The Remarkable New Discovery About What Your Brain Does While You Sleep

The Remarkable Discovery About What Your Brain Does While You Sleep

We know the brain does beautiful things while we are sleeping. Sleep is important for consolidating learning, storing memories, finding creative solutions to problems and processing emotional issues. Recently, scientists have added to its list of heroics and the findings and what they have discovered is fascinating.

Research has found that sleep has a(nother) remarkable function. Sleep literally cleanses your mind by opening hidden caves in the brain and clearing out toxins.

Researchers have demonstrated that during sleep, the space between brain cells expands, allowing for the flushing of toxins that build up in the central nervous system during the hours we are awake.

‘Sleep changes the cellular structure of the brain. It appears to be a completely different state,’ Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M.Sc., co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.

The study, published in Science, shows that during sleep a plumbing system called the glymphatic system seems to open, allowing fluid to flow rapidly through the brain and wash away toxins that have accumulated between the cells.

‘It’s as if Dr Nedergaard and her colleagues have uncovered a network of hidden caves and these exciting results highlight the potential importance of the network in normal brain function,’ Roderick Corriveau, Ph.D., a program director at NINDS.

Researchers made the discovery by injecting dye into the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of mice. The CSF is a clear liquid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. (Researchers used mice in the study because of their striking genetic and biological similarity to humans.)

When the mice were unconscious, either asleep or anaesthetised, the dye flowed rapidly but when the same mice were awake, the dye barely flowed at all.

From this, the researchers tested the theory that the space between brain cells increased depending on whether the mice were conscious or unconscious. To do this, they inserted electrodes into the brain to directly measure the space between cells.

They found that when the mice were asleep or anaesthetised, the cellular structure of their brains changed dramatically, with the space inside their brains increasing by 60%.

When we are awake, the CSF mostly covers the surface of the brain. When we sleep, the CSF is able to move deep inside. The effect is striking – potential neurotoxins, like β-amyloid, which have been associated with Alzheimer’s, are cleared twice as fast while we are sleeping as while we are awake.

Previous research has suggested that toxic molecules involved in neurodegenerative disorders collect in the space between brain cells. Nedergaard and her colleagues tested whether the glymphatic system controls this, by injecting the mice with a protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease and measuring the length of time it lasted in their brains when they were asleep or awake. The protein disappeared faster in mice brains when the mice were asleep. This finding suggests the critical role of sleep in clearing toxic molecules from the brain.

Further research is needed to see if the results hold true in humans, but they may have broad implications for our understanding and treatment of neurological disorders.

This study offers preliminary explanations for the observations that many neurological disorders like strokes and dementia are associated with poor sleep patterns. Specifically, lack of sleep may impede the brain from cleaning out toxins, lead to a build-up and ultimately, long-term damage.

As put so eloquently by the researchers, ‘We need sleep. It cleans up the brain.’

[irp posts=”2334″ name=”I Just Want To Go To Sleep! How to Sleep Better (According to Science)”]

2 Comments

Steve Cripe RN

This article only serves to highlight why it is so vital that physicians take their patient’s insomnia seriously, and treat it aggressively. Too many doctors are afraid to treat insomnia with medications.

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When our kids or teens are struggling, it can be hard to know what they need. It can also be hard for them to say. It can be this way for all of us - we don't always know what we need from the people around us. It might be space, or distraction, or silence, or maybe acknowledging and being there is enough. Sometimes we might need to know that the people we love aren't taking our need for space, or our confusion or anger or sadness personally, and that they are still there within reach.
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What can be easier is thinking about what other people might need. Asking this when they are calm can invite a different perspective and can give you some insight into what they need to hear when they are going through similar. Don't worry if you just get a shrug, or a disheartened, 'I don't know'. They don't need to know, and neither do we. The question in itself might be enough to open a new way through any sense of 'stuckness' or helplessness they might be feeling.
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#parenthood #parenting #positiveparenting #parentingtips #childdevelopment #parentingadvice #parentingtip #mindfulparenting #positiveparentingtips #neurodevelopment #parentingteens
Give them space to talk but you don’t need to fix anything. You’ll want to, but the answers are in them, not us. Sometimes the answer will be to feel it out, or push for change, or feel the futility of it all so the feeling can let go, knowing it’s done it’s job - it’s recruited support, or raised awareness that something isn’t right.

