We know sleep is important. We spend one-third of our lives asleep, without which we couldn’t function.
But until the 2013 discovery of the glymphatic system by Danish neuroscientist Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, we had no idea why sleep is so important to humans or that the brain uses it to clear its metabolic waste.
Building off this relatively recent discovery, a team of neuroscience researchers and engineers at Houston Methodist, Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine are developing a “sleeping cap” that analyzes the glymphatic system’s activity and the flow of cerebrospinal fluid that helps drain the brain of harmful buildup during sleep.
Backed by a U.S. Army $2.8 million grant for the first year of research, the team’s goal is to find a way to noninvasively measure, modulate and ultimately stimulate proper cerebrospinal fluid flow in order to treat sleep disorders in real time and stave off neurodegenerative disease.
To make the technology highly accessible — deployed soldiers, for instance, are targeted users — an important secondary goal is to create a prototype that is portable and easy to use.
“It is of great interest to the military to understand the toll of sleep deprivation on its forces and to detect issues and treat them before neurological damage occurs,” says Behnaam Aazhang, director of the NeuroEngineering Initiative and J.S. Abercrombie Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rice. Aazhang’s team is responsible for designing and building the cap.