Sleep Deprivation, Garbage Trucks, and Chronic Brain Disease
Sleep is one of the most valuable commodities in today’s modern world. Unlike other healthy habits like exercising or eating more vegetables, getting more sleep is a habit that most people crave and are willing to fix any time of year. Just ask the makers of drugs like Ambilify. There is a huge need, and desire to get more sleep.
We know that a poor night’s sleep can make mornings a rough experience, and a work day drag on with no end. The happiest, most go-lucky person in the world suddenly transforms into a grouchy wildebeast when they don’t hit their 8 hour quota. Although most everyone desires more sleep, the reasons people are becoming more sleep deprived vary greatly.
Some people have a sleep disorder like insomnia or sleep apnea which require professional attention. Others like waitresses, bar tenders, or security guards have erratic schedules which require them to work through the night. Then there are those who simply enjoy staying up and watching TV or sitting in front of the computer into the early morning hours, despite having to work in the morning (college kids).
But can a lack of sleep have long term consequences?
This last October, a group of scientists made a pretty remarkable study about how sleep can affect our brains for the long term.
If you have followed some of my previous blog articles, I frequently mention a substance in the body called cerebral spinal fluid or CSF. For decades, doctors and scientists thought that CSF was simply a cushion and nutrient source for the brain and nervous system. What the researchers found is that the flow and movement of CSF is important in cleansing the brain of toxic metabolic waste, a hypothesis which chiropractors have been advocating for decades.
In the current study, they found that when rats were asleep or under anesthesia, the scientists found that the cerebral spinal fluid began moving more rapidly, and that it was increasing the amount of space between the brain cells. The most remarkable thing they found was this: the increased movement of CSF was clearing the brain of a protein called beta-amyloid.
You may not know what beta-amyloid is unless you’re a biology major, or you’ve been touched by the life of someone with Alzheimer’s disease. Beta amyloid is basically a junk protein that accumulates heavily and begins damaging brain cells in Alzheimer’s patients. When the rats were injected with this junk protein, the rats who slept more were able to clear it from their brains much more effectively than those who did not sleep.
CSF: The Brain’s Trash Removal System
As a college student, I remember having the chore of taking out the trash every few days to the dumpster. Every now and then, I’d wake up pretty early in the morning to the sound the garbage trucks outside to pick up the bin and move on to the next neighborhood. But most of the time, this process happened while I was still asleep. The brain operates in a similar way, by clearing out the trash while you sleep.
Just think about it. When you are awake and need to use all of your brain’s resources to get work done, you don’t want your brain to turn it’s resources to other tasks. When you sleep, your brain is taking out the trash. It works on pruning neural connections that you won’t need anymore (like the test you had to cram for, or the interview where you memorized some loose facts). It allocates blood flow to overused, or torn muscles (why you feel sore the next day after a hard workout). And now we know that all the waste products that your brain produces from a hard day’s work need to be cleared out by cerebral spinal fluid.
Imagine what would happen if the garbage trucks stopped taking the trash away. You’d have a neighborhood that slowly started to smell and look dirty. Eventually, the trash would start to show up in your lawns and drive ways. Rats and roaches carrying germs would start infesting the neighborhood and start making people in the community sick.
Now replace those communities of people with communities of brain cells. When your brain gets food (glucose) from your blood and uses it, it has waste products from metabolizing that food. If those waste products aren’t removed, then it starts to accumulate and clump together in a way that makes those brain cells sick, and possibly die off. That’s the importance that CSF and sleep bring.
We are talking beyond changing your mood, we are talking about protecting your brain from things like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Conclusions and Action Steps
Of course, this was a study done on rats. While rats are a decent model for study, we don’t know exactly how this works in humans, but we’ll leave that to time and science to figure out. What we do know is that dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are things that we wouldn’t wish upon our worst enemies. The impact it has on the individual and their families can be devastating towards the end of life. Why play with that when we can do something that we already desire, and is healthy for us?
What we do know for sure is that getting consistent high quality sleep is an essential part of a healthy life. How do we get better sleep?
1. Consistency is key: First and foremost is to make your sleeping habits consistent. From my own experience, I’ve noticed that bar tenders, security guards, and college students report the poorest quality sleep. One day they’re asleep by 11PM, the next day they’re in bed at 5AM.
You don’t get extra credit for sleeping 12 hours one day and 5 hours another day. It just doesn’t work.
Your body operates best with a consistent rhythm. Figure out how many hours of sleep do you best. Personally, I do great with 7 hours of sleep. There fore I set my body up to wake up at 7AM each morning so I know I need to be in bed by midnight. Find your happy place and set up a schedule.
2. Pitch Black – There’s research out there showing that we sleep best in complete darkness. That means burying the light of the phone. Ditching the night lights. Closing down the shades and drapes.
Why? Light is shown to affect your levels of melotonin, a chemical released by the body to promote deep sleep. In other words, low levels of melotonin usually equate to poor sleep. Some studies have even linked increased light during sleep to a higher risk for cancer.
3. Address Your Sleeping Disorder – insomnia and sleep apnea carry a huge economic and societal burden. Billions of dollars are spent each year on sleep studies and drugs like Ambilify.
In our office, we often notice that patients will often report their best night’s sleep after receiving their first Atlas Correction. We’ve even seen patients who will show improvements in sleep apnea after their Atlas Displacement is addressed.
How? Because your central nervous system is responsible for respiration and sleep control. For these special cases, things like insomnia and sleep apnea are sometimes Secondary Conditions of Atlas Displacement Complex.
On top of balancing the central nervous system, the atlas can also have a profound effect on the flow of your CSF waste disposal system. If you are getting decent sleep, but the atlas is cutting off the flow of CSF, then you are not truly maximizing the benefits of your sleep time.