It’s not much of a debate: getting the right amount of restful sleep is one of the foundations of good health and a clear mind. But who would’ve thought that the position you sleep in can have an impact on your health?
Research suggests that sleeping on your side is the way to go when it comes to keeping your brain healthy and aiding in the brain’s waste-clearing processes. The reason behind this is that our brains have a unique way of cleaning away waste that can become dangerous to our brain cells.
Recent studies have shown that our brains and central nervous systems have a unique waste-clearing system: the glymphatic system.
It’s similar to the lymphatic system, both in name and in purpose, as it attracts and carries away waste to be excreted or recycled back into our system.
That being said, when you sleep, the glymphatic system is highly active, filtering your cerebrospinal fluid and exchanging it with interstitial fluid. This clears out dangerous proteins that could lead to cognitive decline if there’s too much buildup. The waste includes β (amyloid) and tau proteins, which are highly present in individuals who have Alzheimer’s. The glymphatic system goes one step further and gets rid of chemicals, toxins, and infectious waste that rests in the brain. So how does sleeping on your side help? Interestingly enough, the glymphatic system is more efficient when you sleep on your side versus sleeping on your stomach or back.
What’s equally interesting is that the glymphatic system is pretty inactive while you’re awake; it typically only starts working at night and is twice as effective while you’re sleeping. Many researchers attribute this to the sleep hormone called norepinephrine, which becomes upregulated while you’re awake. This is connected to your glymphatic system because it’s believed that norepinephrine inhibits this waste-clearing system. This makes sense, especially when you consider that chronic stress can increase one’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s because there’s an increase in norepinephrine levels.
All that being said, it’s important that you consider retraining your body to sleep on your side as well as getting higher-quality sleep. Researchers have even suggested that upregulating your glymphatic system can reduce an individual’s genetic risks for Alzheimer’s disease. Given that both your sleep quality and position are vital to your brain function, I’ve compiled some sleeping tips to help you get the most out of your glymphatic system.
1. Lose the Light
To get a better night’s sleep, make sure that you clear your space of ambient or conspicuous lights that will keep you from falling asleep and staying asleep. This means that you should turn off your electronics–TVs, computers, and cell phones– about an hour before you go to bed so that your brain will start producing melatonin. It’s also important that you go outside during the day so that your circadian rhythm is balanced.
2. Get Rid of the Noise
There’s nothing worse than being woken up by a loud noise— an interruption that I’m sure many of us have been familiar with at one point or another. Noise that is not steady in nature can disrupt sleep, so if you need a little background noise to fall asleep, I recommend white noise machines that can help you fall and stay asleep as well as block out any potential interrupting noises.
3. Help out Your Hormones
When it comes to your sleep quality, hormones are pretty important. These hormones include insulin, which helps regulate your blood sugar; thyroid hormone, which regulates your metabolism; and cortisol, which helps regulate stress and other important functions. If any of these hormones are not functioning properly, your sleep quality will most likely suffer.
Getting great sleep will not only help you feel better, but also it will physically protect your body from dysfunction like cognitive decline.
While helpful, sleep isn’t the only imbalance that can damage the brain, so it’s important you partner with a functional medicine practitioner who can help you come up with a treatment plan designed to specifically meet your needs so that you can rest easy on the road to recovery.
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