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How Sleep Flushes Debris from Your Brain

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A revolutionary new study found that sleep allows for markedly increased circulation of cerebrospinal fluid throughout the brain, thereby cleansing it of accumulated debris (including beta-amyloid protein, the prime suspect in causing Alzheimer's). So we need sleep in part to flush out the brain, ridding it of toxins that are the harmful by-products generated during wakefulness.

Thinking demands massive metabolic work, and indeed the brain is the “hottest” tissue in the body, requiring more energy when awake than any other organ, including the heart. Burning all this fuel to power the brain while you are awake generates a great deal of “smoke” in the form of free radicals, beta-amyloid proteins and other potentially toxic metabolic by-products.

When we drift off into dreamland, our stress hormones fall and the lymphatic channels which course along parallel to the arteries and veins running throughout the brain expand by about 60 percent. The wide open lymph channels allow the cleansing cerebrospinal fluid to wash throughout the brain while you sleep, flushing out the sludge and smoke that had built up during the day. Perhaps the worst of the debris is beta-amyloid protein, which gums up the neurons of the brain and eventually causes Alzheimer’s disease. Astonishingly, during sleep the clearance rates of beta-amyloid are doubled. Problems that seem overwhelming when you’re exhausted are usually not so daunting after a long, refreshing night’s sleep. Your fully rested brain is cleansed, uncluttered and more powerful again. Getting 7 to 9 hours of rejuvenating sleep cleans out your brain like a hard rain flushes out a city’s debris, carrying the dirt, grime, litter and pet waste into the sewers to be eliminated.

Along these same lines, the best way to cleanse your body and bloodstream is to fast regularly. If you can even just get in the habit of going 12 hours most nights without eating, it will allow the time necessary to clear the “smoke” generated by metabolizing all the calories from the foods and beverages you consume during the day.

Work Out to Plump Up Your Brain

Regular exercise is like Miracle Grow for your brain, and is the single-most important step you can take to keep your mind sharp. Physical exertion is especially good for improving memory and mood. An encouraging new study found that middle-aged people who did moderate exercise for about 150 minutes per week for two years showed growth in the size of the hippocampus - the part of the brain responsible for memory. In contrast, the sedentary group showed continued shrinkage in this crucial brain region over the two - year span. Exercise increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which stimulates growth of new neurons and new connections in your brain - regardless of whether you are 10 or 90 years old. Other steps for keeping your brain youthful and your mind astute include:

-Keep your waist size to half your height in inches.

- Eat more brightly colored vegetables and fruits. Berries and leafy greens are best.

- Decrease your intake of processed carbohydrates such as sugar and grains.

In Good Health,

James O'Keefe, MD


Photo Credit: Pixabay Creative Commons