Sleep: The Ultimate Brainwasher?

Medical Genetics

17 October 2013 2:15 pm
Scientists show that our brains clean themselves while we slumber
Maiken Nedergaard/Jeff Iliff
Brainwashing. When mice sleep, fluid-filled channels (pale blue) between neurons expand and flush out waste.

Every night since humans first evolved, we have made what might be considered a baffling, dangerous mistake. Despite the once-prevalent threat of being eaten by predators, and the loss of valuable time for gathering food, accumulating wealth, or having sex, we go to sleep. Scientists have long speculated and argued about why we devote roughly a third of our lives to sleep, but with little concrete data to support any particular theory. Now, new evidence has refreshed a long-held hypothesis: During sleep, the brain cleans itself.

Most physiologists agree that sleep has come to serve many different purposes, ranging from memory consolidation to the regulation of metabolism and the immune system. While the “core” purposes of biological…

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