Scientists now know how cerebrospinal fluid cleans the brain as you sleep, removing toxins that could cause Alzheimer's.

No surprise, sleep is essential to being a functioning, healthy human being. And new research looks even further into how sleep actually helps us maintain clean brains—but what does that mean?

Building on a study done in 2013, a team of researchers at Boston University explored what makes sleep so special.

The team got human participants to fall asleep inside an fMRI machine, which allowed researchers to measure both the blood oxygen levels in the participants’ brains and show the flux of cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF.

CSF is a watery, clear substance that surrounds the brain and spinal cord acting as a little cushion to protect the brain, and provide it with nutrients. The researchers also measured the electrical currents in subjects’ brains using an EEG.

Over the years, researchers have discovered more about not only the brain's sleep phases, but also how those phases are essential to information processing and memory formation.

It’s not just during rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep that the brain consolidates information and commits it to long-term memory. Brains do this during nonREM sleep, too. In humans, these two states of sleep—REM and nonREM—alternate throughout the night. NonREM sleep is divided into 3 stages, and the third stage is our deepest state of sleep, called slow wave sleep.

And slow wave sleep in particular is essential to clearing out all the gunk in our brains.

In this Elements, we explore how slow wave sleep helps rid your brain of toxins and what this research could mean when it comes to combating neurodegenerative diseases in the future.

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