If you didn’t clean your house or your car, the unkempt disorganization would get rather distracting. If you didn’t shower or brush your teeth regularly, your hygiene would quickly plummet and your health would suffer. So why don’t we talk about cleaning our brains, one of the most important organs of the body?

Your brain is the center of your nervous system. It controls thought, memory, emotion, touch, motor skills, vision, respiration and every process that regulates your body. And as we age, it becomes increasingly important to take care of the brain — especially in order to prevent conditions like Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

So how does one clean the brain? According to a new study published in the journal Science, prioritizing sleep could be the key to eliminating toxins.

Sleep’s role in clearing toxins from the brain

Though previous studies have noted that people who sleep poorly are more prone to developing Alzheimer’s, scientists were never sure why exactly this was the case. One 2013 study done on mice showed that while the rodents slept, toxins like beta amyloid (which may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease) got washed away. Still, scientists were stuck with the question of why.

The current report explained that during sleep, electrical signals (or slow waves) appear, followed by a pulse of fluid that “washes” the brain. The scientists now had an answer to their question, presuming that this fluid is vital in removing dangerous toxins associated with Alzheimer’s.

The study suggests that people might be able to reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s by ensuring that they get high-quality sleep.

To come to this conclusion, the researchers used MRI techniques and related technologies to monitor what was going on in the brains of 11 sleeping people. In particular, they monitored cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which is vital liquid that flows through the brain and spinal cord.

Through this high-tech imaging, they found that during sleep, large, slow waves of CSF wash into the brain every 20 seconds. According to the report, electrical activity in the neurons provokes each of these waves — the scientists compared all of this to the workings of a very slow washing machine.

This groundbreaking finding suggests that people might be able to reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s by ensuring that they get high-quality sleep, William Jagust, a professor of public health and neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley, told NPR.

In summation, quality sleep plays an important role in brain protection, toxin elimination, and neurodegenerative disease prevention.

How this information could help change Alzheimer’s treatment

Previous Alzheimer’s medications have targeted specific toxins that are abundantly present in diseased brains, such as the aforementioned beta amyloid. However, these drugs all failed once going into clinical trials, perhaps because they were only targeting one part of the problem.

The current study opens a new avenue for treatment that, instead of targeting specific toxins, would focus on increasing the amount of CSF in the brain all-together, Maiken Nedergaard, a neuroscientist at the University of Rochester who led the 2013 study on mice told WIRED.

This would hopefully clear large amounts of the brain toxins associated with Alzheimer’s progression, rather than only looking at one piece of the puzzle.

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