Sleep Clears the Brain of Toxins

We emphasize the importance of sleep in the Lifestyle Works Clinic. But is its importance really understood? After all, we have all survived the teenage years on minimal sleep, late night studying in college perhaps or that project for work that the deadline is up. Yet none of us passed on to the next world the day after.

Lifestyle practices are cumulative and the effect can take some time to be realized as a symptom, condition or disease. Consider Alzheimer's for example.

Much like our lymphatic system which is a network of tissues and organs that help rid the body of toxins, waste and other unwanted material, scientists have identified a similar system that protects the brain in the same way called the glymphatic system. This system only works when sleeping and that is not just when our heads are on the pillows, quality of sleep in the duration is important. The glymphatic system controls the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, a clear liquid surrounding the brain and spinal cord, as it moves through the brain along a series of channels that surround blood vessels.

So how important is this removal of waste? After all we expose ourselves to toxins frequently and there is no "poof" and lights out.

This system is key to the removal of neurotoxins that are damaging to the brain and nervous system.
Neurotoxins, alter the normal activity of the nervous system in such a way as to cause damage to nervous tissue. This can eventually disrupt or even kill neurons, key cells that transmit and process signals in the brain and other parts of the nervous system. Neurotoxicity can result from exposure to substances used in chemotherapy, radiation treatment, drug therapies, certain drug abuse, and organ transplants, as well as exposure to heavy metals, certain foods and food additives, pesticides, industrial and/or cleaning solvents, cosmetics, and some naturally occurring substances. Some of the most common naturally occurring brain toxins that lead to neurotoxicity as a result of excessive dosage are beta amyloid (Aβ), glutamate and oxygen radicals. When present in high concentrations they can lead to neurotoxicity and death. Some of the symptoms that result from cell death include loss of motor control, cognitive deterioration and autonomic nervous system dysfunction. Additionally, neurotoxicity has been found to be a major cause of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease.

Aβ results from a mutation that occurs when protein chains are cut at the wrong locations, resulting in chains of different lengths that are unusable. Thus they are left in the brain until they are broken down, but if enough accumulate, they form plaques which are toxic to neurons.

Glutamate is a chemical found in the brain that poses a toxic threat to neurons when found in high concentrations. It is a neurotransmitter, a chemical that nerve cells use to send signals to other cells. It is by a wide margin the most abundant neurotransmitter in the vertebrate nervous system.

Oxygen radical are formed during the metabolic processes of cells (reactive oxidative species - ROS). Naturally, the body utilizes a defensive mechanism to diminish the fatal effects of the reactive species by employing certain enzymes to break down the ROS into small, benign molecules of simple oxygen and water. However, this breakdown of the ROS is not completely efficient; some reactive
residues are left in the brain to accumulate, contributing to neurotoxicity and cell death. The brain is more vulnerable to oxidative stress than other organs, due to its low oxidative capacity. Because neurons are characterized as postmitotic cells, meaning that they live with accumulated damage over the years, accumulation of ROS is fatal. Thus, increased levels of ROS age neurons, which leads to accelerated neurodegenerative processes and ultimately the advancement of Alzheimer's disease.

How much sleep is needed? Too little sleep (six hours or less) and too much sleep (10 hours or more) is linked with chronic diseases in adults aged 45 years and older.

So who is ready for a good 6-10 hours of quality sleep?

Need a way to determine your sleep quality? Many fitness trackers log sleep duration by detecting movement. The FitBit Charge 2 integrates one's heart rate to derive sleep quality/depth. You might also be interested in this smartphone app (iPhone and Android) which analyzes duration and quality: Sleep Cycle


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