By Peter Kendall
As he gets ready for sleep each night, Don Tucker slips on an electrode cap and checks a little computer on his bedside table. Many workers at the private lab, run by the professor emeritus at the University of Oregon, follow the same routine.
The experimental device monitors the nightly voyage through sleep. After sensing light sleep for a few minutes, it pulses electric current through the scalp and skull, nudging the brain into that nirvana known as deep sleep.
The goal is not just a more restful slumber. Groundbreaking discoveries made in the past decade have revealed that the brain has a power-washing system that switches into high gear during deep sleep, flushing away harmful waste. This nightly cleanup is part of the restorative power of sleep and revives concentration, memory and motor skills.
As we age, however, this cleansing system gets sloppier, and it can begin to leave behind some of the metabolic detritus of the day, including the amyloid beta proteins found in the plaque that characterize Alzheimer’s disease and other devastating neurological disorders.