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The Sleeping Position That’s Best for Brain Health?

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The Best Sleeping Position for Optimal Brain Health

Pillows and people are always a lovely match, but there are plenty of other reasons why sleep is so important. Sleep restores, recharges, solves problems, processes emotions and memories leftover from the day, and quite literally, cleanses the brain. Bodies tend to unfold as they want to during sleep, but new research has found that it’s not just sleep that influences brain health, but also sleep position.

During sleep, the space between brain cells expands, allowing fluid to rapidly flow through the brain and wash away toxins that have built up in the central nervous system during waking hours.

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The efficient removal of waste products from the brain will reduce the risk of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s. 

In a recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers investigated how sleeping position affects the removal of toxins from the brain. 

The study found that sleeping on the side was the most efficient way to cleanse the brain of waste, reducing the risk of neurological disease. Evolution might have given us a hand here – sleeping on the side is already the most popular way to sleep for humans and most animals, even in the wild.

The study was conducted on mice – not because researchers wanted to find the best sleep position for tiny four-legged ones with fur, but because of their biological and genetic similarity to humans.

Many types of dementia have been linked to sleep disturbances and difficulties falling asleep. The effective removal of brain waste seems to have an important role in protecting against such disorders. When toxins aren’t eliminated, the risk of memory loss, Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases is increased. Sleep, and more specifically sleeping on your side, facilitates the removal of these harmful brain toxins.

Now … if only the opportunities for peaceful, happy zzz’s were as plenty as the reasons.

 

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6 Comments

Pia Gundersen

That was an interesting article. How, specifically, does the brain do this? What happens in the brain during sleep and where does the waste go?
Thank you.
Pia

Reply
Hey Sigmund

During sleep, the cells in the brain shrink, allowing an opening up the space between the cells. This allows cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) – which usually covers the surface of the brain during the day – to flow through the brain and take toxins with it. The CSF flows through a kind of plumbing system called the glymphatic system, which appears to be able to work 10 times harder when we’re asleep. There enormous amount of energy required to pump CSF. The brain has enough to do while during waking hours, so this pumping takes place while we’re asleep. In lab experiments with mice, it has been found that waste from the cells is flushed out via the blood vessels in the brain, into the circulatory stytem f the body and eventually into the liver. Hope that makes it clearer.

Reply
Betty

What would be the safest thing to take to help you sleep through the night? I enjoy a glass of wine each evening before bed but dont think it has anything to do with waking up repeatedly. Thank you

Reply
Sylvia Britton

So many schools of thought – left side so acid reflux doesn’t happen and heart surgery patients are told to do this (I’m one of those), yet I find sleeping on my left side gives me a deeper, more restful sleep. Is either side helpful for flushing CSF, or is one better than the other. The above article says “…the side…”. Has there been other research on which side?

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Olli-Petteri Nivaro

It says ‘lateral position’ (as opposed to prone/supine) so I’m confident that they made the same observation for both left- and right-side sleepers; if there was any significant difference, it would be reasonable to assume that they’d have reported it.

And as far as I can tell, this paper is the first one to address the effect of sleeping position on glymphatic transport (it doesn’t sound like an experiment that you’d readily come up with and get funds for, either), and since it was published in August 2015, I wouldn’t expect any additional info on this subject — at least from research using human subjects — before 2016.

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