New study reveals brain’s important task during full night’s sleep

Burning the midnight oil? A new sleep study has revealed information that stresses the importance of getting the recommended amount of sleep.

Research led by Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester, has found the human brain runs through a process to get rid of toxins during sleep. The process of removing toxins takes six to eight hours, Tara Swart, a lecturer at MIT that specializes in sleep and the brain, told Quartz.

This cleaning process – dubbed “the glymphatic system” by Nedergaard – cleans out neurotoxins by opening up “hidden caves” in your brain and uses cerebrospinal fluid to push the toxins through the spinal column. Without this process, which is restricted when a person doesn’t get an adequate amount of sleep, toxins can build up in the brain.

One of these neurotoxins – beta-amyloid – is tied directly to Alzheimer’s disease, which commonly is found en masse in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. A buildup of neurotoxins also makes it harder for the glymphatic system to work properly, exacerbating its effect.

Matthew Walker, a neuroscientist affiliated with the study, told Quartz: “The more beta-amyloid you have in certain parts of your brain, the less deep sleep you get and, consequently, the worse your memory. Additionally, the less deep sleep you have, the less effective you are at clearing out this bad protein.”

Researchers discover Alzheimer’s breakthrough in mice

In March, researchers at the Queensland Brain Institute in Australia announced the discovery of a potential new way to treat Alzheimer’s disease after testing on lab mice. The treatment uses a non-invasive ultrasound technology that breaks up beta-amyloid plaques that cause memory loss and cognitive decline.

Professor Jurgen Gotz, who co-authored the QBI study, called the new method a potential revolutionary technology for Alzheimer’s treatment.

“We’re extremely excited by this innovation of treating Alzheimer’s without using drug therapeutics. … The word ‘breakthrough’ is often misused, but in this case I think this really does fundamentally change our understanding of how to treat this disease.”