How Sleep Clears the Brain

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A mouse study suggests that sleep helps restore the brain by flushing out toxins that build up during waking hours. The results point to a potential new role for sleep in health and disease.

Scientists and philosophers have long wondered why people sleep and how it affects the brain. Sleep is important for storing memories. It also has a restorative function. Lack of sleep impairs reasoning, problem-solving, and attention to detail, among other effects. However, the mechanisms behind these sleep benefits have been unknown.

Dr. Maiken Nedergaard and her colleagues at the University of Rochester Medical Center recently discovered a system that drains waste products from the brain. Cerebrospinal fluid, a clear liquid surrounding the brain and spinal cord, moves through the brain along a series of channels that surround blood vessels. The system is managed by the brain’s glial cells, and so the researchers called it the glymphatic system.

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