Being awake takes its toll on the body. Many chemical reactions are firing all day to ensure movement, organ function, thinking and emotions. These reactions occur all over the body and produce large amounts of metabolic waste that can start to slow reactions and reduce functional efficiency.
The Lymphatic system is responsible for metabolic waste removal around the body, however, not for the brain. The brain’s blood-barrier which protects it from outside contaminants and makes it difficult to develop drugs that directly interact with the brain, prevents the Lymphatic system cleaning up.
The brain has its own cleaning system which is the Glymphatic system. The Glymphatic system not only removes the metabolic waste of the days functioning but also is responsible for the distribution of compounds such as glucose, lipids, amino acids, growth factors, and neuromodulators.
This process is extremely important in maintaining proper brain functioning, and the system is most active during sleep. During sleep, the Glymphatic system becomes 10 times more active. Brain cells reduce in size by about 60% to make waste removal more efficient.
The functioning of the Glymphatic system explains findings such as after 24 hours of wakefulness, glucose distribution in the brain reduces by 6%. This can then lead to high energy foods to support the brains cravings. Studies that have an experimental group who have been exposed to sleep deprivation take up to 14% longer on certain tasks and make 20% more mistakes.
Sleep is important in more ways than one but ensuring efficient activation of the Glymphatic system is chief amongst them.
Jessen, N. A., Munk, A. S. F., Lundgaard, I., & Nedergaard, M. (2015). The Glymphatic System – A Beginner’s Guide. Neurochemical Research, 40(12), 2583–2599. http://doi.org/10.1007/s11064-015-1581-6