Contributed by: Dennis Fortier, President, Medical Care Corporation
We know this intuitively. We feel foggy when sleep deprived, and mentally sharper when well-rested. Understanding why this is true raises three very important possibilities.
Research out of the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) sheds light on an important brain cleansing process that occurs during sleep in the brains of mice, and presumably, in human brains as well. The study, published in the online version of Science, describes a cleansing process that becomes very active during sleep.
It appears that a process, whereby brain cells contract to create more space between them and cerebrospinal fluid flows through the spaces to remove proteins, is ten times more active during sleep than during wakefulness. From this, we suggest the following three possible conclusions:
1. Caffeine is Not a Substitute for Good Sleep
This research suggests that the mental fog of sleep deprivation may be partially caused by an excess of proteins in the brain. If so, these proteins may be, in some way, interfering with optimal communication between brain cells. While a jolt of caffeine may increase the intensity of signals between brain cells and allow for improved mental acuity, it won't solve the problem of excess proteins that may be gumming up the communication process. In this regard, sleep trumps coffee.
2. Excess Proteins in the Brain may cause Irreversible Damage
As readers of this blog know, a leading theory about the cause of Alzheimer's disease is the accumulation of beta-amyloid proteins in the brain. Given that the brain seems to actively flush proteins during sleep, including beta-amyloid proteins, it is plausible that sustained periods of sleep deprivation could increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
3. Sleep Disorders may be Especially Dangerous
If the brain engages in important processes of maintenance and repair during sleep, and these processes prevent long-term progression toward neurodegenerative diseases, then sleep may me even more important to our health than we previously suspected. If you snore, or wake often in the night, speak to your physician about a sleep study.