Brainwashing in sleep – how the brain cleanses itself to protect against disease


The enormous energy turnover of our brain means that a considerable amount of metabolic waste, cell residues and protein waste is produced there every day. Until a few years ago, researchers assumed that this waste was not removed by the lymphatic system as in the rest of the body. This is because there are no regular lymphatic vessels within the brain. However, it was recently discovered that the outer meninges have lymphatic vessels [5]. These dispose of the fluid pumped through the brain by the glymphatic system, along with the metabolic waste and protein debris it contains. How the brain’s own waste disposal functions was deciphered some time ago with the help of modern imaging techniques.

Waste disposal works best during sleep

The main activity of the glymphatic system takes place at night or during sleep – an estimated 90 to 95%. Therefore, scientists assume that we need to sleep in order for the “brainwashing” to take place properly and for our thinking apparatus to remain healthy. Because if the cleansing process is disturbed, the brain and all its functions are impaired: Waste products are deposited and can damage the cells irretrievably. In mice whose meningeal lymphatic vessels are not intact or function less well due to age, the removal of waste products from the brain is slowed down [4] and the animals show impaired memory and learning ability. This could also explain in humans why cognitive abilities of perception, learning, remembering and thinking decline in old age and how dementia occurs.

Link between “brainwashing,” insomnia and Alzheimer’s disease

The risk for a reduction in cognitive abilities in old age increases when a person suffers from sleep disorders in midlife [10]. Also, healthy individuals show typical symptoms of psychiatric or neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s dementia, during prolonged sleep deprivation. In Alzheimer’s disease, beta-amyloid proteins are deposited in the brain and form clumps (plaques). These are suspected of damaging the brain cells. Since Alzheimer’s patients often have disturbed sleep long before the first clear signs of dementia [5], it has been investigated whether sleep disturbances are causally involved in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. In healthy mice, beta-amyloid was observed to be eliminated by the glymphatic system [11] – and twice as effectively as when awake. It is therefore all the more important to ensure restful sleep in order to support the brain’s self-cleaning powers in keeping the central nervous system efficient and healthy.

Combination of valerian and hops promotes the natural sleep process

These findings underscore the importance of treating longer-term sleep disorders. In addition to behavioral therapy measures and short-term chemical-synthetic medications, herbal sleep aids are available whose efficacy and tolerability have been scientifically proven. For example, ALLUNA┬«, which contains a special valerian-hops sleep extract and can also be used for longer periods, has been shown to promote sleep in a comparable way to the body’s own “sleep-inducers” adenosine and melatonin: valerian has a similar effect to adenosine, which increases the need for sleep towards the evening [12,13].

Hops have comparable effects to melatonin [14], which promotes sleepiness and lowers body temperature. The valerian and hop components in the sleep extract complement each other in their sleep-promoting effect – without leading to daytime sleepiness or dependence [15], interactions are not known.


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