It’s one of the most essential (and elusive) keys to overall wellness — sleep. Of course, a good night’s sleep can have significantly restorative effects on your health. But, not getting enough sleep, or failing to fall into a deep enough sleep, can do just the opposite.
There is a good amount of research proposing the theory that cerebrospinal fluid might actually help flush toxic waste from the brain. Studies show that your body’s ability to clean the brain improves greatly during periods of deep sleep.1
So, how does your body do it? How can deep sleep improve your ability to “wash” your brain, supporting your cognitive function tomorrow (and the next day, and the next)?
What Happens To Your Brain During Sleep?
Let’s start with what is known about sleep: Slow electrical oscillations (otherwise known as “slow waves”) shape your deep sleep.
A recent study seems to suggest that those hard-working slow waves help direct blood flow and cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. The study reports there are large waves of cerebrospinal fluid that appear in your brain, but only when you are sleeping.2
Of course, sleep is extremely important when it comes to the health of your brain. And it is assumed that the way your brain rinses out waste during deep sleep is potentially a big reason why.
Now, during deep sleep, the waves of cerebrospinal fluid in your brain align with momentary decreases in your blood flow. And when there’s less blood in your brain, there is more space for your cerebrospinal fluid to carry away toxins.3
So, if you’re not getting good sleep, it might be messing with your brain’s ability to clear out these toxins. Also, newer studies might be suggesting that getting enough high-quality sleep could help reduce the risk of cognitive health issues later in life.4
Studies show that people with cognitive health issues often suffer sleep problems. And there happens to be mounting evidence that people with sleep problems are more vulnerable to compromised brain health.5
A Closer Look At Slow Waves
Now, slow waves happen in your brain around every 20 seconds or so. Imagine your washing machine set to gentle: every 20 seconds or so, your cerebrospinal fluid “sloshes around” and washes your brain.
The thing is, slow waves can only really occur when you enter a state of deep sleep. This is also referred to as non-rapid eye movement sleep (or NREM). When a person is in NREM, their brain waves tend to slow. Their breathing patterns and heart rates slow, too. Also, your blood pressure lowers and you sleep in stillness.6
Deep sleep (NREM) is just as important as REM sleep. Again, in deep sleep, your brain might actually shrink about 20 percent in size.7 This is what allows the space to wash out the toxins that can ultimately affect your memory.
But what are these toxins? Read the list below to find out:
- Amyloid — Amyloid is a toxic, abnormal protein made up of various peptides and peptide fragments that usually appear in higher amounts in patients with cognitive impairment.8
- Tau Proteins — Tau proteins can build up and clump, forming neurofibrillary tangles (or NFTs). NFTs might actually contribute to a loss in certain brain functions in those who age normally but experience mild cognitive impairment.9
Again, If you don’t get enough sleep to allow that helpful brain wash cycle to flush out toxins, amyloids and tau proteins may collect in the brain, and eventually cause harm. So, sleep is imperative.
Can Intermittent Fasting Help Ensure Rinsing Of Brain Toxins?
Remember when you were a kid and your mother would tell you not to eat too close to going for a swim? Believe it or not, there was a good reason for that advice.
When you eat, your blood flow goes down to your gut to help with digestion. If you go for a swim too soon after you eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner, your muscles won’t get enough blood flow and they can cramp.
Similarly, if you eat too close to going to bed, your brain won’t have the blood flow it needs and you may actually miss the chance to give your brain a rinse for the night.
With that said, by finishing your final meal by 6 pm, or choosing to intermittent fast and skip a meal altogether, you may be able to support your brain health.
Intermittent fasting can support your health in other ways, as well. In fact, there are clinical trials that show intermittent fasting can result in various degrees of weight loss and even improve insulin sensitivity.10
“Wash” Those Toxins Out Of Your Brain
Taking good care of yourself doesn’t stop when you turn out the lights. If you can help yourself get good sleep by using blackout curtains, a sound machine, finding the right mattress, and skipping dinner (or eating an early dinner), you could really support your health.
Keep your environment comfortable and limit disturbances. Consider high-quality sleep as a serious priority. Your health depends on it.