We have all experienced brain fog and drowsiness that comes with too little sleep. But what exactly happens in our brains during sleep that prepares us for another day in the morning? To understand how the brain disposes of so-called “metabolic waste,” teams of researchers are working on a study with $ 2.8 million in funding from the U.S. military that seeks to combat sleep disorders among the military. The ultimate goal of the researchers is to develop a “sleep cap” that analyzes how fluids in the brain can release toxic, memory-disrupting proteins while you sleep.
A Study for 2019 on the role of aqueous fluid, known as cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in brain chemistry, has shown that while you sleep, CSF “washes” your brain into pulsating waves. CSF is part of the “glymphatic system” open relatively recently in 2012. It behaves similarly to the lymphatic system, but is controlled by brain cells known as glial cells. The system moves large amounts of CSF through the brain on a daily basis, ensuring that improperly folded proteins and other biochemical wastes are washed away.
The 2012 study found that CSF is pumped around the brain through a network of tubes that surround arteries and veins. CSF is washed through brain tissue that collects in adjacent vein ducts and drains back from the brain.
One of the scientists involved in the study, a professor of electrical engineering and computer engineering Behnaam Aajang of Rice University, explained in a press release that the army wants to “understand the glyph system and what happens when soldiers have no sleep.” He added that “if the measurement says the flow is not enough, it is a red flag.”
How the cap will work
The sleeping cap that researchers are trying to create will be light and portable, with the ability to both track and stimulate the flow of cerebrospinal fluid. In this way, researchers hope to be able to treat sleep disorders as they happen.
The cap will receive signals through various sensors, including electroencephalogram, which measures the electrical activity of the brain, rheoencephalography, which measures blood flow, and orbital sonography and transcranial Doppler. Fluid flow will be affected by transcranial brain and nerve electrical simulations and low-intensity ultrasound pulses.
The potential device will be able to receive multiple data streams and analyze them through machine learning AI software.
While improper waste management in the brain can have a number of consequences, one area where it can play a significant role is in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Some of these diseases are characterized by an accumulation of protein in the brain, which eventually clogs and kills parts of the brain’s neural network.
Another great advantage of the sleep hat is its potential practicality. Currently, the best way to monitor fluid flow in the brain is through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). As Paul Cherukuri, CEO of Rice University Institute of Biological Sciences and Bioengineering (IBB), who participates in the study, explained: ”Because magnetic resonance imaging cannot be transported easily, the Department of Defense asked if we could design a small, portable cap to measure and modulate the brain health of fighters during sleep to improve their efficiency. He added that “What makes this exciting is that no one has ever tried to build something like this.”
In addition to IBB,, the research is performed by Rice University engineers from Neuroengineering initiative as well as doctors in Methodist Hospital in Houston and Baylor Medical College. Engineers will develop the technology while medical staff will test it on volunteers and patients. Supported by U.S. Army Military Operative Medicine Research Program (MOMRP), scientists are likely to receive a multi-year grant for this work.
Baylor College professor Fidaa Shaib, who will perform sleep assessment tests as part of the study, explained the potential of their work:
“While people spend almost a third of their lives asleep, no unifying theory has yet been established about the role of sleep and its impact on human survival and functioning.” said Shaib. “Technologies that make it easier to clear waste and prevent it from settling in the brain are important for patients with sleep disorders, especially those at risk for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.”
Sleep disorders are common
While the military’s special interest is in how lack of sleep affects soldiers, the effects of the study could be of greater benefit to civilians suffering from sleep disorders. According to studies, up to 30% of adults suffer from chronic insomnia while among the elderly this percentage reaches 48. In particular, women put at risk throughout their lives insomnia, which is 40% greater than in men. While the CDC recommends that adults get 7 hours of sleep, this also found that about 35 percent of all adult Americans, they don’t rest that much. Among children under the age of 5, about 25 percent suffer from sleep problems, according to one study.
The interesting thing is CDC statistics pointed out that there are also differences in how different groups in the population suffer from sleep problems. It is less common for people over 65 to sleep less than 7 hours. The people who most often slept less than 7 hours a night were local Hawaiians / Pacific Islanders (46.3% of respondents), non-Hispanic blacks (45.8%), multiracial non-Hispanics (44.3%). and Native Americans / Alaska Natives (40.4 percent). This compares to lack of sleep models of white Spanish whites (33.4% of respondents), Latinos (34.5%) and Asians (37.5%).
Numerous studies have shown that chronic insomnia is more common among racial minorities and people with lower socio-economic status. The reasons for this are complex, but usually related lincome debt, differences in education, the need to work more hours to earn the same amount of money as the more favorable group, as well as “environmental conditions that compromise the quality of sleep” per person 2014 survey.
Lack of sleep also correlates with higher levels of very serious diseases among these groups such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke and increased mortality.
Leaving aside specific disorders, if you just miss how many of us feel during the day, almost 50 percent of Americans in a Survey in 2020 the National Sleep Foundation said they sleep three to seven days a week. And this drowsiness comes with social side effects. 52% of respondents reported being irritated while drowsy, while 40% had headaches.
Suffice it to say that statistics confirm the reality that sleep problems are a predominant problem for a large number of people. If the study of the sleep cap can lead to improved sleep among soldiers, the general population will also benefit from new treatments and technologies.