Nedergaard / Iliff via Science magazine
When mice sleep, fluid-filled channels (pale blue) between neurons expand and flush out waste.
Can sleep clean up a dirty mind?
This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying, yes!
Each day, our minds get filled with garbage. Biologically speaking. Metabolic processes create chemical waste. Like toxins that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease. This nasty stew makes it difficult to think, learn, and make decisions. Yet most of us wake up all bright-eyed and clear-headed each morning! How’s that possible?
Meet Maiken Nedergaard, from the University of Rochester Medical Center, in New York. She studied the brains of mice and noticed a network of fluid-filled channels among nerve cells. They were filled with the said toxins. Which were then dropped off at veins that shuttled them away. It’s a cerebral sewer system! And when Nedergaard imaged the flow in her mouse-subjects? She found that the channels expanded during sleep. By 60 percent. And this flushed out cellular excrement twice as fast as during the day.
So sleep triggers a large-scale brain-drain that literally cleanses our minds. Then you wake up feeling like new! Talk about being brainwashed! But in a good way! Sweet dreams.
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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.