PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — How’s your thinking after a bad night’s sleep?

Trouble learning, bad decisions, slow reactions. Many of us can relate to that when we’re sleep deprived. It could be too much “brain gunk,” that is, inflammatory proteins that are thought to do damage.

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“We know that sleep deprivation causes lots of problems, both with the immune system and cardiovascular system,” says Allegheny General Hospital sleep specialist Dr. Daniel Shade, “and now there’s data, including this study showing if you don’t get enough sleep, particularly as you get older, that your memory and your thought process could be slowed down and hampered or worsened by that.”

In mice, researchers found that during sleep, their brains turned on the wash cycle.

Brain cells shrink slightly and waste products get flushed out. Clean up went faster in sleeping mice compared to awake mice.

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“Sleep is almost a reset phenomenon, where connections you make during the day that aren’t necessary, you don’t need, it gets rid of them, dumps them, so that the memories you need are stronger,” says Dr. Shade.

The study in mice provides an avenue to explore when it comes to why Alzheimer’s disease and other similar illnesses develop.

“It’s uncertain whether the disease Alzheimer’s or dementia itself causes lack of sleep, or if the lack of sleep is causing the deposition of proteins that worsens Alzheimers,” Dr. Shade adds.

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