Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating disorder, not just to the person with it but the entire family of the afflicted. There is some good news on how to possibly prevent it and a new understanding of how sleep can affect it may lead to new treatments. So how does sleep affect Alzheimer’s? Turns out that sleep may help flush out toxins from the brain.
A recent paper published in Science magazine (October 18, 2013) suggested that one of the reasons sleep is so important is that during sleep, the brain and spinal cord fluid flushes the space between brain cells. The toxins and waste material is then sent to the liver for processing. The study, done on mice revealed this operation of what is known as the glymphatic system. The leader of the study, Dr. Maiken Nedergaard of Rochester Medical Center in New York said, “it was almost like you opened a faucet” when explaining what the researchers saw.
While awake, glial cells expand which reduces the space between brain cells and they contract during sleep to allow the fluid to rush in. This swelling and contraction changes the space about 60% between sleep and being awake. Numerous compounds build up in the brain during waking hours including amyloid-beta which has been implicated in Alzheimer’s disease. When you sleep, amyloid-beta decreases but no one understood what the mechanism was. It was thought that enzymes might have been the way amyloid-beta was decreased but now that may need to be reexamined.
Researchers like Dr. Randall Bateman at Washington University in St. Louis said, “I’d be a fool not to pay attention to this.” As was mentioned in an article in Science News (November 16, 2013), “Increasing the brain’s ability to rinse itself off may also prevent or combat Alzheimer’s and similar diseases…”
Whatever your preferred method of getting to sleep, it seems to be critical in preventing any number of neurological disorders as well as allowing you to achieve optimal health.