The Sleeping Position That’s Best for Brain Health?

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.

[irp posts=”97″ name=”The Remarkable New Discovery About What Your Brain Does While You Sleep”]

 

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.

 

7 Comments

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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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

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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

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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.

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Today was an ending and a beginning. My darling girl finished year 12. The final year at school is tough enough, but this year was seismic. Our teens have moved through this year with the most outstanding courage and grace and strength, and now it is time for them to rest and play. My gosh they deserve it. 

It is true that this is a time of celebration, but it can also be an intense time of self-reflection for our teens. (I can remember the same feelings when my gorgeous boy finished so many years ago!) My daughter has described it as, ‘I feel as though I’ve outgrown myself but my new self isn’t ready yet.’ This just makes so much sense. 

There is a beautifully fertile void that is waiting for whatever comes next for each of them, but that void is still a void. At different times it might feel exciting, overwhelming, or brutal in its emptiness.

We also have to remember that this is a time of letting go, and there might be grief that comes with that. Before they can grab on to their next big adventure, they have to let go of the guard rails. This means gently adjusting their hold on the world they have known for the last 12+ years, with its places and routines and people that have felt like home on so many days. There will be redirects and shiftings, and through it all the things that need to stay will stay, and the things that need to adjust will adjust. 

To my darling girl, your loved incredible friends, and the teens who make our world what it is - you are the beautiful  thinkers, the big feelers, the creators, the change makers, and the ones who will craft and grow a better world. However you might feel now, the lights are waiting to shine for you and because of you. The world beyond school is opening its arms to you. That opening might happen quickly, or gently, or smoothly or chaotically, but it will happen. This world needs every one of you - your voices, your spirits, your fire, your softness, your strength and your power. You are world-ready, and we are so glad you are here xxx
When our kids or teens are in high emotion, their words might sound anxious, angry, inconsolable, jealous, defiant. As messy as the words might be, they have a good reason for being there. Big feelings surge as a way to influence the environment to meet a need. Of course, sometimes the fallout from this can be nuclear.
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Wherever there is a big emotion, there will always be an important need behind it - safety, comfort, attention, food, rest, connection. The need will always be valid, even if the way they’re going about meeting it is a little rough. As with so many difficult parenting moments, there will be gold in the middle of the mess if we know where to look. 
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There will be times for shaping the behaviour into a healthier response, but in the middle of a big feeling is not one of those times. Big feelings are NOT a sign of dysfunction, bad kids or bad parenting. They are a part of being human, and they bring rich opportunities for wisdom, learning and growth. .
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Parenting isn’t about stopping the emotional storms, but about moving through the storm and reaching the other side in a way that preserves the opportunity for our kids and teens to learn and grow from the experience - and they will always learn best from experience. 
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To calm a big feeling, name what you see, ‘I can see you’re disappointed. I know how much you wanted that’, or, ‘I can see this feels big for you,’ or, ‘You’re angry at me about .. aren’t you. I understand that. I would be mad too if I had to […],’ or ‘It sounds like today has been a really hard day.’ 
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When we connect with the emotion, we help soothe the nervous system. The emotion has done its job, found support, and can start to ease. 
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When they ‘let go’ they’re letting us in on their deepest and most honest emotional selves. We don’t need to change that. What we need to do is meet them where they and gently guide them from there. When they feel seen and understood, their trust in us and their connection to us will deepen, opening the way for our influence.
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When they are at that line, deciding whether to retreat to safety or move forward into brave, there will be a part of them that will know they have what it takes to be brave. It might be pale, or quiet, or a little tumbled by the noise from anxiety, but it will be there. And it will be magical. Our job as their flight crew is to clear the way for this magical part of them to rise. ‘I can see this feels scary for you - and I know you can do this.’ 
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When our kids or teens are struggling, it can be hard to know what they need. It can also be hard for them to say. It can be this way for all of us - we don't always know what we need from the people around us. It might be space, or distraction, or silence, or maybe acknowledging and being there is enough. Sometimes we might need to know that the people we love aren't taking our need for space, or our confusion or anger or sadness personally, and that they are still there within reach.
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What can be easier is thinking about what other people might need. Asking this when they are calm can invite a different perspective and can give you some insight into what they need to hear when they are going through similar. Don't worry if you just get a shrug, or a disheartened, 'I don't know'. They don't need to know, and neither do we. The question in itself might be enough to open a new way through any sense of 'stuckness' or helplessness they might be feeling.
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Give them space to talk but you don’t need to fix anything. You’ll want to, but the answers are in them, not us. Sometimes the answer will be to feel it out, or push for change, or feel the futility of it all so the feeling can let go, knowing it’s done it’s job - it’s recruited support, or raised awareness that something isn’t right.

Sometimes the feelings might be seismic but the words might be gone for a while. That’s okay too. Do they want to start with whatever words are there? Or talk about something else? Or go for a walk with you? Watch a movie with you? Or do a spontaneous, unnecessary drive thru with you just because you can - no words, no need to explain - just you and them and car music for the next 20 minutes. 

The more you can validate what they’re feeling (maybe, ‘Today was big for you wasn’t it’) and give them space to feel, the more they can feel the feeling, understand the need that’s fuelling it, and experiment with ways to deal with it. Sometimes, ‘dealing with it’ might mean acknowledging that there is something that feels big or important and a little out of reach right now, and feeling the fullness and futility of that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days are rubbish, and that sometimes those days last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. But the learning comes from experience.

I wish our kids never felt pain, but we don’t get to decide that. We don’t get to decide how our children grow, but we do get to decide how much space and support we give them for this growth. We can love them through it but we can’t love them out of it. I wish we could but we can’t.

So instead of feeling the need to silence their pain, make space for it. In the end we have no choice. Sometimes all the love in the world won’t be enough to put the wrong things right, but it can help them feel held while they move through the pain enough to find their out breath, and the strength that comes with that.♥️

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