Our passion for cultivating physical and mental wellness is reflected in everything from our interest in the best anti-inflammatory dietary supplements to our (somewhat) habitual workout routine and our willingness to study up on the myriad benefits of meditation. We've always had this interest—nay, obsession—with health and wellness, but as time goes on and we inevitably grow older, we've found ourselves concentrating on a specific area of health—brain health. We want to ensure we're doing everything in our power to support our memory, reasoning, and intellect, so as to stay at the top of our game for as long as possible, and eventually become one of those sharp-minded and quick-witted seniors we all know and love.
According to a 2019 study, an intrinsic part of brain health is detoxification. Yes, that's right: the brain detoxifies itself just like the rest of the body, removing toxins and cellular waste to maintain its healthy function. Researchers say there's a way we can encourage our brain's detoxification process, which might keep neurological decline (not to mention disease) at bay. Keep scrolling to get all the details.
Sleep is the easy way we can encourage our brain to remove waste and potentially toxic proteins to maintain neurological health and performance. It's not just any sleep, though, it's deep sleep—deep non-REM sleep to be exact. Take it from the study's lead author, Maiken Nedergaard. "Sleep is critical to the function of the brain’s waste removal system and this study shows that the deeper the sleep the better."
Meet the Expert
Maiken Nedergaard, MD, DMSc., is the co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center. In 2008, she was elected to the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences in recognition of her role as a pioneer in brain research.
REM stands for rapid eye movement; it's the stage of sleep in which we dream. Non-REM, therefore, refers to the stage(s) of sleep in which we're not dreaming. Researchers postulate that this type of sleep provides the optimal environment for the brain's waste-removal process to initiate. This waste removal system is called the glymphatic system, and it works by pumping cerebral spinal fluid through the brain to flush out toxins and potentially harmful protein waste.
This mix of toxins and protein waste is associated with certain neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer's. As such, scientists think adequate sleep (which leads to the glymphatic system detoxifying the brain from waste) could prevent disease and cognitive decline. "These findings also add to the increasingly clear evidence that quality of sleep or sleep deprivation can predict the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia," Nedergaard says.
Although this research was conducted with mice instead of human participants, it's worth taking into serious consideration, as it reinforces the link between sleep deprivation and the development of neurological diseases like Alzheimer's. It's just the motivation we needed to take stock of our sleep habits and implement a better, healthier, and more consistent routine. So do yourself a favor, and leave emails, texts, and Netflix binging for the daytime.
Keep scrolling to see a few of our favorite products to use for relaxing and unwinding.
These screen glasses filter out blue light from electronics, which is thought to cause eye strain and insomnia, thanks to the light's manipulation of the brain's natural wake-sleep cycle. Read more about how these glasses cured one editor's insomnia.
One of our favorite ways to unwind is simply by lighting a candle. There's something about the warm glow of the flame and the wafting scent of the wax that instantly puts us at ease.
This one's kind of similar to the candle idea, but different. Incorporating essential oils (and essential oil diffusers) into your sleeping space can signal your brain and body to relax and prepare for rest. We like this one from Vitruvi, which combines function with design, looking almost as if it's a sculpture you purchased a chic downtown art gallery.
Next: Read up on the 13 simple changes you can make to grow new adult brain cells.
Hablitz LM, Vinitsky HS, Sun Q, et al. Increased glymphatic influx is correlated with high EEG delta power and low heart rate in mice under anesthesia. Sci Adv. 2019;5(2):eaav5447. doi:10.1126/sciadv.aav5447
Tosini G, Ferguson I, Tsubota K. Effects of blue light on the circadian system and eye physiology. Mol Vis. 2016;22:61-72.
Takeda A, Watanuki E, Koyama S. Effects of inhalation aromatherapy on symptoms of sleep disturbance in the elderly with dementia. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2017;2017:1902807. doi:10.1155/2017/1902807