Sleep deprivation sets you up for more than just snoozing on your morning commute —it could have a serious impact on your future health. (Photo: Getty Images)
Experts have long known that too little, or too low-quality, sleep is linked with a host of health issues —from weight gain to depression to strokes. But for the first time, a group of scientists might be able to prove that poor sleep can leave brains vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease, which is increasing at alarming rates.
Brain scientist Jeffrey Iliff, who works at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland told NPR that sleep is valuable for brain health, particularly because your brain purges amyloid, a toxin linked to Alzheimer’s, overnight, through what’s called the glymphatic system. If the glymphatic system isn’t able to properly clear the brain of amyloid, the researchers posit, it puts a person at a higher risk of Alzheimer’s.
Filmmaker Max Lugavere, who is working on a documentary about brain health, puts it in terms we can all understand: “The glymphatic system is basically the brain’s garbage disposal system,” he explains. “When sleeping, the glymphatic ducts swell (up to 60%) and pulse with cerebrospinal fluid, squirting it throughout and cleaning [the brain] of interstitial waste products like amyloid that could cause damage when aggregated.”
Now, Iliff and his team are getting ready to launch a study that’ll focus on the glymphatic system and how it’s affected by sleep.
“We all make amyloid in our brains, but it’s the aggregation of it that is problematic,” says Lugavere. “If a person doesn’t get enough sleep, they’re simply handicapping their brain’s ability for this vital function to occur. This self-cleaning process doesn’t happen nearly as effectively while we’re awake.”
The team’s research could shed new, valuable light on what causes degenerative brain diseases, as well as how to prevent and fight them. In the meantime, catch those Zs. Even if scientists haven’t yet proven why it’s so valuable, there’s enough evidence to prove that it is.
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