Maybe you’re a stomach sleeper — or you curl up into a little ball. Perhaps, reclining on your back provides the best sleep. Well, it might be time to flip over to your side.
A new study from Stony Book University examines sleep position and finds that side sleeping is the best for brain health.
Studies have shown that poor sleep — a lack of sleep or waking several times throughout the night — is linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Experts know that bad sleep bolsters the development of amyloids beta, peptides involved in the formation of the degenerative brain disease.
Researchers at Stony Brook wondered if different sleep positions influenced amyloid beta in the brain. They examined rats and found that sleeping on the side makes it easier for the brain to eliminate the amyloid beta.
While sleepers take for granted their positions, doctors know that how people snooze can reveal health problems. People with sleep apnea, cardiac disease, acid reflux, or neurological disease with impaired swallowing often sleep inclined on their backs.
“These studies are important because they help shine a light on the underlying mechanisms so we can understand the physiology of sleep,” says Dr. Carol Ash, direct of sleep medicine at Meridian Health New Jersey. “Simple changes in behavior become a simple way to intervene and perhaps stop the process of dementia before it starts.”
Between 50 to 70 million U.S. adults live with sleep disorders and 30 percent of Americans struggle with poor sleep habits, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC considers the nation’s restless ways a health epidemic and with good reason. Bad sleep contributes to many health problems, including cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and dementia. This study increases the understanding of how sleep contributes to dementia.
People can train themselves to sleep on their sides, just like they can prime themselves to have good sleep habits. Pregnant women should consider sleeping on their left sides because it increases blood flow to the uterus. For others, the side makes little difference.
People without health issues can sleep on their backs if they want — it improves the alignment of their spines and neck and leads to less pain — but it won’t help the brain flush itself of amyloid beta. There’s little evidence that stomach sleeping provides any health benefits, but if this position leads to good sleep, doctors encourage it.