Of the three positions in the image, which would you think is best for your brain? While you’re sleeping, your brain clears waste using a system like the lymphatic system. Waste produced in the brain is carried out while you sleep – as long as you’re sleeping right.
If you’ve ever been prematurely woken up you know the “fogginess” experienced. This fogginess is a result of the toxin-removing process your brain was undertaking. But if you aren’t sleeping properly you could be letting these toxins build up.
Clean Your Brain
According to researchers at Stony Brook University used MRI imaging to see watch the brain’s glymphatic pathway. This is the system your brain uses to clear the waste while you sleep. This waste, if not removed, leads to neuro-disorders like Alzheimer’s Disease and other conditions.
Dr. Helene Benveniste, Principal Investigator and a Professor in the Departments of Anesthesiology and Radiology at Stony Brook University School of Medicine has long used MRI to identify and define the glymphatic system, to see where cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) filters through the brain and exchanges with interstitial fluid (ISF) to clear waste. She notes that the brain waste includes beta amyloid and tau proteins, chemicals that are heavily linked to Alzheimer’s development.
“The analysis showed us consistently that glymphatic transport was most efficient in the lateral position when compared to the supine or prone positions,” says Dr. Benveniste. “Because of this finding, we propose that the body posture and sleep quality should be considered when standardizing future diagnostic imaging procedures to assess CSF-ISF transport in humans and therefore the assessment of the clearance of damaging brain proteins that may contribute to or cause brain diseases.”
Prone, Supine, or Lateral?
Essentially what Dr. Benveniste is suggesting is to sleep on your side to give your brain its best chance to clear waste. According to the researchers, the lateral position (or sleeping on your side) is the most common sleep position for humans. Its likely that we adopted this trait and evolved to sleep this way more often due to its brain-clearing necessity.
“It is interesting that the lateral sleep position is already the most popular in human 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 built up while we are awake,” says Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, PhD, University of Rochester.
“The study therefore adds further support to the concept that sleep subserves a distinct biological function of sleep and that is to ‘clean up’ the mess that accumulates while we are awake. Many types of dementia are linked to sleep disturbances, including difficulties in falling asleep. It is increasingly acknowledged that these sleep disturbances may accelerate memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease. Our finding brings new insight into this topic by showing it is also important what position you sleep in,” she explains.
The more often we don’t get a good night’s sleep, the more beta amyloid and tau proteins build up in our brains. The more of these toxic buildups that exist in the brain, the harder it is to get a good night’s sleep, resulting in more of these proteins building up and increasing our risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
Research shows that sleeping on your side is the most effective way for your brain to clear clutter, but the quality and quantity of your sleep matters as well. Even through adulthood, 7-8 hours of sleep is necessary each night for our brains to perform their house-cleaning.
Sleep It Off
So tonight, when you’re rolling around in bed thinking of all the wonderful things you read during the day, remember this: sleep on your side!
Now try to get some rest.