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Why You Really Should Protect Your Sleep

And what to do about it if you can’t

Illustration of girl with net and animals

Dream On by Max Grünfeld

Diligently staying up long into the night to finish a project or waking up ridiculously early to catch an airplane may be necessary, or at least seem necessary. But there are many reasons why we feel and look so haggard when we go without sleep—or disrupt our normal patterns. As we age, our circadian rhythms become less regulated in general, so quality sleep becomes more important and the costs of sleep disruption get higher. So it’s worth understanding what we trade away when we choose not to sleep—and why we suffer so much when we suffer from insomnia.When we sleep our bodies eliminate most of the neurotoxins and other metabolic wastes that build up in our brains when we’re awake, explains MIT neuroscience associate professor Dr. Edward Boyden. During sleep, the glymphatic system increases the flow of cerebrospinal fluid in the spaces between our brain cells, thereby flushing out these harmful molecules. Preliminary studies show that the cerebrospinal fluid barely moves from our brains when we’re awake. If not flushed out, these toxins can cause neurodegeneration.Even if the total hours we sleep are o …

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