Have you ever heard that sleep quality is just as important if not more than quantity? Wonder why some people can operate on 4 hours of sleep while others need 8? While modern science still doesn’t know all of the molecular mechanisms behind the purpose of sleep, we do know that it’s a huge component to healing and recovery.
In a series of studies published between 2012 and 2015, we now know that the brain has its own internal detoxing system that turns on when we are asleep. It literally has its own detox organ system! Lead investigator and discoverer of the system, Dr. Maiken Nedergaard summarizes: “the restorative nature of sleep appears to be the result of the active clearance of the by-products of neural activity that accumulate during wakefulness.”
The point here is that while you rest, your brain is busy sweeping the floor, washing the dishes, and taking out the trash to prepare your body for the next day. The understanding of how this system works is already transforming scientific understanding of what sleep is for, and how it works and offers new directions for brain disease treatments. This wonderful brain detox organ is called The Glymphatic System.
The Glymphatic System: Your very own “Brain Drain”
While the glymphatic system hasn’t hit “lame”-stream media just yet, it will. If you are a patient of mine, then you should already know where health and healing come from… The brain. These findings further support the notion of caring for and optimizing brain health.
The glymphatic system uses the cells’ mitochondria (your cells battery) to remove cellular waste from the brain (see reference). Scientists have found that the clear cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain is what is responsible for draining toxins from the brain, much like how the lymph system in other organs is what removes waste from those cells to the kidney and liver. But the brain has no lymph – it has cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) instead. The CSF is a clear fluid that transfers between the brain and spinal cord.
Brain cells, like all cells of the body, require food and oxygen for metabolism. And like all cells of the body, brain cell metabolism results in waste. During the day, this waste collects in the brain's fluid. Some of this waste dissolves in the fluid, but most of it simply collects, waiting for sleep.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the brain cleansing process is the behavior of the brain cells. They actually shrink during sleep. As they shrink, the space between the cells increases by 60% aiding in the cleansing process. Cerebral spinal fluid quickly flows into the space, aided by the pulse of the arteries. It mixes with the fluid and washes the waste toward the veins and carries it to the liver. This process occurs during slow wave sleep, the deepest part of our sleep cycle. In other words, as you sleep your brain cells’ mitochondria remove cellular waste. If you improve your mitochondrial function during sleep, you’ll turbocharge your brain’s maintenance system and can potentially get cleanup done in fewer hours.
Why detoxing the body (and brain) is so important!
We call the process of eliminating toxins, “cleansing” or “detoxification,” which is the opposite of “intoxication.” The body has several organs aimed at helping to clean up:
- Gall Bladder
- Lymphatic System
But just like any filtration system, the efficiency starts to drop with repeated exposure and lack of proper maintenance. This is exactly why I recommend everyone to detox at least once per year if not every 3 to 4 months for maximum health.
Think about what happens to your body during exercise. You start off full of energy and ready to go! But soon enough, your breathing turns uneven, your muscles tire, and your stamina runs its course. What’s happening internally is that your body isn’t able to deliver oxygen quickly enough to each muscle that it needs and instead creates energy anaerobically (without oxygen). And while that process allows you to keep on going, a side effect is the accumulation of toxic byproducts in your muscle cells. Those byproducts are cleared out by the body’s detox organs, allowing you to resume normal function without any permanent damage. This is the recovery stage.
The body has its own set of detox organs that act as custodians: Whenever waste is formed, it sweeps it clean. The brain, however, is outside its reach despite the fact that it uses up about 20 percent of your body’s energy. So how does it all get cleared? What happens to all the wrappers and leftovers that litter the room after any mental workout?
UNTIL a few years ago, the prevailing model was based on recycling: The brain got rid of its own waste by breaking it down and recycling it at an individual cell level. When that process eventually failed, the buildup would result in age-related cognitive decline and diseases like Alzheimer’s would develop. Surely the body is smarter than that!!!
MODERN society is increasingly ill equipped to provide our brains with the requisite cleaning time. Some 80 percent of working adults suffer to some extent from sleep deprivation. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should sleep seven to nine hours. On average, we’re getting one to two hours less sleep a night than we did 50 to 100 years ago and 38 minutes less on weeknights than we did as little as 10 years ago. Between 50 and 70 million people in the United States suffer from some form of chronic sleep disorder. When our sleep is disturbed, whatever the cause, our cleaning system breaks down.
When the cleaning system breaks down, whether its your skin, liver, gall bladder or the glymphatic system in your brain – you’ve got problems!
If the brain's primary detox organ relies heavily on the mitochondria – then you should work towards optimizing these cellular structures. Mitochondria are well-defined structures found within your cells. Survival of the cells requires energy to perform different functions. The mitochondria are the primary source of biological energy of the cell, and they obtain this energy ultimately from the fuel you put into your body.
That said, if you want to improve the brain's ability to detox; you've got to improve mitochondrial function by optimizing nutrient intake. This is exactly why cellular detoxification programs are so important!
Caring for the Spine Optimizes CSF and the Glymphatic System
Your brain controls every single physiological function from heart rate, breathing, digestion to hormone production and tissue repair. Alignment and movement of the spine is the primary source of energy and stimulation the brain needs to function properly. The cerebrospinal fluid is what the glymphatic system uses to cleanse the brain. Stimulating the spine (chiropractic adjustments) and maintaining its alignment (posture) and movement (exercise) are essential for brain detoxification.
The effectiveness of the Glymphatic system is dependent upon cerebrospinal fluid flow. Research using upright MRI’s show how upper cervical adjustments (chiropractic adjustments delivered to the top part of your neck) affect various brain-based conditions. Not only are MRI scans revealing that cerebral spinal fluid and blood flow are markedly increased after a chiropractic adjustment, researchers are observing that cerebellar invagination (when the cerebellum drops down below the skull line) is being reversed and brain plaquing (common in multiple sclerosis patients) is disappearing!
Obviously there are several ways beyond a chiropractic adjustment to improve CSF flow and the Glymphatic system. It turns out that many of my core health recommendations influence the way cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) enters the brain’s glymphatic system.
Here are a few that you should consider implementing:
- Intermittent Fasting
- Yoga and movement (especially inversions!) improves CSF
- Standing at work instead of sitting moves more CSF
- Using WBV or whole body vibration therapy improves CSF
- Pranayama and just about any breathing exercises is great for CSF
- Exercise (especially rebounding, jumping, running)
Supercharge Your Brain to Supercharge Health and Healing
I believe that we need quality sleep over quantity. I also believe that we need to be “building sleepiness” or earning our sleep by working hard throughout the day. And when the brain reaches a certain level of toxicity; you rest. That's how it's supposed to work and I’ve also noticed that just about anything that helps to reduce toxins or toxicity in my body makes me require less sleep.
How many of you fall asleep as soon as you sit down on a chair or the couch? Do you find yourself sleepy all the time? If so, that may be a symptom or signal of how toxic your brain really is. Of course, if you just ran a marathon or finished an SAT exam, the brain wants you to rest… but if you find yourself dozing off without having earned it; i'd start paying attention to how you're living and what you're putting into your body.
Every chiropractic adjustment you get will improve the brains ability to detox. I hope you cannot wait till your next one.