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Side Sleeping Bliss: Unlocking the Benefits of Improved Cerebrospinal Fluid Flow for Better Brain Health

We all understand that getting enough sleep is good for our brains and helps us think clearly. Many experts recommend around 8 hours of sleep each night, but the right amount for feeling refreshed can vary from person to person. If you’re training for a marathon and doing long-distance runs, you might need more than 8 hours to recover properly.

On the flip side, if you’re not very active, you might benefit from less than 8 hours of sleep, as long as it refreshes your brain. Other things like the supplements you take, your diet, genetics, and your body’s natural rhythm can also affect how well you sleep. It’s not just about the amount of sleep; your sleep position matters too.

While many people think it doesn’t matter whether you sleep on your stomach, back, or side, recent research suggests that sleeping on your side might be better for your brain. It could help clear away harmful substances from your brain and possibly lower the risk of diseases like Alzheimer’s. So, choosing the right sleep position is also something to consider for a healthy brain.

By Zarina Lukash |Adobe stock

Clearing Brain Waste During Sleep: Unveiling the Glymphatic Pathway

By VectorMine | Adobe stock

When you’re asleep, your brain has a cleanup system called the glymphatic pathway, which works to get rid of harmful waste. This system becomes more active when your brain is less alert. The glymphatic system uses cerebrospinal fluid to clear waste from the central nervous system by exchanging fluids between the brain and its surroundings.

Picture this: cerebrospinal fluid enters the brain’s connective tissue, and the glymphatic system removes fluid from different parts of the brain and spinal cord. When you’re asleep, the arteries in your brain pulsate, determining how much the extracellular space in your brain expands or contracts. A bigger space during sleep allows for better waste clearance because there’s more room for fluid to flow.

During wakefulness, as the extracellular space shrinks, there’s less room for waste to move, and the glymphatic system is less active, resulting in fewer clearances of harmful substances like beta-amyloid and tau proteins. Think of the glymphatic pathway as your brain’s garbage collector, picking up trash when you’re asleep.

When a lot of beta-amyloid clumps together in the brain, it disrupts the communication between nerve cells at connection points called synapses. This clumping forms plaques that lead to inflammation in the brain and, eventually, the death of brain cells. People with high levels of beta-amyloid in their brains often face problems with memory and thinking and are more likely to develop diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Since the brain clears out waste mostly during sleep, it makes sense that getting good sleep is crucial for the brain’s health both in the short and long run. Some sleeping positions seem to be better at activating the brain’s waste-clearing system, known as the glymphatic pathway.

Optimal Sleep Posture for Cognitive Health: Sideways Position (Lying on Your Side)

Studies indicate that the way you sleep can affect how well your brain gets rid of waste substances like beta-amyloid and tau proteins. Some sleeping positions might be better at helping your brain clear out these waste materials than others.

In 2015, a study found that when you sleep on your right side, a system called glymphatic transport works best. This means that your brain clears out waste substances more effectively in this sleeping position compared to lying on your back or stomach.

Scientists found that the way we sleep, whether it’s on our backs, sides, or stomachs, varies from person to person and even among animals. Despite these differences, they wondered if certain sleeping positions could impact the brain differently. Specifically, they wanted to see if some positions helped the brain get rid of more waste through a pathway called glymphatic.

To figure out how sleep positions affected waste removal, they studied anesthetized rodents. They used special imaging techniques and models to see how well fluid exchanged in the brain. The better the exchange, the more waste, like toxins, could be cleared out from the brain.

The researchers made rats sleep on their backs, stomachs, or sides. They used a method called fluorescence microscopy, combined with radioactive tracers, to see how well the brain cleared waste, specifically beta-amyloid, during sleep. The findings showed that waste clearance was most effective when the rats slept on their sides compared to lying on their backs or stomachs.

Sleeping on your side: This position was the best for getting rid of waste during sleep.

Lying on your back: It was better for waste clearance than lying on your stomach, but not as good as sleeping on your side.

Lying on your stomach: This position resulted in slow waste clearance, meaning less efficient removal of beta-amyloid and more buildup of toxins, similar to when the rats were awake.

Should you sleep on your side?

If you’re like most people, you probably sleep on your side. Studies suggest that sleeping on your side might be better for your brain’s waste removal system compared to sleeping on your back or stomach. Sleeping on your back seems to be better than sleeping on your stomach.

So, if you’re used to sleeping on your stomach, it might be a good idea to at least think about switching to sleeping on your side or back. Sleeping on your stomach is known to be not great for your muscles, and now we know it’s the least effective position for clearing waste from your brain. Sleeping on your side is considered to be the easiest on your muscles and may help your brain get rid of waste more efficiently.


Dr. Berner does not diagnose, treat, or prevent any medical diseases or conditions; instead, he analyzes and corrects the structure of his patients with Foundational Correction to improve their overall quality of life. He works with their physicians, who regulate their medications. This blog post is not designed to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment, or services to you or any other individual. The information provided in this post or through linkages to other sites is not a substitute for medical or professional care. You should not use the information in place of a visit, consultation, or the advice of your physician or another healthcare provider. Foundation Chiropractic and Dr. Brett Berner are not liable or responsible for any advice, the course of treatment, diagnosis, or any other information, services, or product you obtain through this article or others.

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