Getting Serious About Sleep: Your Glymphatic System Explained
By: Dave Asprey
January 14, 2015
Upgrading sleep quality is one of the most important things you can do to have more energy during the day. I’ve shared a ton of info about just about everything you can do to hack your sleep in these posts.
We know a lot…for instance, you get food cravings and blood sugar swings when you don’t sleep well[i] and you lose your ability to pay attention too.[ii]
But I’ve come across some new research that helps to explain a phenomenon I’ve noticed recently. Increasing energy (cellular ATP, or adenosine triphosphate) in the brain seems to increase my sleep quality, and now I think I understand why…and it’s something you can use to improve your sleep too. I’ve noticed that just about anything I do that helps mitochondrial function or ATP seems to improve sleep quality. There’s even some evidence that higher ATP in the brain lowers food cravings too.[iii]
In The Bulletproof Diet, I wrote about how maximizing ATP helps the brain’s sleeping glymphatic system, which is what your brain uses at night to pump out toxic proteins that build up during the time you’re awake. Since your brain has no lymph to remove toxins (like your muscles do), it uses spinal fluid instead, and moving that requires energy.
I was pretty sure the glymphatic system is the main mechanism for why increasing ATP function works for better sleep. For instance, I hypothesized that taking Unfair Advantage (a new form of PQQ that can noticeably increase short term and long term mitochondrial function) would keep me awake because having more energy generally does that. But instead, I take it, and I feel amazing when I wake up. So I thought it was the glymphatic system.
However, here is the newer research supporting the role of brain energy in sleep. Stick with me here as we go into some sleep science.
We know that “ATP levels increase during the initial hours of natural slow-wave sleep, a time with prominent electroencephalogram (EEG) delta oscillations (0.5-4.5 Hz).”[iv]
The new study provides evidence supporting the theory that, the more delta sleep (very deep, sub-dreaming) you have, the more ATP increases in your frontal cortex, cingular cortex, basal forebrain, and hippocampus, to levels even higher than when you’re awake. It says:
“These data support the hypothesis of a cortical delta oscillation-dependent reduction in ATP consumption, thus providing the brain with increased ATP availability.”[v]
So basically, in delta sleep, your brain is storing up ATP. At the same time ATP goes up, P-AMPK (energy regulating stuff) drops, which “sets the stage for increased anabolic processes during sleep.”[vi]
This means that if you want to kick ass at sleep, you want to have more ATP, or better mitochondria.
How can you do that? Many of the sleep hacks, and performance hacks I recommend are ATP-centric and work at the mitochondrial level, sometimes to even cause you to grow more mitochondria. Things like ice baths, electrical stimulation, intermittent fasting, high intensity interval training, and…supplements.
The two supplements I use that impact my ATP are Unfair Advantage, which has a dramatic impact I can feel, and Upgraded Aging Formula, which has a great impact on mitochondria, but not one that I feel immediately. Things like B vitamins are also important for mitochondria. So is avoiding mitochondrial poisons in the environment.
Anyway, now that I understand more about how my brain is storing energy at night, it’s shed some more light onto why existing sleep hacks work (like honey, or Brain Octane, or collagen before bed), and why Unfair Advantage has been so noticeable for me.
Keep on sleep hacking!
- My Improve Your Sleep series goes into way more depth on the topics above
- All my sleephack articles are listed here
- My creativeLIVE: The Bulletproof Life series on how to hack your sleep