The function of your brain after sleep
Have you ever wondered how sleep affects your brain? Think of a time when you were sleep deprived and had to go to work or take a big exam. How did you function on little to no sleep? Did you feel refreshed and ‘on point’ or run-down and in a fog? Either way, there’s a very interesting explanation for why your brain needs adequate sleep to perform at its best.
Galen of Pergamum’s theory
First of all, we devote 1/3 of our lives to sleeping every day (sometimes less if we get less than 8 hours a night). Furthermore, back 2,000 years ago during the Roman Empire, an acclaimed physician and notable researcher, Galen of Pergamum, constructed a theory on what happens while we sleep. His theory was that during the day when the brain’s awake, its fluid would seep out of the brain and saturate everywhere else in the body. As a result, the brain would be water less until we fell asleep and the abundance of fluid elsewhere would come racing back. This replenishment would make us feel rejuvenated when we woke up.
Nourishing with nutrients and oxygen
Sounds logical right? We all feel that sense that we’ve been recharged in the morning after a good night’s sleep. Well, since Galen, there’s been countless research conducted on the systematization of sleep’s ‘healing’ powers for the brain. In fact, sleep is how the brain maintains its full capacity to meet the rest of the bodies’ needs. To further explain, every organ in the body needs a steady supply of nutrients to nourish all the cells. The brain is no different from every other organ in the body – it also needs to stay fueled since “its intense electrical activity uses up a quarter of the body’s entire energy supply.”
The circulatory system
The circulatory system is how the nutrients (along with oxygen) are transported via blood vessels to every square-inch of the body. These blood vessels also form a web that encompasses the brain. In turn, they begin at the brain’s surface and after descending, permeate the surrounding tissue. In addition, as the vessels disperse, all the brain’s cells receive those essential nutrients and oxygen for optimal function.
Getting rid of waste
Now that we’ve explained the supply of nutrients and oxygen to the brain, we need to address the expulsion of waste (generated by cells as a byproduct). Fortunately for every other organ in the body, the lymphatic system handles this demand with its corresponding vessels all over the body. “It takes up protein and other wastes between the cells, it collects them, and then dumps them into the blood so they can be disposed of.”
No lymphatic system in the brain?
However, the brain does not contain any lymphatic vessels and therefore, can not eliminate its waste in the same manner as the rest of the body’s organs. Well, there has to be another way right? Fortunately for the brain, it has what’s known as cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) which is a collection of crystal clear fluid that fills the void around the brain. In turn, waste migrates to this CSF and then it all gets discarded into the blood.
Interestingly, there’s a unique methodology to this elimination process – the CSF intertwines itself throughout the brain (adjacent to the blood vessels) picking up waste, as well as cleansing the areas separating the brain’s cells. Lastly, “the blood vessels extend from the surface of the brain down to reach every single cell in the brain which means the fluid that’s traveling along the outsides of these vessels can gain easy access to the entire brain’s volume.”
While you sleep…
When you are sleeping, the brain ‘flips a switch’ to start cleaning house. Let’s face it, the brain has too many other responsibilities when it’s awake to worry about cleaning. Also, in this sleeping state, the cells in the brain temporarily grow smaller in order to make way for the influx of CSF. This allows for more surface area to be reached and every cavity to be cleansed of waste.
Just think if your body never slept, all that waste would buildup and make for a toxic environment in the brain. In fact, a protein known as amyloid beta produced by the brain is a factor in people suffering with Alzheimer’s disease. This protein has been observed in excessive amounts in these individuals. Naturally, sleeping facilitates the removal of excessive amyloid beta along with other wastes. However, it does not necessarily mean that sleep deprivation (according to studies) is the actual cause of Alzheimer’s disease. In conclusion, if the brain does not adequately eliminate any of its waste (to include amyloid beta), conditions similar to Alzheimer’s disease may arise.
So there you have some thoughts on whether sleep affects brain function. I realize it’s not always easy to get enough sleep, but for your brain’s sake, try to make it a priority in your life. Just picture the natural cleansing taking place in your brain while you’re in dreamland. Chances are it will lead to living a healthier, happier life! With that being said, here’s to living your best life ever! Feel free to leave me a comment or any insight you may have on the topic of how sleep affects brain function.
Iliff, J. (2014). One more reason to get a good night’s sleep. [online] YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJK-dMlATmM [Accessed 23 Feb. 2018].