Sleep Your Way to Better Health

Study uncovers why lack of sleep is associated with an increased risk of disease

Sleep your way to better health.
Want to make 2014 your year to get healthy? Sleep!

"We've known for years that lack of sleep is associated with increased risk for a raft of diseases ranging from heart disease to dry skin, diabetes to depression, even cancer," said family physician Karla Birkholz, MD, John C. Lincoln chief wellness officer. "But we never really knew why."

Now we do. Last fall, University of Rochester researchers measured the space between brain cells of mice. The space increased 60 percent when the mice were asleep. This allows the lymphatic system – the brain's plumbing – to open, allowing cerebrospinal fluid to flow rapidly through the brain.

For a Healthier You

  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Exercise. For adults: At least 2 hours and 30 minutes/week of aerobic physical activity at a moderate level or 1 hour and 15 minutes each week of aerobic physical activity at a vigorous level. Being active five or more hours each week can provide even more health benefits.
  • Reduce stress with relaxation techniques.
  • Don't smoke.
  • If you drink, do so in moderation.

Next, researchers injected dyed beta- amyloid, a toxic protein associated with Alzheimer's disease, into the mice's cerebrospinal fluid. When the mice were asleep, they documented how the fluid flushed toxins from the brain. The beta- amyloid disappeared quickly.

During wakeful hours, the space between brain cells closes up, and the fluid barely flows. Toxins accumulate. Researchers concluded that we need sleep because it cleans up the brain.

"Now we have a new weapon in our disease-fighting arsenal – adequate sleep!" Dr. Birkholz said.

Follow these guidelines to better sleep:

  • Go to sleep and rise at the same time daily to help strengthen your internal clock.
  • Exercise daily to help you fall asleep faster, and sleep longer and more deeply.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime.
  • Relax before going to bed: a warm bath, light reading, soothing music.
  • If sleep eludes you, change your location, read something comforting, pray or meditate, listen to music.


For more information on how to stay healthy, see

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