Imagine if you never took out the trash. That’s what a lack of sleep is like in your brain – a buildup of toxins in your control tower.
When we’re awake, the brain is busy processing sensory information. Its receptors are bathed in neurotransmitters, and it expends a lot of energy to get us where we need to be, say what we want to say, and do what we want to do. The high metabolic activity of the brain results in some oxidative damage and inflammation – two conditions that are bad for the brain if left unchecked.
The glymphatic system is the brain's waste removal system – it functions primarily during sleep to help restore and clean up the brain. Levels of neurotransmitters decline during sleep, allowing the receptors to rest and reset themselves. Research suggests that this essential task has to occur during sleep because it can’t occur while the brain performs its other essential functions during the day.