Sleeping Position Protect Brain Health Vector

How Your Sleeping Position Can Protect Your Brain (2024)

by | Jun 13, 2024

Have you ever forgotten something important, like an appointment, a password, or the name of an old friend? It can be frustrating and even a little scary.

With the rise in neurological diseases like dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS, it’s a legitimate concern.

Did you know that over 55 million people worldwide are living with dementia? That number is expected to triple in less than 30 years.

Clearly, we need to take our brain health seriously. Surprisingly, something as simple as the position you sleep in could make a significant difference.

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Why are Neurological Diseases Increasing?

Several factors contribute to the rise in neurological diseases. Our population is aging, and people are living longer, which increases the risk of developing these conditions. Lifestyle changes also play a major role. Many of us lead sedentary lives, eat poorly, and deal with chronic stress.

Conditions like diabetes and hypertension, which are more common now, can damage the brain.

Additionally, environmental toxins such as pesticides and heavy metals, to which we are increasingly exposed, also contribute to this rise.

Side Sleeping Position for Brain Health vector illustration

What is the Glymphatic System?

The glymphatic system, a recently discovered mechanism, plays a crucial role in cleaning our brains while we sleep.

It gets rid of waste products, including toxins linked to Alzheimer’s disease, such as beta-amyloid and tau proteins. However, this system only works when we are asleep.

How Sleep Position Affects the Glymphatic System

Sleep position can significantly affect the efficiency of the glymphatic system. Research has shown that different sleep positions can influence how well the glymphatic system clears waste from the brain.

Here’s how:

  • Lateral (Side) Position: Studies suggest that sleeping on your side is the most effective position for glymphatic clearance. This position enhances the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, optimizing waste removal from the brain. This position is also the most common among humans and animals, indicating a potential evolutionary advantage for brain health.
  • Supine (Back) Position: Sleeping on your back is moderately effective for glymphatic clearance. While it still allows for the removal of brain waste, it is not as efficient as the lateral position. This position may contribute to sleep apnea in some individuals, which can negatively impact overall sleep quality and, consequently, glymphatic function.
  • Prone (Stomach) Position: Sleeping on your stomach is the least effective position for glymphatic clearance. This position can restrict the flow of cerebrospinal fluid and compress the neck, potentially impeding the glymphatic process. Additionally, it may lead to discomfort and breathing difficulties, further affecting sleep quality.

Practical Implications

  • Optimal Sleep Hygiene: For optimal glymphatic function and brain health, it is advisable to sleep on your side. This position maximizes the efficiency of waste removal during sleep.
  • Personal Comfort: While the lateral position is generally recommended, individual comfort and any existing health conditions should also be considered when choosing a sleep position.
  • Consistent Sleep Patterns: Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and ensuring good sleep hygiene practices are also crucial for supporting the glymphatic system and overall brain health.

Note: By paying attention to sleep position and overall sleep quality, you can enhance the glymphatic system’s ability to clear waste from the brain, potentially reducing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases and improving cognitive function.

How to Train Yourself to Sleep on Your Side

If you usually sleep on your back or stomach, it might take some time to adjust to side sleeping. One popular method is the tennis ball technique.

Sew a pocket onto the back of a shirt and place a tennis ball in it. This will make it uncomfortable to sleep on your back, encouraging you to roll onto your side.

Using pillows strategically can also help. Placing a pillow between your knees can keep your spine aligned and make side sleeping more comfortable.

Hugging a body pillow can prevent you from rolling onto your stomach. Consistency is key, and with time, your body will adapt, making side sleeping more natural.

Additional Lifestyle Changes for Brain Health

Maintaining brain health involves a combination of lifestyle choices that support cognitive function and protect against neurodegenerative diseases.

