This is what happens to your brain when you're asleep, according to a viral TikTok doctor

·2 min read
Photo credit: Cavan Images - Getty Images
Photo credit: Cavan Images - Getty Images

From 5pm naps in your hotel room after a day of sunbathing (body slathered in aftersun with the air-conditioning cranked right up) to long lie-ins at the weekend, it's safe to say that sleep is absolutely *chef's kiss*. But, have you ever wondered what actually happens to us when we sleep?

It's a question we've found ourselves asking more times than we'd care to admit – yes, we're a curious bunch, no we're not ashamed of it – and thankfully one doctor has answered just that, taking to TikTok to decode what's really going on when our head hits the pillow.

What happens to your brain when you're asleep?

Stitching his TikTok with another clip, which starts, "When you're in deep, deep sleep your brain takes a bath", Dr Karan Raj explained: "It's true. While you sleep, you're literally brainwashed."

Elaborating on this, the expert added, "During the day your brain is sheeting itself, releasing all sorts of toxic metabolites and proteins. Some of these proteins, like beta amyloid protein, if not cleared effectively, can accumulate over time and increase the risk of things like dementia."

But how does the brain actually 'wash' itself when we're sleeping? "The brain is cleaned every night thanks to the glymphatic system," Dr Raj says in his TikTok. "The special shampoo that washes your dirty mind is called cerebrospinal fluid."

Likening what happens to your brain to that of a washing machine, he went on: "This spin cycle setting in your brain is particularly active at night during deep sleep. And this cleaning process is key to optimising memory, focus, learning and attention."

Needing a bit more info on this so-called brainwashing, we spoke to Dr Kat, sleep scientist and founder of Somnia, who told us: "During deep, slow-wave sleep, the size of certain brain cells change (they temporarily become somewhat smaller) which creates more space between them."

Dr Kat continued, "That in turn allows for cerebrospinal fluid to wash through and thereby clear the brain of natural toxins and waste products which have accumulated during the day while using your brain."

Pointing out the impact that this can have over time, Dr Kat agreed with Dr Raj, adding: "Not sleeping well or enough might be associated with neurodegenerative disease (eg. dementia) as it could contribute to an accumulation of waste products and proteins such as amyloid-beta." Smart stuff, eh!?

So, in the words of Dr Raj: "The next time you want to go to bed. Don't say you're going to sleep. Say you're cleaning your brain."

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