Is Your Brain Performing This Critical Process While You’re Sleeping?

sleep problems

You may think that while you’re sleeping, your brain shuts down. Wrong! While you’re snoozing, your brain is hard at work performing some very critical functions necessary to keep it operating at optimal levels. For example, during sleep, your brain cleans or washes itself by eliminating cellular debris and toxins that build up during the day (basically taking out the neural trash), consolidates learning and memory, and prepares for the following day. An exciting 2019 study from Boston University captured the process in action, showing images of cerebrospinal fluid washing in and out of the brain during sleep.

During sleep, your brain cleans or washes itself by eliminating cellular debris and toxins that build up during the day (basically taking out the neural trash), consolidates learning and memory, and prepares for the following day. Click To Tweet

The brain processes that occur during sleep are also important for the health of your immune system, appetite control, and neurotransmitter production. This is why getting “brainwashed” is so critical to overall well-being. If you have trouble sleeping, it can disrupt the critical brainwashing process, causing problems with mental health and cognitive functioning.


Unfortunately, an estimated 50 to 70 million Americans have some form of sleep disorder, according to the American Sleep Association. Roughly one-third of Americans experience occasional insomnia, the most common type of sleep disorder. And statistics from the American Sleep Association show that chronic insomnia affects approximately 10% of the population. The rates are even higher among people with mental health disorders. Harvard Health Publishing reports that chronic sleep problems affect an estimated 50%-80% of psychiatric patients. In fact, insomnia is tied to stress, anxiety, or depression over 50% of the time, according to statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Decades of research reveal a strong connection between sleep problems and issues with mental health. Some of the psychiatric conditions tightly linked to sleep issues include:

  • Depression: One study shows that about 75% of people with depression also have insomnia.
  • Bipolar disorder: Research in Nature and Science of Sleep indicates that 69%-99% percent of people with bipolar disorder experience insomnia or feel a reduced need for sleep during manic episodes.
  • Anxiety: More than 50% of anxiety sufferers say they have trouble sleeping, according to an article from Harvard Health Publishing.
  • ADD/ADHD: A systematic review concluded that children with ADHD are more likely to experience sleep disorders than kids without the condition.

The relationship between sleep and mental health issues goes both ways. In general, a night of staring at the ceiling can make you:

  • Feel angry, irritable, sad, or stressed
  • Lower your ability to concentrate
  • Impair your judgment

Over time, sleep problems can lead to a higher risk of depression, ADHD, panic attacks, brain fog, and memory problems. A 2014 study also points to a bidirectional relationship between sleep and Alzheimer’s disease.


One of the keys to getting adequate rest so your brain can wash itself each night is to make sleep a priority in your life. To promote sleep, try the following strategies and stick with the ones that work best for you.

  1. Make sure your is bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.
  2. Don’t allow pets in your bedroom—or at least keep them off the bed.
  3. Address emotional problems prior to going to sleep.
  4. If you’re a worrier, dedicate about 10-15 minutes before bed to journal or pray about your nagging concerns, then stop.
  5. Set a regular sleep schedule and stick to it, even on weekends.
  6. Read a book, but not on an e-reader or tablet since the light keeps your brain alert.
  7. Play soothing nature sounds, wind chimes, a fan, or soft music.
  8. Drink a cup of warm, unsweetened almond milk. Add a teaspoon of vanilla (the real stuff, not imitation) and a few drops of stevia. The combination may increase serotonin in your brain and help you sleep.
  9. Use lavender to enhance your slumbers. The smell of lavender can decrease anxiety and improve mood and sleep, according to research.
  10. Take nutraceuticals that help with sleep, such as GABA, melatonin, magnesium, and 5-HTP.

Sleep disorders and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. If you take a sleeping pill for sleep, such as Ambien, are you getting the proper type of sleep
    to let your brain do its brain washing cycle ??

