A Little-Known Clearance System
Many of us are familiar with the lymphatic system for detoxification and waste removal, but have you heard of the glymphatic system? It is a newly discovered macroscopic waste clearance system that helps to detoxify your central nervous system — including the brain. It is basically your brain’s rubbish collector — and it plays an exceptionally important role in supporting cognitive health. Two aspects greatly impact the efficiency of this system: quality sleep and exercise.
The Connection Between Sleep and Brain Detoxification
We all know the importance of sleep for our mental and physical wellbeing. And now researchers have found another reason we should make sure we are getting enough quality sleep: brain detoxification. A study published in Neurochemical Research1 using animal models found that brain cells spread out during sleep, allowing for waste to be removed by the glymphatic system. According to the press release, “Brain may flush out toxins during sleep”2:
“Sleep changes the cellular structure of the brain. It appears to be a completely different state,” said Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M.Sc., co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, and a leader of the study.
The team found that the glymphatic system opens up during sleep, which lets fluid flow swiftly through the brain, flushing out toxins. But when the animals were awake, the system was hardly active. Next, mice were injected with beta-amyloid, a protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease. They found that this protein was cleared much more rapidly when the animals were asleep compared to times of consciousness, indicating the detoxifying function of the glymphatic system during sleep.
Researchers believe it may also “help to distribute non-waste compounds, such as glucose, lipids, amino acids, and neurotransmitters related to volume transmission, in the brain.”3 Interestingly, this system largely only functions during sleep, which is another reason why we should take steps to encourage deep, rejuvenating rest each night. More on how to do this down below.
The Importance of Exercise for Cognitive Health
Similarly, research has shown that exercise can have a significant positive impact on detoxifying the brain. One study4 found that glymphatic activity in the brain doubled when mice ran on a wheel, compared to those who didn’t exercise. The active mice ran a total distance of 6 km a day during the study. The researchers discovered that the activation of the glymphatic system impacted widespread areas of the brain, demonstrating the positive benefits of exercise on cognitive health.
The team concluded: “Regular exercise is increasingly showing benefits for many aspects of brain health, including the maintenance of cerebrovascular integrity. … We propose that heightened glymphatic activity induced by exercise may favor brain health by enhancing clearance of neurotoxic waste products from the brain.”
What’s more, a consistent exercise routine can also help to boost energy, enhance memory, curb depression and anxiety, and improve outcomes for those with neurodegenerative disorders such as multiple sclerosis. Read more about the perks of exercise in my post, “One Simple Science-Backed Habit to Boost Happiness, Brain Power, Weight Loss and More“.
How to Encourage Deep, Restful Sleep
Quality sleep not only affects how well your brain will be able to detoxify, but it also can impact your mental health, hormonal balance, and even your weight. If you find that you are not getting at least seven hours of sound, rejuvenating sleep each night, a good nighttime sleep routine may be in order.
Make sure to stop using your devices and/or television at least two hours before bedtime to avoid circadian rhythm disrupting blue light exposure. Next, engaging in relaxing activities such as a warm bath, reading or listening to soothing music each night will send a signal to your nervous system that it is time to wind down and prepare for sleep. Herbal remedies are another powerful method for cultivating deep, restful sleep.
My favorite herbs for quality sleep include hops, valerian root, German chamomile, and passionflower. Magnesium glycinate also encourages deeper sleep and supports healthy REM patterns. Supplementation with this form of magnesium also has been shown to provide rapid recovery from major depression in under seven days. It eases anxiety and irritability as well. Learn more about these powerful herbs and magnesium glycinate here.
If you need extra help in achieving sound, restorative sleep, the four botanicals mentioned above plus magnesium glycinate are included in my potent Sleep Blend Tincture.
Visit the apothecary today and sleep easy!
- Jessen, N. A., Munk, A. S., Lundgaard, I., & Nedergaard, M. (2015). The Glymphatic System: A Beginner’s Guide. Neurochemical research, 40(12), 2583–2599. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11064-015-1581-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC4636982/
- Brain may flush out toxins during sleep. (2013, October 17). National Institutes of Health. Retrieved March 11, 2022, from https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/brain-may-flush-out-toxins-during-sleep.
- Von Holstein-Rathlou, S., Petersen, N. C., & Nedergaard, M. (2018). Voluntary running enhances glymphatic influx in awake behaving, young mice. Neuroscience letters, 662, 253–258. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neulet.2017.10.035. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC5696653/