Scientists at the University of Rochester have found that “over-loaded” brains act like self-cleaning ovens, during sleep, using the downtime to rid themselves of all the “gunk” accumulated during waking hours.While the evidence of this cerebral cleansing was first detected in sleeping mice, lead researcher Dr.Maiken Nedergaard thinks it is only “logical that the human brain also acts the same way,” noting that “brain cells tend to shrink during sleep, which widens the space between cells by 60%.”
"Sleep changes the cellular structure of the brain. It appears to be a completely different state,"she explained, adding that a “plumbing system called the glymphatic system may open, letting cerebrospinal liquid (which surrounds the brain and spinal cord) flow rapidly through the brain while we sleep.”
It is already known that lack of sleep can cause the brain to slow down, affecting people’s ability to retain and process information and make decisions as well as dull their reaction times.
"These results mean the cells regulating the glymphatic system may be new targets for treating multiple neurological disorders including Alzheimer’s and dementia,” said Jim Koenig, a program director at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, which funded the study.