Sleeping Position Affects Brain Health: MRI Study

How do you sleep?

Most people have a fairly consistent sleeping location, schedule and position. And, according to new MRI research, the position you favour may have something to do with long-term brain health.

Researchers from Stony Brook University in New York state have learned, through MRI scanning, that sleeping on one’s side opens the glymphatic pathway, a passage inside the brain that flushes neurotoxins and other chemical waste during shuteye. It is, however, important to note that the research thus far has been conducted only on rodents.

“It is interesting that the lateral [side] sleeping 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,” said study co-author Dr. Maiken Nedergaard.

This study, published yesterday in the Journal of Neuroscience, adds to a growing body of sleep research on how our resting hours affect our brains. Previous studies have connected poor sleep with onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

“Many types of dementia are linked to sleep disturbances, including difficulties in falling asleep,” says Nedergaard. “It is increasingly acknowledged that these sleep disturbances may accelerate memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease.”

The researchers plan to continue investigating the link between lateral sleep and the glymphatic pathway via MRI research on humans.


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