Wash Your Brain Clean with a Good Night’s Sleep

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

April 15, 2020

For me, getting a good night’s sleep is a serious matter.

That’s why I avoid staying over at other people’s houses whenever possible. I just don’t sleep well… usually because they keep the temperature warmer than I’d like and far above what’s been shown to be an optimal range.

I take this seriously because sleep isn’t just a matter of feeling alert the next day. Good sleep sessions can actually make a long term difference in whether you develop a degenerative brain disease.

Let me explain…

How Your Brain Cleans Itself While You Sleep

Every night, when you go to sleep, a special system in your body flushes fluid over the surface of your brain. This cleans away the oxidative sludge that has accumulated from a day of activity.[1]

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The system responsible for this miracle is called the glymphatic system. It was given this name because it has many similarities with the more well-known lymphatic system.

The extra “g” tacked onto the front of the name is due to the high presence of glial cells in your brain that help clear up the residue and garbage after a long day of wakefulness.

Glial cells are different from other brain cells because they don’t actually participate in the electronic signaling process needed for thinking. Yet, these glial cells outnumber regular nerve cells in your brain by 3 to 1.[2]

Scientists have learned how the glymphatic system can help remove neurotoxic waste products that accumulate on your brain during the day.

The brain waste is flushed away by something called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) which washes over your brain each night while you sleep. It mixes with interstitial fluid (ISF) and exits through your brain’s own special drainage system.[3]This is so important that your brain actually changes in preparation for it’s nightly cleansing by increasing the size of it’s ventricular highway system to get the best flushing out possible.

Think of a strong garden hose washing mud and grime off of a dirty car. At the end of your sleep session, your brain has been cleaned from top to bottom and is ready to tackle a new day of thinking and moving around.

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This cleansing process is more than just interesting. It also plays an important role in keeping your brain healthy for the long term.

That’s because the glymphatic system clears away brain waste products like tau protein[4], amyloid-beta and lactate.[5]

As you may know, too many amyloid-beta plaques and poor sleep quality are both risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s dementia (AD).[6]

In fact, between 25 and 60% of patients with Alzheimer’s report poor sleep.[7] And the relationship goes two ways. Poor sleep leads to Alzheimer’s and more amyloid-beta accumulation leads back to poor sleep.[8]

So, if you’re looking for ways to lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s, do everything you can to ensure you have a good night’s sleep every night.

Maybe my sleep routine will inspire you…

Each evening, I turn the lights down to simulate sunset. Then, I’ll take a nice warm shower to raise my core body temperature. Stepping out from behind the shower curtain exposes my body to cooler air and sends my body into a pseudo hibernative state.

I stop using electronic devices at least one hour before I go to bed to cut down on blue light exposure that will keep me awake. I also take my magnesium and melatonin each night.

I’ll pull out one of my many good books and read until my eyelids are too heavy to stay open. Then, I turn out my lights and go to sleep. All of this routine may seem like a lot, but your brain’s health depends on it. Perhaps that’s the reason a third of our life is devoted to sleep.

“Eat healthily, sleep well, breathe deeply, move harmoniously.”
― Jean-Pierre Barral

“The best cure for insomnia is to get a lot of sleep.”
― W.C. Fields


[1] Hauglund, Natalie L. et al., “Cleaning the sleeping brain – the potential restorative function of the glymphatic system,” Current Opinion in Physiology,Volume 15,2020,Pages 1-6,ISSN 2468-8673,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cophys.2019.10.020. Available Online: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2468867319301609

[2] Purves D, Augustine GJ, Fitzpatrick D, et al., editors. Neuroscience. 2nd edition. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates; 2001. Neuroglial Cells. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK10869/

[3] J.J. Iliff, M. Wang, Y. Liao, B.A. Plogg, W. Peng, G.A. Gundersen, H. Benveniste, G.E. Vates, R. Deane, S.A. Goldman, et al., “A paravascular pathway facilitates CSF flow through the brain parenchyma and the clearance of interstitial solutes” Incl Amyloid Sci Transl Med, 4 (2012), pp. 1-11, 10.1126/scitranslmed.3003748

[4] T.K. Patel, L. Habimana-Griffin, X. Gao, B. Xu, S. Achilefu, K. Alitalo, C.A. McKee, P.W. Sheehan, E.S. Musiek, C. Xiong, et al., “Dural lymphatics regulate clearance of extracellular tau from the CNS” Mol Neurodegener, 14 (2019), p. 11, 10.1186/s13024-019-0312-x

[5] I. Lundgaard, M.L. Lu, E. Yang, W. Peng, H. Mestre, E. Hitomi, R. Deane, M. Nedergaard, “Glymphatic clearance controls state-dependent changes in brain lactate concentration” J Cereb Blood Flow Metab, 37 (2017), pp. 2112-2124, 10.1177/0271678X16661202

[6] E.N. Minakawa, K. Miyazaki, K. Maruo, H. Yagihara, H. Fujita, K. Wada, Y. Nagai, “Chronic sleep fragmentation exacerbates amyloid β deposition in Alzheimer’s disease model mice” Neurosci Lett, 653 (2017), pp. 362-369, 10.1016/j.neulet.2017.05.054

[7] D.W. Kang, C.U. Lee, H.K. Lim, “Role of sleep disturbance in the trajectory of Alzheimer’s disease” Clin Psychopharmacol Neurosci, 15 (2017), pp. 89-99, 10.9758/cpn.2017.15.2.89

[8] J.K. Holth, T.K. Patel, D.M. Holtzman, “Sleep in Alzheimer’s disease–beyond amyloid” Neurobiol Sleep Circadian Rhythm, 2 (2017), pp. 4-14, 10.1016/j.nbscr.2016.08.002