Cleaning Up Your Brain

Back when I started working in what we called at the time “electronic data processing,” “EDP” for short, application systems didn’t stay up 24/7 like they do now. There were some that did, but they were the exception, not the rule. Typically, after everyone went home for the night, an application would be shut down, and the operations staff would run “batch processing and maintenance.” Jobs would be run to back up the databases and files, programs would run to see if any transactions needed to be completed, to report on what happened throughout the day, and to reorganize the files and databases, so that when people showed up for work the next morning, everything would be ready for them.

This is how the brain functions when you go to sleep. While you’re off in Dreamland, your brain is busy connecting the new information you picked up during the day with information that had been there before, building new associations, and, most importantly, taking out the garbage. I read an article from 2013 on the BBC’s website that says a US team has learned that the brain uses the downtime that sleep provides to flush the damaged proteins that have accumulated during the day as a result of mental activity.

The team was studying the glymphatic system, the brain’s waste removal system analogous to the lymphatic system, in mice, and found that it is ten times more active while the mice were asleep. Cells in the brain shrink during sleep, increasing the interstitial space and allowing more fluid in to wash away the damaged proteins that have built up. Sleep time allows the brain to focus its energy on this important task; during the day, that energy is reserved for mental activity. Studies suggest that diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, where brain cells are destroyed, might be directly related to the buildup of toxic material in the brain.

I haven’t seen any followup articles to this, but if all of this is true, and the brain does all of this while you’re asleep, it suggests that getting a good night’s sleep might be part of the key to preventing degenerative diseases of the brain, as well as being important to physiological and psychological well-being. Which we all knew intuitively, but it’s always good to get confirmation.

What do you think of all of this? And how’d you sleep last night?


Author: John Holton

I'm a writer and blogger who writes and blogs about things that interest me.

22 thoughts on “Cleaning Up Your Brain”

  1. This is very interesting. I trained myself long ago to remember my dreams (mostly) and I wonder, sometimes, at the associations my brain makes in my dreams. And I slept just fine last night, I hope you did!


  2. I am working on deepening my sleep because at the moment I need to get up to let my dog out 5 or 6 times a is effecting my mood because my sleep is interrupted. I am using honey, which seems to help me fall back deeply.


  3. I read about this recently and find it fascinating. I practice several Ayurvedic routines, one of which is to get to bed by 10:00 (earlier if possible, though that seldom happens) and rise at the same time the next morning. In theory, this gives the body the time it needs to cleanse and rejuvenate. If we go to bed too late at night, even if we sleep later in the morning, we miss the brain’s prime detox time. I’m no expert, but I do feel better since I started doing this. At 56, I’m a little spacier these days than I used to be, so I need all the help I can get!


  4. Interesting! I knew sleep was important for various reasons, but if this bit is true… jeez! Some scientist should look back into that. My family has a history of Alzheimer’s so it’d be great if just sleeping more will help prevent it. I like to sleep anyway, so it’s no big deal. haha


    1. I read something else this week that suggested the brain doesn’t just have its own garbage-collecting system, it also links in more closely with the lymphatic system than was once thought. The implications for curing autoimmune diseases, like MS, lupus, AIDS etc. are huge. I’ll probably talk more about it later, when I’ve done more reading on it.


  5. That’s a really interesting theory – it sounds so simple, but very logical given everything the brain is doing during the day. I wonder whether sleep patterns have been studied in people with Alzheimer’s? It’s one of the diseases I am truly scared of.


    1. I saw pictures of what Alzheimer’s does to the brain, and it is horrifying. My sister-in-law’s dad died of it a few years ago; he had been a golfer most of his life, so he was in excellent physical shape, but his mind had completely left him by the time he died. It is very scary, and it’s really bad on the family of the person. The sooner they can figure out a way to stop it, the better for all concerned.


  6. Well, I don’t know, but it sounds good. While I’ve been on vacation so far I’ve been doing a lot of brain cleaning since I’ve been sleeping a lot more not only at night but in the daytime as well. A lot of down time this week.

    Wrote By Rote


    1. That’s great! Sleep is a lot better for you than anyone ever knew. I think we’re seeing so much about sleep lately because people are not getting anywhere near the amount they need.


    1. Hope you’re enjoying your tour. I need to start mine soon.

      Everyone needs more sleep, I think. I think the world would be a much happier place if we made getting plenty of sleep a priority. That, and spending more time detached from the Internet and away from anything with a screen….


  7. Hi John – having announced I’m on a blogging break – i.e. not posting and thus not commenting nearly as much … I have been saying when I’m ‘over the top’ with all the internet stuff .. I need space for my brain to recalibrate.

    Also when my mother was still alive and in a Nursing Centre after her strokes, and my uncle was needing care too – I’d stand in a supermarket queue in total peace …. just those few seconds to ‘recuperate’ some blank space.

    I agree with the article and everyone’s thoughts .. interesting .. cheers Hilary


    1. I go on vacation from social media for a week at a time, especially if there’s too much drama going on. And there are nights when I know I have writing to do but just can’t face the computer again. Everyone needs a break from it once in a while; some need it more than others.

      When I was working, there were times when I used to lock myself in a stall in the men’s room and have some quiet time. Everyone needs to do something to collect themselves.


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