Is sleep a luxury you’ve given up to make more money, be part of more things, or achieve more? Are you working harder and harder but not getting better results? Can you feel your brain being tired? New research has documented a process in the brain that might explain why we can only compromise so much of our sleep. Understanding it could help you work smarter and get better results.

To sleep or not to sleep?

We all know we need sleep. It feels really bad when we don’t get it. Humans have tried and failed to liberate our bodies from the time-limiting impact of sleep for centuries. But did you ever wonder why? Jeff Iliff thinks that neuroscience may have finally found the answer. If you believe what he says in his October 2014 TedMed talk, you might be about to decide to buy a state-of-the-art mattress and never cut back on your sleep again. You’ll also totally give up on the idea that sleep is something you can “catch up on.”

Some Simple Biology

The process Iliff describes boils down to this. Every organ in the body needs nutrients, and they’re delivered by the circulatory system – including to the brain. Every organ also creates waste, and that’s carried away by the lymphatic system – except from the brain. The brain is the energy-hog of the body, and it creates a ton of waste, but how its trash gets taken out has been a mystery. Until now.

Like your bathroom, really

According to Iliff’s theory, the brain produces waste and puts it off to the side but doesn’t clear it away throughout the day. It builds up just like trash on the side of the road during an event. While the streets are bustling with people and activity, it’s impossible to keep everything clean. Like after a Luke Bryan concert, a busy day requires some serious cleanup crews working long hours to get everything back in order. That’s how your brain works. The trash piles up, and the cleaning crews can’t come in until you go to sleep and give them time to take out the trash.

Release the cerebrospinal fluid!

So get this! When you’re sleeping, your brain is relieved of the burden of running your body and thinking about your life. The brain jumps on that break and takes its opportunity to clean house. Cerebrospinal fluid gets pumped through the brain and washes away all the waste created during your day so that it can be flushed from your body. This can’t happen while you’re awake! When you pull an all-nighter, it’s like insisting to run your parade through the streets of New Orleans after Mardi Gras with no cleanup. Sound like a nightmare? It’s definitely not a good plan. If anyone ever says you have a bunch of stuff between your ears, take it to heart. If you haven’t gotten enough sleep, they might actually be right.

A Sleep Insurance Policy

Not getting enough sleep even though you’re trying? Our blog has lots of tips for getting the best sleep of your life. The most important thing, though, is to set yourself up for success. Give yourself enough time to get adequate sleep every night. But also put your resting body in an environment where you can sleep deeply and consistently. If your mattress is too old or uncomfortable, recycle and replace it. Find your perfect sleep situation while you’re young so that the city of your brain can live long and prosper.

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