Clean Your Brain While You Sleep


We are vigilant about our children’s sleep. We let sleeping dogs lie. Why don’t we value our own sleep?
When I was young, I fell asleep instantly and slept soundly through the night. No matter how stressed I was, sleep was a refuge, a sanctuary, a way of restoring myself. During the day, I worked hard and after work I exercised intensely. The more challenging my exercise, the better I slept. I avoided stimulates and alcohol, didn’t drink coffee or tea or any caffeinated beverages, and ate a natural, organic, plant-based fresh food diet.

Yes, it was an era without cell phones, smart tablets, and computers. No email. No cable TV with hundreds of channels and movies 24/7. No multitasking. No dual screening. No Twitter. No Facebook. And, I was young.

I still fall asleep easily and sleep reasonably well, but don’t wake up as refreshed as before. In the daytime, I’m overwhelmed with emails and information streams at me on multiple devices. When I’m working on a book, I only sleep five hours a night, and can go on like that for months without feeling tired. But then it catches up and I feel like walking mud.

We neglect our sleep because no one wants to spend a third of his or her life unconscious in bed. We too busy, too stimulated, and too stressed. It’s not as if the ill effects of slow mornings and daytime fatigue are a surprise.

We are vigilant about our children’s sleep. We let sleeping dogs lie. Why don’t we value our own sleep?

I have to admit, there were many times when I’ve asked myself—I have so much to do and accomplish, why do I have to sleep at all?

Why Do We Sleep?

On our blue planet all living things have a cycle of life. The ancient Chinese called it yin and yang. The ebb and flow of tides, the full and new moon, day and night. To all things there is a season. All animals sleep. So do we.

It’s natural. Our diurnal, or daily, cycle includes waking and sleeping.

Sleep experts call sleeping a reversible state of consciousness characterized by a greatly diminished response to external stimuli. Therefore, we have two main states of consciousness: awake and asleep. However, we know very little about why we sleep and what goes on during sleep.

Doctors used to think that sleep was irrelevant to health and disease. Sleep was considered a state of unconsciousness, completely separate from waking and the diseases and health conditions associated with living. If sleep has no biological function, is it just an evolutionary glitch?

Sleep Effects Include

  • Normalizing homeostasis
  • Maintaining circadian rhythm
  • Slowing aging
  • Improving health and preventing disease
  • Boosting immunity
  • Promoting emotional wellbeing
  • Enhancing energy
  • Restoring brain function

We are just beginning to learn that sleep is intertwined with bodily regulation.
Getting a good night’s sleep is just as important to our health as regular exercise and a balanced, whole foods diet. Disrupted sleep, stress, and a diet high in simple carbohydrates spells trouble.

Inadequate sleep deceases the brain’s ability to utilize glucose effectively, and create an imbalance in vagal tone results due to sympathetic nervous system disruption. The adrenal stress hormone, cortisol, goes up, disrupting hormonal balance in the body including lower growth hormone secretion, which mostly takes place at night.

All this creates insulin imbalance, causing increased appetite as the body strives to get enough glucose to the brain. If sleep disturbances continue, they may eventually lead to insulin insensitivity, which causes lower energy, increased weight—especially around the waist—poor glucose metabolism, and metabolic syndrome.

Over time, you can develop chronic fatigue—lower energy during the day, and excess wakefulness at night.

Sleep and Your Brain

Nighttime sleep helps detoxify the brain. One wellness writer, Flannery Dean, says: “Your brain is kind of like your kitchen.” [] Like a good chef who uses only fresh organic ingredients, the bottom line is to keep you brain, and your kitchen, clean. No dirty counters or cockroaches allowed.

New research shows that a recently discovered mechanism in the brain removes waste products while you sleep. Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, co-director of URMC’s Center for Translational Neuromedicine, says: “… the brain has different functional states when asleep and when awake. In fact, the restorative nature of sleep appears to be the result of the active clearance of the by-products of neural activity that accumulate during wakefulness.”

In 2012, Nedergaard and colleagues reported that by using new imaging technology on mice, they discovered a previously unrecognized system that cleans up the brain.

In a paper published in Science Translational Medicine researchers dubbed it the “glymphatic system,” because it acts like the body’s lymphatic system but is managed by brain cells known as glial cells.

We all know that the lymphatic system serves as the body’s garbage collector. When waste is formed, it sweeps it clean. But what cleans the brain?

The brain controls nearly every body function. It’s so fine-tuned that minor disruptions have major negative impacts on the rest of the body. Could much of our modern ailments from chronic fatigue, adrenal deficiency, neurodegenerative diseases, and metabolic diseases be a toxic brain due to chronic sleep deprivation and disruption of the restorative sleep cycle?

A good nights sleep clears the brain and tune ups the mind through the newly discovered glymphatic system. It flushes away toxins and waste products that could be responsible for brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders. Sleep actually changes the cellular structure of the brain.

Could a little brainwashing do the body good?

Try it out. Sleep longer and better tonight and enjoy the benefits tomorrow, and for the rest of your life.

Dr. J. E. Williams

Dr. J. E. Williams is a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, longevity, and natural health. Dr. Williams is the author of six books and more than two hundred articles. During his thirty years of practice, Dr. Williams has conducted over 100,000 patient visits. Formerly from San Diego, he now practices in Sarasota, Florida and teaches at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Division of Complementary and Integrative Medicine, NOVA Southeastern University, and Emperor’s College in Los Angeles.

He is also an ethnographer and naturalist. Since 1967, he has lived and worked with indigenous tribes, and spends as much time in the high Andean wilderness and deep Amazonian rainforest as possible. In 2010, he founded AyniGLOBAL, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting indigenous cultures, environments, and intellec¬tual rights. His current work is with the Q’ero people of the Peruvian Andes, where he teaches Earth-based wisdom and heart-centered spirituality.

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