Most of us don’t think much about the way we sleep. Whether we sleep on our back, side, stomach, or curled up in a fetal-like position seems of little consequence.
But according to a recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, how we position our body when sleeping can actually reduce our risk of Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders.
Why You Should Sleep On Your Side
The study reveals that sleeping on your side rather than on your stomach or back allows the brain to more easily and efficiently dispose of waste products, causing less buildup of plaques in the brain(1).
“We investigated the influence of body posture on brainwide transport of inert tracers of anesthetized rodents,” the study authors explain.
“The major finding of our study was that waste, including [amyloid beta], removal was most efficient in the lateral position (compared with the prone position), which mimics the natural resting/sleeping position of rodents.”
Most doctors believe that the best sleep position is either resting on your back or on your side – these positions provide support for the spine and neck, which leads to a better night’s sleep and can help prevent long-term injuries.
The Sleeping Position Most People Prefer
One 2007 study from the Internet Journal Of Allied Health Sciences And Practice found that most individuals surveyed preferred sleeping on their side to sleeping on their back or stomach, and that those who did sleep on their side reported waking up during the night with less frequency than those who did not.(2)
In the recent Journal of Neuroscience study, MRA technology was used to image the brain’s glymphatic pathway – the system that clears waste from the brain. The buildup of brain waste chemicals, like amyloid beta, may contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease and other degenerative neurological conditions such as dementia.
Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, an author on the study, found the findings particularly interesting given humans’ propensity for sleeping on our sides.
“It is interesting that the lateral sleep position is already the most popular in humans and most animals – even in the wild – and it appears that we have adapted the lateral sleep position to most efficiently clear our brain of the metabolic waste products that build up while we are awake,” Dr. Nedergaard said in a recent press release(3).
“Out finding brings new insight into this topic by showing it is also important what position you sleep in.”
The next step for the research team is to use MRI technology to create imagery of human brains during sleep. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a better night’s sleep, try sleeping on your side – it’s scientifically proven to be better for you!