Whether you sleep on your back, your stomach or you toss and turn all night, you’ll want to take note of this new study. Researchers say there’s an optimal sleeping position for brain health — and the good news is that it’s incredibly common.
In findings published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers say that sleeping on your side is best when it comes to your brain’s nighttime processes for clearing out waste and harmful chemicals.
The study looked at how well the brains of mice were able to remove waste when they were made to sleep on either their backs, stomachs or sides. They used MRI scans to look at the glymphatic pathway — or the system that gets rid of bad buildup and harmful chemicals in the brain — and how well it performed in various sleep stances. Brain waste includes things like beta amyloid and tau proteins, which are often associated with the plaques and tangles common in Alzheimer’s patients.
“It is interesting that the lateral sleep position is already the most popular in human and most animals – even in the wild – and it appears that we have adapted the lateral sleep position to most efficiently clear our brain of the metabolic waste products that built up while we are awake,” University of Rochester researcher Maiken Nedergaard said in a release. It’s estimated that nearly two in three Americans sleep on their side.
While researchers say further testing needs to be done in humans, they note that the study supports other findings which reinforce the connection between sleep and Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases.
“The study therefore adds further support to the concept that sleep subserves a distinct biological function of sleep and that is to ‘clean up’ the mess that accumulates while we are awake,” Nedergaard said. “Many types of dementia are linked to sleep disturbances, including difficulties in falling asleep. It is increasingly acknowledged that these sleep disturbances may accelerate memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease. Our finding brings new insight into this topic by showing it is also important what position you sleep in.”
Indeed, a number of recent studies have shown that sleep is vital in keeping your brain healthy and disease-free. A June study found that poor sleep doesn’t just affect your mind’s ability to save new memories, but it can create a channel allowing the harmful proteins to affect long-term memory storage. A 2014 study found that older men who reported sleep troubles were 1.5 times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s than their easy-sleeping counterparts.
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