How the Position You Sleep In May Affect Your Brain Health

A new study has discovered that there is a particular position people sleep in that results in optimal brain health. Sleeping positions generally fall into back, stomach, side and combinations of all three, also known as tossing and turning. However, researchers assert that the best position for keeping a healthy brain is sleeping on your side. This is because this position fosters the best conditions for the bodily processes that flush toxins and other biological waste from the brain’s systems. 

The study focused on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of mice brains which were observed while the mice were sleeping in various positions that included back, stomach, and side postures. The MRI scans concentrated on a particular system in the brain’s of the mice known as the glymphatic pathway. The glymphatic pathway is the system that clears out the accumulation of toxic chemicals that can buildup in the brain through normal biological processes. The chemicals in this toxic buildup include beta amyloid and tau proteins, substances associated with the brain plaques known to appear in the brain’s of Alzheimer’s patients. 

Interestingly, the side sleeping position is not just the one that facilitates the most efficient work of the glymphatic when it does its nightly work of clearing the brain of these toxic wastes, but it is also the most popular sleeping position for humans and animals, including wild animals. Researchers theorize that the reason the side sleeping position is so prevalent with humans and animals is precisely because of this nightly flushing of the brain that it helps to put in action. To support this premise is the estimate that nearly two in three Americans sleep on their side each night. 

The metabolic wastes that accumulate in the brain during our daily activities may be the source of neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. This neurological diseases have also been associated with how we sleep, so this study that reveals how sleeping on our sides helps the brain clear out plaques would add further support to this connection.

Sleep is obviously the necessary restorative activity that complements the stresses and strains of daily activity. What this study shows is that this rejuvenating process of sleep is literally linked to a clean up of waste products in the brain. Dementia is often coupled with sleep disturbances so this information only adds more evidence to the table. The importance of sleeping on your side can make the difference between living out later years with clear cognitive abilities or suffering from debilitating brain disorders.

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Used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of NICHD