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How Your Sleep Position Can Impact Your Brain’s Waste Removal

How Your Sleep Position Can Impact Your Brain’s Waste Removal

If you aren’t sleeping in the right position, you could be increasing your odds of developing Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders later in life.

This shocking conclusion was the result of a study performed by researchers at Stony Brook University when studying the effects of sleeping positions on the removal of brain waste.

Before understanding how the research was conducted and what the findings can mean for your health, it’s first important to understand what brain waste is and how improper removal can negatively impact your health.

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Brain Waste and the Devastating Role It Can Play

With the amount of work that your brain performs on a daily basis, it’s no wonder that there will be an excess of waste that requires removal. While our brains don’t have the luxuries of custodians and garbage collectors, they do have their own mechanism for cleaning, and that’s the glymphatic system.

An extensive and organized system of pipes that works to clear brain waste just as the lympathic system clears waste in the rest of the body, this system for waste removal was unknown until 2012 when a group of researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center made the discovery.

Simply put, brain waste is a combination of amyloids and tau proteins that have overstayed their welcome. The buildup of these improperly functioning proteins has been linked to Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders and can have truly devastating effects.

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The glymphatic system, which functions at all times during the day but which is most active during sleep, is what makes the removal of these proteins possible. Without this system in place, the non-soluble proteins would continue to buildup, leading to a plaque formation within our brain’s cells and wreaking havoc on our nervous system.

How the Research was Conducted

With the use of MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and contrast dye, the researchers were able to locate the glympathic system and track the movement of its waste-clearing substance in the brains of anesthetized mice.

The mice were then manipulated into lying in one of three different positions — lateral (side), supine (on the back), and prone (on the stomach).

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Researchers tracked the rates of waste removal based on these three positions, and the lateral position during sleep had an overwhelming advantage.

What this Discovery Means for You and How You Sleep

While this experiment was performed on mice and has yet to be done on human subjects, there are still some things that we can learn from the study’s conclusion.

The benefits of these findings were best explained by Dr. Nedergaard, a researcher from the University of Rochester and co-author of the study:

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“Many types of dementia are linked to sleep disturbances, including difficulties in falling asleep. It is increasing[ly] 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.”

While there is still much research to be done, the conclusion of this study is clear:

“The analysis showed us consistently that glymphatic transport was most efficient in the [side] position when compared to the [back] or [stomach] positions,” said Dr. Benveniste.

The Future of Sleep and Brain Studies

While this new study may not be enough to convince diehard back and stomach sleepers to change their sleep positions, it does lead to future research questions and gives hope to those with a history of Alzheimer’s and similar disorders in their family.

The mysteries of the brain and nervous system are only now beginning to be solved — what this study and similar studies does is prove that each day we are one step closer to a fuller understanding of the human brain and how this knowledge can be used to fight the crippling and fatal effects of neurological diseases.

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Last Updated on June 13, 2019

5 Fixes For Common Sleep Issues All Couples Deal With

5 Fixes For Common Sleep Issues All Couples Deal With

Sleeping next to your partner can be a satisfying experience and is typically seen as the mark of a stable, healthy home life. However, many more people struggle to share a bed with their partner than typically let on. Sleeping beside someone can decrease your sleep quality which negatively affects your life. Maybe you are light sleepers and you wake each other up throughout the night. Maybe one has a loud snoring habit that’s keeping the other awake. Maybe one is always crawling into bed in the early hours of the morning while the other likes to go to bed at 10 p.m.

You don’t have to feel ashamed of finding it difficult to sleep with your partner and you also don’t have to give up entirely on it. Common problems can be addressed with simple solutions such as an additional pillow. Here are five fixes for common sleep issues that couples deal with.

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1. Use a bigger mattress to sleep through movement

It can be difficult to sleep through your partner’s tossing and turning all night, particularly if they have to get in and out of bed. Waking up multiple times in one night can leave you frustrated and exhausted. The solution may be a switch to a bigger mattress or a mattress that minimizes movement.

Look for a mattress that allows enough space so that your partner can move around without impacting you or consider a mattress made for two sleepers like the Sleep Number bed.[1] This bed allows each person to choose their own firmness level. It also minimizes any disturbances their partner might feel. A foam mattress like the kind featured in advertisements where someone jumps on a bed with an unspilled glass of wine will help minimize the impact of your partner’s movements.[2]

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2. Communicate about scheduling conflicts

If one of you is a night owl and the other an early riser, bedtime can become a source of conflict. It’s hard for a light sleeper to be jostled by their partner coming to bed four hours after them. Talk to your partner about negotiating some compromises. If you’re finding it difficult to agree on a bedtime, negotiate with your partner. Don’t come to bed before or after a certain time, giving the early bird a chance to fully fall asleep before the other comes in. Consider giving the night owl an eye mask to allow them to stay in bed while their partner gets up to start the day.

3. Don’t bring your technology to bed

If one partner likes bringing devices to bed and the other partner doesn’t, there’s very little compromise to be found. Science is pretty unanimous on the fact that screens can cause harm to a healthy sleeper. Both partners should agree on a time to keep technology out of the bedroom or turn screens off. This will prevent both partners from having their sleep interrupted and can help you power down after a long day.

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4. White noise and changing positions can silence snoring

A snoring partner can be one of the most difficult things to sleep through. Snoring tends to be position-specific so many doctors recommend switching positions to stop the snoring. Rather than sleeping on your back doctors recommend turning onto your side. Changing positions can cut down on noise and breathing difficulties for any snorer. Using a white noise fan, or sound machine can also help soften the impact of loud snoring and keep both partners undisturbed.

5. Use two blankets if one’s a blanket hog

If you’ve got a blanket hog in your bed don’t fight it, get another blanket. This solution fixes any issues between two partners and their comforter. There’s no rule that you have to sleep under the same blanket. Separate covers can also cut down on tossing and turning making it a multi-useful adaptation.

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Rather than giving up entirely on sharing a bed with your partner, try one of these techniques to improve your sleeping habits. Sleeping in separate beds can be a normal part of a healthy home life, but compromise can go a long way toward creating harmony in a shared bed.

Featured photo credit: Becca Tapert via unsplash.com

Reference

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