Why Sleeping Well Can Help Keep Dementia at Bay

Daily Mail (London), February 26, 2019 | Go to article overview

Why Sleeping Well Can Help Keep Dementia at Bay


WHEN I was at medical school, we were taught about the lymphatic system a series of channels within the body that drain fluid from the tissues back into the circulation. Roughly three litres of fluid pass through this system each day, helping to remove waste substances and toxins.

At the time, we were told that the one organ that did not have a lymphatic system was the brain.

But, in the past few years and it is remarkable that it is so recent it's been discovered that in fact there is a network of tiny channels in the brain, that have been termed the glymphatic system.

These act like a waste disposal chute for the brain, and there is clear evidence that one of the substances cleared by this network is the protein beta-amyloid. A build-up of this compound is one of the characteristics of Alzheimer's disease. The protein forms plaques that cause signalling problems between nerve cells in the brain, triggering inflammation.

But what has this to do with sleep? Well, evidence from sleeping or anaesthetised mice shows that the channels of the glymphatic system expand during sleep, and the flow of fluid through this network increases.

In humans, levels of betaamyloid in the cerebrospinal fluid found in the brain and spinal cord, where the fluid inside the glymphatic vessels ends up, are highest in the morning, suggesting a similar flushing-out.

In fact, a recent study in humans has shown that after even a single night of sleep deprivation, levels of beta-amyloid in certain parts of the brain, including the hippocampus (which is involved in both short and long-term memory, and which is often damaged in Alzheimer's) go up.

So sleep deprivation could well carry an increased risk for Alzheimer's disease.

Deep sleep, in particular, seems to be important for the brain's housekeeping work.

In deep sleep, the glymphatic channels open up by up to 60 per cent, thereby allowing the carriage of potentially toxic substances such as beta-amyloid away from the brain. …

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