Do you sleep on your back or stomach while in bed or nodding on the furniture? The way you actually sleep may be related to the probability of neurological deterioration.
Researchers from Stony Brook University found that side sleeping, likened to back or stomach sleeping, may more efficiently remove brain waste and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases.
At the moment, the research has only been conducted in mice. So don’t panic just yet.
“It’s interesting that the side sleep position is already the most popular in human and most animals, even in the wild, and it appears that we have adapted the side sleeping position to most efficiently clear our brain of the metabolic waste products that built up while we are awake,” said study co-author Maiken Nedergaard, PhD, a professor of neurosurgery at the University of Rochester Medical Center, in a recent press release.
The brain’s cleansing process, called the glymphatic system, clears waste when cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) filters through the brain and exchanges with interstitial fluid (ISF).
This process is similar to the way the body’s lymphatic system clears waste from the organs. It is most efficient during sleep.
Brain waste includes amyloid and tau proteins, chemicals that can negatively affect brain processes if they build up. If this waste is not properly disposed of, the chances of neurological diseases can increase.
Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills. Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder that leads to shaking, stiffness and difficulties with walking, balance and coordination.
Dr. Nedergaard and team used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to observe the glymphatic system.
The brains of the mice who slept in a lateral (side) position were found to more efficiently remove waste when compared to the brains of supine (facing upward) or prone (facing downward) mice.
“The study therefore adds further support to the concept that sleep serves a distinct biological function and that is to ‘clean up’ the mess that accumulates while we are awake,” Dr. Nedergaard said.
Although human studies are still needed to confirm these findings, this experiment brings new insight on how sleep position affects the brain.
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