Have you have ever contemplated the amount of work our brain does on a daily basis? Well, you may or may not be surprised to learn that our brain is our busiest organ consuming as much as 25 percent of our overall energy and, as with anything that converts fuel into energy, it produces waste.
So how does our brain dispose of all that waste? The answer, as scientists have only recently discovered, is a complex process. The brain’s cleansing process is called the glymphatic system and research is still ongoing. Jeffrey Iliff of Oregon Health and Science University in Portland is a member of the team who is pioneering the research. As recently of May 2017 they discovered a new type of brain scavenger cell in zebra fish which share many of the same cell types as humans. “The research is ongoing, but we know that some scavenger cells are important for brain health and seem to become impaired with age” says Iliff. They are particularly interested to learn why the brain’s cleaning systems diminish with age and how we might prevent that decline.
What they do know so far is that maintaining good blood pressure, getting regular exercise and eating a diet rich in vegetables, healthy fats and antioxidants should all help with brain cleaning. However, the most important factor seems to be sleep.
Like most of the cleaning in our body sleeping is when it works best. Brian R. Christie, a neuroscience professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia says “when you sleep the space between your cells increases by up to 60 percent. This expansion allows more fluid to be pumped through and drives the clearance of waste from the brain.”
“Older adults often struggle to get enough sleep” says neurologist and sleep specialist W. Christopher Winter, M.D. and author of The Seep Solution. “Keeping a sleep schedule is important, especially as you get older, irregular sleep hours and long naps during the day can wreak havoc on healthy sleep cycles.”
It would seem that your brain does a better job of eliminating waste if you sleep on your side than on your back or stomach. “The left side appears to be even better for maximizing circulation through your body, because most of your venous return travels up the right side and those veins can compress when you lie on them” Winter says. He does state though that if laying on your side isn’t your preference, don’t lose sleep over it, just get a good night’s sleep!