It's true; insomniacs may have dirtier minds than people who get a normal amount of sleep. Before you start thinking that lack of sleep can distort your moral code, take heart. It is not your ethics or morals that are in danger, but your brain itself.
Science has now discovered how the brain cleanses itself of waste and sleep is a requirement. Without enough sleep, your brain could be storing up large amounts of toxic substances.
The science community already knows how the body cleanses itself of waste. Each and every day blood travels throughout our bodies carrying nutrients and oxygen to our cells. Waste that accumulates in the cells during the metabolic process is released from the cell into the fluid between each cell (the interstitial fluid). This is when the lymphatic systems kicks in. It sucks up this waste and fluid, incorporates it into the lymphatic fluid, filters it through the lymph nodes, and then it dumps it back into our circulatory systems.
What science did not know was how the brain cleansed itself. They knew it could not be the same process because the lymphatic system does not extend to the spinal column and brain. This mystery that has baffled science for hundreds of years was recently cleared up when scientists discovered the glymphatic system.
The glymphatic system is the system that cleans the brain. It works much like the lymphatic system - it removes waste from the fluid between the cells. However, the difference is that this cleaning occurs when you are asleep.
While some of the waste produced by our brain cells dissolves in the interstitial fluid, most of it just collects there waiting for your brain to go to sleep so the cleaning can commence.
The spaces between our brain cells increase as much as 60 percent during sleep. This allows cerebral spinal fluid to flow into these areas, mix with the interstitial fluid, and wash the waste that has collected toward our veins. It is then picked up and carried to the liver. This process occurs during the deepest sleep stage - slow wave sleep.
The discovery of the glymphatic system and how it operates proves that quality sleep is vital for the health of the brain. It is also helping science learn more about brain diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
At this time no one truly knows the consequences of having a 'dirty brain' over the long term, but no doubt just like our bodies, the trash must be taken out or it can cause major problems. If you are having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, seek help - long term sleep problems should not be ignored.
Martin is the creator of Insomnia Land’s free sleep training for insomnia. His course will help you identify the issues that are harming your sleep and teach you how to fix them. Over 3,000 insomniacs have completed his course and 96 percent of graduates say they would recommend it to a friend.
Xie, L. et. al. "Sleep Drives Metabolite Clearance from the Adult Brain." Science. October 18, 2013. Accessed July 15, 2015.