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Nightly Brainwashing

animated colorful brain made of puzzle pieces with some missingYour brain is your hardest working organ, pound-for-pound burning far more calories than any other tissue in the body. The human brain comprises only 2.5 percent of a person’s weight but burns 25 percent of total calories.
Unsurprisingly, all that thinking throws off a lot of smoke, and by bedtime, a great deal of metabolic debris has accumulated inside your brain. You know how problems that just seem overwhelming at the end of a hard day, feel much more manageable after a long restful slumber? That’s because after 16 hours of problem-solving, planning, multi-tasking and worrying, your brain is gummed up with smoke and debris. So, we need to shut down the command center and let the cleaning crew come in and rinse out the waste, organize the files, de-clutter the archives and consolidate the memories while the brain cells rest and rejuvenate.
During deep sleep is when blood pressure falls and neurons shrink, making room for the CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) to course through the brain, rinsing out the debris and cleansing the neurons. This literal brainwashing takes about four hours to complete; our hormones and systems are primed to go into this deep, slow-wave brain-cleaning sleep from any time after 9 p.m. for the next five hours.
Regardless of when you went to bed, starting about 2 a.m., it’s dreamtime, which is more about purging unneeded memories, like where you parked at the grocery store yesterday, and strengthening new learning. My grandmother, Dorothy O’Keefe, used to tell me, “An hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours after midnight.”
Modern science has proven her folk wisdom to be spot on. Eight hours of sleep from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. will cleanse and reinvigorate your brain better than if you had slept from midnight to 8 a.m.
In Good Health,
James O'Keefe, MD