Sometimes the feelings might be seismic but the words might be gone for a while. That’s okay too. Do they want to start with whatever words are there? Or talk about something else? Or go for a walk with you? Watch a movie with you? Or do a spontaneous, unnecessary drive thru with you just because you can - no words, no need to explain - just you and them and car music for the next 20 minutes. 

The more you can validate what they’re feeling (maybe, ‘Today was big for you wasn’t it’) and give them space to feel, the more they can feel the feeling, understand the need that’s fuelling it, and experiment with ways to deal with it. Sometimes, ‘dealing with it’ might mean acknowledging that there is something that feels big or important and a little out of reach right now, and feeling the fullness and futility of that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days are rubbish, and that sometimes those days last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. But the learning comes from experience.

I wish our kids never felt pain, but we don’t get to decide that. We don’t get to decide how our children grow, but we do get to decide how much space and support we give them for this growth. We can love them through it but we can’t love them out of it. I wish we could but we can’t.

So instead of feeling the need to silence their pain, make space for it. In the end we have no choice. Sometimes all the love in the world won’t be enough to put the wrong things right, but it can help them feel held while they move through the pain enough to find their out breath, and the strength that comes with that.♥️
Speaking to the courage that is coming to life inside them helps to bring it close enough for them to touch, and to imagine, and to step into, even if doesn’t feel real for them yet. It will become them soon enough but until then, we can help them see what we see - a brave, strong, flight-ready child who just might not realise it yet. ‘I know how brave you are.’ ‘I love that you make hard decisions sometimes, even when it would be easier to do the other thing.’ ‘You might not feel brave, but I know what it means to you to be doing this. Trust me – you are one of the bravest people I know.’
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 #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #parentingtip #childdevelopment #braindevelopment #mindfulparenting #parentingtips #parentingadvice
So often, our children will look to us for signs of whether they are brave enough, strong enough, good enough. Let your belief in them be so big, that it spills out of you and over to them and forms the path between them and their mountain. And then, let them know that the outcome doesn't matter. What matters is that they believe in themselves enough to try. 

Their belief in themselves might take time to grow, and that's okay. In the meantime, let them know you believe in them enough for both of you. Try, ‘I know this feels big and I know you can do it. What is one small step you can take? I’m right here with you.’♥️
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 #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #parentingtip #childdevelopment #braindevelopment #mindfulparenting
Anxiety will tell our kiddos a deficiency story. It will focus them on what they can't do and turn them away from what they can. We know they are braver, stronger, and more powerful than they could ever think they are. We know that for certain because we’ve seen it before. We’ve seen them so held by anxiety, and we’ve seen them move through - not every time but enough times to know that they can. Even when those steps through are small and awkward and uncertain, they are brave. Because that’s how courage works. It’s fragile and strong, uncertain and powerful. We know that that about courage and we know that about them. 

Our job as their important adults is to give them the experiences that will help them know it too. This doesn't have to happen in big leaps. Little steps are enough, as long as they are forward. 

When their anxiety has them focused on what they can't do, focus them on what they can. By doing this, we are aligning with their capacity for brave, and bringing it into the light. 

Anxiety will have them believing that there are only two options - all or nothing; to do or not to do. So let's introduce a third. Let's invite them into the grey. This is where brave, bold beautiful things are built, one tiny step at a time. So what does this look like? It looks like one tiny step at a time. The steps can be so small at first - it doesn't matter how big they are, as long as they are forward. 
If they can't stay for the whole of camp, how much can they stay for?
If they can't do the whole swimming lesson on their own, how much can they do?
If they can't sleep all night in their own bed, how long can they sleep there for?
If they can't do the exam on their own, what can they do?
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When we do this, we align with their brave, and gently help it rise, little bit, by little bit. We give them the experiences they need to know that even when they feel anxious, they can do brave, and even when they feel fragile they are powerful.

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