Scientists in Canada recently published a study containing solid evidence that poor sleep quality inhibits the brain’s ability to clear itself of toxins by causing large spaces in the brain. The researchers from The Sunnybrook Research Institute in Toronto suggest that sleep is crucial to allowing the brain to rid itself of waste from brain activity.
The implications are vast as they also suspect that having poor quality sleep over many years could lead to brain diseases linked to brain toxin build-up, including Alzheimer’s disease.
The brain’s system for ridding itself of waste has long been a medical mystery. Most organs use the lymph node system to send waste into the bloodstream, but the brain does not have a dedicated waste removal system. Instead, it uses fluid-filled channels that surround blood vessels called perivascular Virchow-Robin spaces (VRS). This brain-waste removal system is referred to as the Glymphatic System.
Regular daily activity causes a build-up of waste and metabolites in the brain, which the brain then flushes out at night using cerebrospinal fluid. When we sleep, the brain opens up, and the fluid is able to rush through, cleaning it out. Not unlike a toilet flushing away waste. Using MRI scans of volunteers at a sleep lab, scientists found that those who experienced interrupted and reduced sleep, getting only about three hours of sleep, had enlarged VRS brain spaces.
Those spaces then become blocked and unable to clear toxins properly. Since most of the toxin drainage occurs while we’re sleeping, when we don’t get enough sleep, the toxins don’t drain as efficiently.
While much of the research on neurological disorders such as stroke and dementia have focused on improving the health of blood vessels through healthy diet and exercise, the role of sleep has been inadvertently overlooked. The research out of Canada holds promise of new treatments for those living with the effects of stroke and possibly even for dementia prevention. The door has just been opened on the link between brain health and sleep.
If you suffer from poor sleep, the important thing is not to ignore it and continue muddling through life. Your brain without sleep is suffering. Disorders causing fragmented sleep such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome are treatable. And there are many natural solutions to encourage and promote a good night’s sleep.