    Comment by Liz Matteson — February 21, 2022 @ 6:08 AM

  2. What about urge incontinence that gets me up at least 2 times each night?

    Comment by Lucinda/Cindy Joens — February 21, 2022 @ 6:19 AM

  3. It was an interesting article. I am a sufferer of depression and I have insomnia. Even though my sleep is not good when I do sleep and go into REM sleep I have strange dreams. I keep a journal but I don’t know what they mean. Sometimes they are frightening dreams.

    Comment by Maria Daidone — February 21, 2022 @ 6:36 AM

  4. why no pets?

    Comment by ann h — February 21, 2022 @ 6:37 AM

  5. My 13 year old Yellow Labrador Sleeps with me every night, helps both of us, he is 85 pounds of Love
    with a terminal illness called degenerative myelopathy and has outlived his prognosis with a stress
    free world of Love and Super enriched food, like me eats fish oil , turmeric , +++ eggs, chicken and
    it all seems to be working, Learn about Dogs, It will help who ever wrote the sleep issue blog
    Kenny Halbritter and Windsor

    Comment by Kenny Halbritter — February 21, 2022 @ 6:46 AM

  6. This is so true. The supplements are so soothing but still I cant sleep. Need tips for homeless people. My bedroom is not like yours.

    Comment by Ean — February 21, 2022 @ 7:06 AM

  7. When one has followed all sleep hygiene, does not want to take medication or melatonin, what else beyond CBT-I is left to try?

    Comment by Kathy Chavez — February 21, 2022 @ 7:47 AM

  8. Which stage of sleep is most important for this “brainwashing”? REM, Deep sleep? Or is it about length of sleep in total? Thanks!

    Comment by Kat — February 21, 2022 @ 10:43 AM

  9. I am surprised there is no recommendation to “turn off the TV” for this same reason as to not use an e-reader as unfortunately, I know a lot of people who think keeping the tv on is helping them sleep.

    Comment by Steven Bulcroft — February 21, 2022 @ 11:40 AM

  10. Very informative article – sleep is so important even one night without it is awful. Can’t wait to try some of the suggestions on the article.

    Comment by Wendy Dornisch — February 21, 2022 @ 11:41 AM

  11. These supplements are now in my regimen, but I had to remove the GABA because it has noted possible interactions with my thyroid medication.

    Comment by Catherine — February 21, 2022 @ 12:27 PM

  12. I liked the articles advice but several people I know stopped taking melatonin due to the nightmares it caused

    Comment by Diana Barker — February 21, 2022 @ 8:55 PM

  13. My body and my head seem to get very hot at night!! It is though In am burning up sometimes … I am 66..and well past menopause
    so it is not that … but are there cold pillows of head cooling devices to “CHILL MT BRAINS” ?? Thanks for all you do!!

    Comment by Karin — February 22, 2022 @ 2:31 AM

  14. Dr. Amen recommends meditation. However, I have not read that he specifically recommends meditation just before bedtime. I started meditating just before bedtime, and my sleep is deeper and I fall asleep faster. I use the app Headspace. I highly recommend it.

    Comment by Elizabeth Marie Hand — February 22, 2022 @ 5:14 AM

  15. AGAIN ! This article has several good suggestions. Except Melatonin is known to give bad dreams.

    Comment by Diana Barker — February 23, 2022 @ 7:45 AM

  16. I have a simple solution that I have used for years. If I have to I cover my eyes with my hand after making myself comfortable and relaxed. I then repeat mentally and silently over and over while expelling my breath ” go to sleep ” “go to sleep” ” go to sleep” if you have to say it over and over pretty soon the brain will except it as a command. Soon it will be a natural to movement and action. I’m not sure I have to say it three of four times . It is a hypnotic command.

    Comment by Page — February 23, 2022 @ 10:20 PM

  17. I've seen recommendations for stevia in several of these articles. Is there anything known about the impact of this ultra-processed food on the brain? I appreciate there are lots of issues with sugar, and aspartame, but stevia is pretty new – has research really confirmed it's biological effects in the long-term?

    Comment by Laura — October 25, 2023 @ 1:49 PM

  18. excellent advice!

    Comment by Doug Morris — October 25, 2023 @ 5:13 PM

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Contact Us