Who doesn’t love sleep? The wonderment of being in the dream world, the conversion of short-term to long-term memory, and the sweet, sweet rest the brain gets from its very active day – what’s not to love? But aside from all that, what else does the brain do during sleep? What else is happening in that old noggin when you’re catching the Z’s?
The purpose behind sleep has left scientists and researchers stumped for a long, long time. When you think about how people and creatures evolved into having sleep in their daily lives, sleep is the only time you’re at your most vulnerable. Sleep translates into risk – predators are all around! And although some discoveries have been made connecting sleep with memory conversion and storage, the cons far outweigh the pros of sleep. Isn’t there any other reason for the occurrence of this basic function?
A new study from the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) brings to light a newly discovered mechanism in the brain that’s main function is to remove waste. This mechanism, the study shows, is most active at night.
This study shows that the brain has different functional states when asleep and when awake. In fact, the restorative nature of sleep appears to be the result of the active clearance of the by-products of neural activity that accumulate during wakefulness.
Dr. M. Nedergaard,
Lead Author of the study
A year before the study was published, Nedergaard and her colleagues reported a recently unrecognized “waste-drainage system” in the brains of mice. Dubbed as the “glymphatic system,” it clears away toxins that could contribute to brain problems and other neurological disorders later in life.
Another discovery that shocked the team was that brain cells shrink up to 1/3 their original size during sleep. They theorize that the increased space allows the brain to clear out the toxins more efficiently. The brain works faster asleep.
Nedergaard claimed that these findings may greatly contribute to the treatment of neurological disorders, like Alzheimer’s, and that this may be a step forward towards progress.
Whether or not you’re convinced of this study, you can’t not deny that there’s one thing that’s universally agreed upon: The love of sleep. And now you’ll feel better about fighting off diseases like Alzheimer’s when you take a few extra hours a day in the sack!