The study in question, which was carried out in the US and has since been published in the journal Science, revealed that brain cells actually shrink during sleep in order to create gaps between neurons that allow fluid to wash the brain clean.
The US team responsible for the study believe this process of removing ‘waste’ could be one of the fundamental reasons for sleep.
In addition, the scientists have also suggested that failing to expel some of the toxic proteins may be linked to the development of brain disorders.
A huge question for many sleep experts has always been over why animals sleep at night when this leaves them open to predators – well now it seems the reason is becoming ever clearer.
In the past, sleep has been shown to play a contributing role in both learning and fixing memories, and it is now thought that “housework” could also be a primary reason.
Speaking of the findings, Dr Maiken Nedergaard said: “The brain only has limited energy at its disposal and it appears that it must choose between two different functional states – awake and aware or asleep and cleaning up.”
Dr Maiken likened the clean up operation to having a house party, explaining that you can either choose to entertain the guests or clear up the house, but you can’t really do both at once.
Whilst these findings are interesting, the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK have said more in-depth research is required in order to establish whether inability to clear toxins from the brain could be a contributing factor to cognitive diseases such as dementia.
Unfortunately, many individuals struggle to get their daily quota of shut-eye due to sleep problems that make it very difficult to fall asleep and/or stay asleep. If you are a problem sleeper and are keen to avoid over-the-counter sleep remedies, there are many complementary therapies that can treat such issues effectively. Acupuncture for example, has proven a great success in many cases. To explore complementary therapies in more detail, please visit our therapy topics page to find out more.
View and comment on the original BBC News article.
Sleep deprivation can be extremely debilitating. If you suffer from sleep difficulty to the point where it has an impact on your day-to-day activities, we recommend you pay a visit to your GP for professional advice.