Here are several lifestyle changes that can contribute to better brain health:

  • Diet and Exercise: Eating a healthy, balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is essential for brain health. Regular physical activity improves blood flow to the brain and helps reduce the risk of diseases like diabetes and hypertension. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week.
  • Quality Sleep: We already discussed the importance of sleep for brain health. Ensure you’re getting at least seven hours of sleep each night. Create a relaxing bedtime routine, keep your bedroom cool and dark, and avoid screens before bed to improve your sleep quality.
  • Mental Stimulation: Keeping your mind active is as important as physical exercise. Engage in activities that challenge your brain, like reading, doing puzzles, or learning new skills. The more you stimulate your brain, the better it will function over time.
  • Stress Management: Chronic stress can harm your brain, particularly the hippocampus, which is essential for memory. Techniques like meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, and keeping a journal can help manage stress levels effectively.
  • Social Interaction: Maintaining an active social life stimulates brain activity and can reduce the risk of dementia. Stay connected with friends and family, participate in group activities, or join clubs and organizations that interest you.
  • Regular Medical Check-Ups: Regular check-ups are vital to monitor and manage health conditions that can affect brain health, such as diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. By keeping these conditions under control, you can significantly reduce your risk of neurological diseases.
  • Avoiding Harmful Substances: Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, as both can severely impact your brain and overall health. Seek help to quit smoking if needed, and if you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.

Note: By incorporating these lifestyle changes, you can support your brain health, enhance cognitive function, and reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.

FAQs About Sleeping Positions and Brain Health

What Sleeping Position is Best for Your Brain?

The best sleeping position for your brain is on your side, specifically the lateral position. This position enhances the efficiency of the glymphatic system, which is responsible for clearing waste and toxins from the brain.

Research indicates that side sleeping allows for better cerebrospinal fluid flow, optimizing the removal of metabolic waste and potentially reducing the risk of neurological diseases.

What is the Healthiest Position to Sleep In?

The healthiest position to sleep in is on your side. This position not only benefits brain health by improving waste clearance but also reduces the likelihood of developing sleep apnea and minimizes pressure on the spine and internal organs.

Among side sleeping positions, the left side is often recommended for additional benefits such as improved digestion and reduced acid reflux.

What is the Best Sleeping Position to Prevent Dementia?

Sleeping on your side, particularly the left side, is considered the best position to help prevent dementia. This position supports the glymphatic system in effectively clearing amyloid-beta and tau proteins, which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

By enhancing the brain’s waste removal process, side sleeping may contribute to a lower risk of developing dementia.

Is Sleeping on Your Left Side Good for Your Brain?

Yes, sleeping on your left side is good for your brain. This position enhances the glymphatic system’s efficiency, improving the clearance of waste and toxins from the brain.

By optimizing the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, sleeping on the left side can help reduce the risk of neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Which Side Is Better to Sleep On, Left or Right?

Both the left and right side positions are beneficial for sleep, but the left side has additional advantages.

Sleeping on the left side not only supports the brain’s waste clearance system but also promotes better digestion, reduces acid reflux, and can improve heart function by reducing pressure on the heart.

Therefore, while both sides are good, the left side may offer more overall health benefits.

Is Sleeping on Your Back Good for Your Brain?

Sleeping on your back is moderately effective for brain health. It supports the glymphatic system’s function but not as efficiently as side sleeping. Additionally, sleeping on your back can help maintain spinal alignment and reduce pressure on the joints.

However, it may contribute to sleep apnea in some individuals, which can negatively impact overall sleep quality and brain health.

Final Thoughts

Protecting your brain health involves a holistic approach: sleep well, eat healthily, exercise regularly, manage stress, keep your mind active, maintain social connections, and take care of your overall health.

By making these changes, you can reduce your risk of dementia and other neurological diseases, ensuring a healthier, more fulfilling life.

Remember, it’s never too late to start taking care of your brain. Small changes in your daily habits can have a significant impact on your long-term brain health.

Start today by adjusting your sleeping position and adopting some of the lifestyle changes we’ve discussed. Your brain will thank you!

John Landry, BS, RRT

Written by:

John Landry, BS, RRT

John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others live a healthier life.