Have you been detoxing incorrectly?

Posted on 3 January 2019

Detoxification or ‘detox’ for short, has become a popular component of wellness. From a vegetable or fruit detox to a liquid-only fast, these efforts all target your liver. New research reveals that detoxing actually occurs naturally in your brain – while you sleep. A neurologist at Mediclinic explains further.

“There is evidence that certain toxins are formed in the brain while you’re awake, and eliminated during sleep,” says Dr Kevin Rosman, a neurologist at Mediclinic Morningside. “This adds to gathering evidence pointing to sleep disturbances as a risk factor for diseases like Alzheimer’s.”

The glymphatic system

Rosman is referring to the recently identified glymphatic system, a system that has the same function in your brain as your body’s detoxifying lymphatic system. Research shows it acts to clear away toxins that could be responsible for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders.

That research also found that during sleep, brain cells shrink by as much as 60% to create enough space between them for toxins to be easily removed.

Getting these ‘detoxing’ benefits of sleep on your brain may be down to healthy sleep habits, says Rosman. In fact, he doesn’t think we should use that term at all.

The dangers of chronic sleep deprivation

“Think of the brain as a very sophisticated electrochemical computer,” he says. “We don’t talk about detoxing computers, but we do talk about defragging the hard drive, which is a much better comparison.”

How to maximise sleep

According to Rosman, sleep controls everything from memory to mood, hormones, inflammation and immunity. When you don’t get enough sleep, those functions begin to waver. “Sleep is absolutely essential, and many people are getting too little of it,” he says.

The first step to maximising sleep is timing. According to Rosman, we get our best sleep at specific times which allows us to feel freshest in the morning. For most adults, that’s between 10 pm and 6 am. For teenagers, that time shifts dramatically to between 2 am and 10 am.

Naps are also important. Rosman suggests taking a power nap if you’re feeling tired. “Even if you don’t actually sleep, just put your head down for 10 – 15 minutes and you’ll feel better and more energised for the next hour.”

Putting down the smartphone at night may also help sleep. Rosman explains that smartphones emit a short-wavelength light that has a higher concentration of blue than natural light. This blue light affects the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin more than any other light on the spectrum.

Is technology to blame for our sleeping problems?

“When you’re exposed to bright light in the morning, it switches off melatonin, and when the light dims at the end of the day, melatonin peaks,” says Rosman. “Using smartphones at night suppresses the melatonin right when you want it to peak.”

Taking steps to improve sleep will ensure your brain can carry out its natural detoxing abilities. But what if you want to maximise the benefits by getting even more sleep?

Rosman says it’s not possible. “If you’re sleep deprived, you can catch up, but you can’t sleep more than you need.”

Foods that promote good sleep


Published in Healthy Life

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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