Your sleep position may be more than a matter of comfort. New research suggests that sleeping on your side can reduce the risk of degenerative diseases.
Most people have a preferred sleeping position. Until recently, it was generally believed by medical professionals and the general public alike that it didn’t matter how one sleeps as long as you get enough high-quality sleep. However, a recent study suggests that your position when you sleep, more specifically sleeping on your side, may have effects on your long-term health, including your risk of suffering from chronic pain as well as diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
How Sleeping on Your Side Affects Your Brain
When you sleep, your body regenerates cells and removes the waste products that have built up throughout the day. This is especially important in the brain, where waste products can easily build up and interfere with optimal function. Because blood flow to cells is tightly controlled by the blood-brain barrier, the brain has a specialized system, called the glymphatic system, that facilitates the exchange of nutrients and waste products.
The glymphatic system is most active in sleep when the brain is busy regenerating and cleaning out waste products for the day. According to a recent study, the glymphatic system functions most efficiently when people are laying on their sides. This suggests that people may be able to more efficiently clear their brain of waste products simply by changing how they position themselves in bed.
Waste Products and Degenerative Disease
Why is optimal glymphatic function so important? Many neurodegenerative diseases are caused by the build-up of waste products that should theoretically be removed through normal metabolism. Over time, these waste products begin to damage delicate neural cells and interfere with healthy brain functions such as memory and reasoning abilities. While sleeping on one’s side may not entirely prevent these diseases, it may have an effect that has yet to be determined.
Good Sleep, Good Health
Neurodegenerative diseases are not the only illnesses associated with sleep position. For example, sleep apnea is a serious condition that is exacerbated by sleeping on one’s back. When people at risk for sleep apnea sleep on their backs, their airways may close for short periods of time, causing stress on the cardiovascular system.
Regardless of the position in which you sleep, people are healthiest when they get high-quality sleep in adequate amounts, usually seven to eight hours a day. There are simple changes you can make to get the best sleep possible, such as using pillows to align vertebrae and limbs into optimal resting positions. In addition, sleeping on a firm mattress can also assist in getting good sleep. Lastly, sleep in a dark and quiet room with no distractions such as televisions.
The good news is that most people are side sleepers anyway, so may inadvertently be protecting themselves from diseases. Back and stomach sleepers can take comfort in knowing that the amount and quality of sleep is still considered more important than the position of your body when you sleep.