Decline of cognition and increasing risk of neurodegenerative diseases are major problems associated with aging in humans. Of particular importance is how the brain removes potentially toxic biomolecules that accumulate with normal neuronal function. Recently, a biomolecule clearance system using convective flow between the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and interstitial fluid (ISF) to remove toxic metabolites in the brain was described. Xie and colleagues now report that in mice the clearance activity of this so-called "glymphatic system" is strongly stimulated by sleep and is associated with an increase in interstitial volume, possibly by shrinkage of astroglial cells. Moreover, anesthesia and attenuation of adrenergic signaling can activate the glymphatic system to clear potentially toxic proteins known to contribute to the pathology of Alzheimer disease (AD) such as beta-amyloid (Abeta). Clearance during sleep is as much as two-fold faster than during waking hours. These results support a new hypothesis to answer the age-old question of why sleep is necessary. Glymphatic dysfunction may pay a hitherto unsuspected role in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases as well as maintenance of cognition. Furthermore, clinical studies suggest that quality and duration of sleep may be predictive of the onset of AD, and that quality sleep may significantly reduce the risk of AD for apolipoprotein E (ApoE) ɛ4 carriers, who have significantly greater chances of developing AD. Further characterization of the glymphatic system in humans may lead to new therapies and methods of prevention of neurodegenerative diseases. A public health initiative to ensure adequate sleep among middle-aged and older people may prove useful in preventing AD, especially in apolipoprotein E (ApoE) ɛ4 carriers.