By Dr. Mercola
One of the fascinating biological processes that takes place while you sleep is brain detoxification. Your brain has a unique method of removing toxic waste through what’s been dubbed the glymphatic system. The “g” in glymphatic is a nod to “glial cells”— the brain cells that manage this system.
By pumping cerebral spinal fluid through your brain’s tissues, the glymphatic system flushes the waste from your brain back into your body’s circulatory system. From there, the waste eventually reaches your liver, where it’s ultimately eliminated.
This system ramps up its activity during sleep, thereby allowing your brain to clear out toxins, including harmful proteins linked to Alzheimer’s disease, for example. During sleep, the glymphatic system becomes 10 times more active than during wakefulness.
What’s more, your brain cells actually shrink by about 60 percent during sleep, which allows for more efficient waste removal.1 Researchers recently suggested that different body postures during sleep, for instance sleeping on your side as opposed to on your back or stomach, may also affect waste removal, and they conducted a study to test out their theory.
Sleeping on Your Side May Make Brain Waste Removal More Efficient
The study used MRI scans and computer modeling to measure the activity of the glymphatic pathway among anesthetized rodents. Measurements were taken while the animals were lying on their side, stomach, and back.
It turned out that the glymphatic system was most efficient at removing toxins, including the amyloid beta proteins linked to Alzheimer’s disease, when the rodents were lying on their side, not on their stomach or back.
Although the theory has yet to be tested in humans, the researchers believe a similar benefit may be found among people – and perhaps this is one reason why side sleeping is so naturally common among humans and most animals.
This news that side sleeping may be best for your brain may comes as a surprise, as it’s generally accepted that the best sleep position is on your back. When you sleep on your back your head, neck, and spine maintain a neutral position and acid reflux symptoms are minimized.
Because your face is not pushed up against a pillow, back sleeping may also be best for preventing facial wrinkles. However, while sleeping on your back may be best for preventing wrinkles and back pain, if this new study is confirmed you may be better off sleeping on your side for the sake of your brain.
No Matter What Position You Sleep in, Healthy Sleep Is Essential for Brain Health
While much about sleep remains a mystery, it’s becoming increasingly clear that your brain health depends on regular, high-quality shut-eye. For instance, when researchers measured the brain waves of 26 cognitively normal older adults during sleep, those with disrupted deep sleep patterns had higher amounts of amyloid plaques in their brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.2
In addition, both disrupted sleep and the higher levels of amyloid plaque were associated with…