Harvard Health: Anthony L. Komaroff, MD, discusses how one of the most interesting discoveries in the past decade is that the brain has a “waste management system” that is active during sleep.

And, as in people, meals lead to wastes that need to be disposed of. The waste management system (called the glymphatic system) is a series of tubes that carry fresh fluid into the brain, mix the fresh fluid with the waste-filled fluid that surrounds the brain cells, and then flush the mix out of the brain and into the blood. This occurs primarily during deep sleep.

There is some evidence that an under-functioning waste management system may play a role in the neurodegeneration that follows traumatic brain injury (as experienced by some football players, for example). It may even play a role in other brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease. Since chronic sleep deprivation increases the risk for various brain diseases, it is plausible that it does so by reducing the function of the waste management system.

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