing the internet, reading the book on your table or in your hands and lay your head down and sleep.
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