In a new study published in The Journal of Neuroscience, researchers suggest that sleeping on your side, or in the lateral position, may help the brain eliminate waste products more efficiently when compared to sleeping on your back or stomach. As a result, side-sleeping may reduce the risk of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease.
In the study, researchers focused on a complex brain system called the glymphatic pathway. This system eliminates harmful substances that may upset the normal function of tissue and cells in the brain. The glymphatic pathway clears waste by replacing cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) with interstitial fluid (ISF). The glymphatic pathway is most effective when a person is asleep—it can eliminate potentially toxic substances from the brain, such as tau and beta-amyloid.
Researchers observed the CSF-ISF exchange in the brains of rodents on anesthesia using computer modeling and dynamic contrast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The experiment had the rodents in three sleeping positions—lying on the back (supine), lying on the stomach (prone) or lying on the side (lateral). The results showed that lying on the side had a greater effect on the glymphatic system compared to the other two sleeping positions.
“Our findings bring new insight into this topic by showing it is also important what position you sleep in,” explains study co-author Dr. Maiken Nedergaard. Researchers also noted that side sleeping is the position of choice in humans and many animals.
Previous studies suggest that the brain can better remove waste products when individuals are sleeping compared to when they are awake. In a 2014 study published in the journal Neurology, researchers found that people who spend less time sleeping may increase the risk of losing brain cells and the development of dementia.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Lee, H., et al., “The Effect of Body Posture on Brain Glymphatic Transport,” The Journal of Neuroscience, Aug. 5, 2015; 35(31): 11034-11044, doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1625-15.2015. http://www.jneurosci.org/content/35/31/11034
“Could sleeping on one’s side reduce risk of Alzheimer’s?” Medical News Today web site, Aug. 6, 2015; http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/297807.php.
Gelber, R.P., et al., “Associations of brain lesions at autopsy with polysomnography features before death,” Neurology, January 20, 2015; 84(3): 296-303, doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000001163, published online Dec. 10, 2014.
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