A good night's sleep could keep dementia away

If your brain is like a busy office, imagine what it must look like at the end of the day: a complete wreck with junk everywhere, overflowing garbage cans, coffee stains all over the paperwork and maybe even a few clogged toilets.

The good news is you've got a night shift -- a cleaning crew that can remove the garbage, fix the toilets and get your "office" back in shape by morning.

The catch? You need to SLEEP and sleep well to give the night crew time to do its job.

New research on mouse brains shows how sleep activates an internal cleaning process that clears out a day's worth of junk -- even the beta-amyloid plaques that can lead to dementia if they're allowed to build up.

During sleep, brain cells shrink just a little bit -- and when they shrink, the junk slips out through the space between cells.

Now, I realize this is a study on mouse brains, not people brains -- but we've seen the same process unfold in other animals, including dogs and baboons, and it's pretty likely our own brains have a similar cleanup process.

It's also why you make better decisions when you "sleep on it" and lousy ones after an all-nighter -- and why night after night after night of missed sleep can lead to long-term problems such as memory loss and even dementia.

(Did you know poor sleep could cause you to pack on the pounds too? Learn more here.)

Now, of course there's more to avoiding dementia than just getting enough sleep. But as a starting point for brain health, at least, look no further than a comfortable pillow and cool sheets.