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Dave Ross

Another reason to sleep

There are many reasons to sleep. It's warm and cozy, it doesn't involve working, many times there's a really attractive friend within reach. But this has to be the most persuasive reason yet.(PRNewsFoto/InterContinental Hotels Group PLC)

Of course – there are many reasons to sleep. It’s warm and cozy, it doesn’t involve working, many times there’s a really attractive friend within reach. But this has to be the most persuasive reason yet.

Either you sleep, or your brain will clog.

And it’s based on the latest research on how the brain takes out its garbage, believe it or not. And I’m not talking about mental garbage, as in used up thoughts or dog-eared dreams, but actual trash.

“The brain cares an awful lot about what its environment is like. If it’s off just a little tiny bit it stops functioning properly,” says neuroscientist Jeffrey Iliff.

And because that balance is so crucial, Iliff and his colleagues at the University of Rochester have spent years trying to figure out how the brain rids itself of waste, since it’s not carried away by blood vessels.

Their experiments on mice discovered that the brain showers itself with a special fluid.

“That continuous flow sweeps along particles that are sitting in between the cells,” says Iliff.

And here’s where sleep comes in. Because during sleep, a strange thing happens: when the test mice were sleeping, the spaces between their brain cells opened up – increasing 60 percent – so this fluid could more easily sweep through, and clear out the toxins produced as a byproduct of thought.

“In Alzheimer’s disease, one of the things that happens is amyloid beta clogs up the space between the cells and it’s thought that that is what kills the neurons and causes the dementia that is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease,” says Iliff.

In other words, sleep is not just a mental necessity, but a physical necessity. If you don’t sleep, the sewers back up. Making it more likely that and after a few years, your thoughts will too.

Dave Ross on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM

  • Tune in to KIRO Radio weekdays at 5am for Dave Ross on Seattle's Morning News.

About the Author

Dave Ross

Dave Ross hosts the Morning News on KIRO Radio weekdays from 5-9 a.m. Dave has won the national Edward R. Murrow Award for writing five times since he started at KIRO Radio in 1978.


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