Wonder why you’re always reading about how important sleep quality is – not just quantity? Well, modern science still doesn’t know all of the molecular mechanisms behind why we need sleep. As of last month, we now know more.
A study, published in Science in October 2013 and entitled “Sleep Drives Metabolite Clearance from the Adult Brain,” finds just that: we need to sleep specifically so that the brain can focus on cleaning itself out each night.
Lead study author Dr. Maiken Nedergaard summarizes in a statement: “the restorative nature of sleep appears to be the result of the active clearance of the by-products of neural activity that accumulate during wakefulness.”[i]
The study’s abstract states (bolding is mine):
We here report that sleep has a critical function in ensuring metabolic homeostasis. Using real-time assessments of tetramethylammonium diffusion and two-photon imaging in live mice, we show that natural sleep or anesthesia are associated with a 60% increase in the interstitial space, resulting in a striking increase in convective exchange of cerebrospinal fluid with interstitial fluid. In turn, convective fluxes of interstitial fluid increased the rate of ?-amyloid clearance during sleep. Thus, the restorative function of sleep may be a consequence of the enhanced removal of potentially neurotoxic waste products that accumulate in the awake central nervous system.[ii]
While you rest, your brain is busy sweeping the floor, washing the dishes, and taking out the trash to prepare itself for the next day.
Your Glymphatic System: The Good Kind of “Brain Drain”
You probably haven’t read much about the glymphatic system because it hasn’t hit the mainstream, but you will. I covered this system, and how to hack it with food, in The Bulletproof Diet book. (If you order it on Amazon now and send me the receipt before midnight on December 1st, you get a bunch of free stuff).
In 2012, researchers identified this new maintenance system called the glymphatic system, which uses the cells’ mitochondria to remove cellular waste from the brain.[iii][iv] It found that the clear cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain is what is responsible for draining toxins from the brain, much like how the lymph system in other organs is what removes waste from those cells to the kidney and liver. But the brain has no lymph – it has CSF instead.
The scientists noted that this system is particularly active during sleep. In other words, as you sleep your brain cells’ mitochondria remove cellular waste. If you improve your mitochondrial function during sleep, you’ll turbocharge your brain’s maintenance system and get more cleanup done in fewer hours of sleep.
How Being Bulletproof Supercharges Your Brain’s Sewage System
The core practices of the Bulletproof Diet are designed to improve mitochondrial function. In 2013, another team of researchers learned that autophagy is required for healthy brain cell mitochondria.[v] Remember what increases autophagy? That’s right—Bulletproof Intermittent Fasting as well as Protein Fasting. Brain Octane oil also provides ketones, which act as fuel for the mitochondria. If you follow the Bulletproof Diet, you’re already upgrading your brain’s ability to drain waste as you sleep.
By itself, following the Bulletproof Diet Roadmap (get it here free) will help most people get better quality sleep, but sometimes we can all use a little boost. As someone who wants to perform your best, you want to do everything possible to increase cellular energy in the brain while you sleep. Increasing the brain’s efficiency pays dividends during waking hours and even more so during sleep.
There are several ways beyond the basic Bulletproof Diet to improve your sleep, but certain dietary sleep hacks work better for some people than others. This is highly variable, so customize your own ultimate sleep plan by taking this opportunity to be your own biohacker. Don’t try all of the dietary sleep hacks at once because they work in different ways and can counteract each other. Try them out one at a time and see which ones supercharge your sleep.
Lots of my core recommendations may work in part because they influence the way cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) enters the brain’s glymphatic system. For instance:
- Yoga and movement (especially inversions!)
- Standing instead of sitting at your desk moves more CSF
- Using the Bulletproof Vibe
- Pranayama and just about any breathing exercises (Art of Living is great for CSF)
- Massage and chiropractic care
Beyond Food: Supercharge Your Mitochondria to Supercharge Your Brain
I believe that we need sleep (and feel sleepy) when the brain reaches a certain level of toxic protein, and I’ve noticed that just about anything that helps to reduce toxins makes me require less sleep.
Likewise, when you increase mitochondrial function, the Glymphatic system will work better.
It’s no wonder that I need less sleep when I use ketosis or the Unfair Advantage supplement to help mitochondria, or when I eat a low toxin diet and bind excessive toxins with Upgraded Coconut Charcoal, or increase my ability to expel toxins with Glutathione Force.
What’s so great about this field is that new studies keep coming out on how the brain works all the time, so stay tuned for more soon!
More resources to optimize your sleep and supercharge your brain:
- The Top Sleep Hacks: The Art and Science of Sleeping
- Article: 7 Steps to Bulletproof Sleep
- Article: Top 6 Ways to Improve Your Sleep Using Food
- Resource Library: All Bulletproof Sleep Hacking Articles and Podcasts
Click to read the complete list of references.