The best sleeping position to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, ALS and Parkinson’s disease, according to a new study

On your back, on your stomach, on your side – when you take a nap or go to bed for the night, what position do you tend to sleep in?

A preclinical study suggests that the way we sleep, particularly if it’s in a sideways position (also known as sideways sleeping), can help clear waste in the brain while we sleep. This waste removal is essential for performing brain functions such as problem solving, reasoning, and paying attention to detail, all while keeping your brain healthy.

Australian researchers specifically wanted to know how the glymphatic system, a network of vessels that helps remove waste in the brain, could prevent neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the most common motor neuron disease that affects nerve cells of the brain and spinal cord. People diagnosed with ALS may gradually lose their ability to speak, eat, move and breathe.

The glymphatic system and its role in waste disposal in the brain

If you don’t get enough sleep or sleep at all, brain cells called neurons consume large amounts of energy. When this happens, neurons expel debris that can float around the brain and prevent it from functioning normally. This debris – made up of leftover proteins – can then form clumps that are toxic to the brain.

A buildup of these types of proteins (including beta-amyloid) has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and dementia.

Natalie Dautovich, PhD, an environmental fellow at the National Sleep Foundation and an assistant professor in the psychology department at Virginia Commonwealth University, told SeniorsMatter that the glymphatic system is the brain’s “housekeeper” and is essential for eliminating waste. in the brain. The system is also more active while we sleep. However, she says, when we’re sleep deprived, the system is largely inactive, allowing neural waste to build up.

“The glymphatic system uses cerebrospinal fluid to remove neural waste from the brain,” she said. “Recent, cutting-edge research suggests that sleep is key to creating the optimal environment for this ‘brainwashing’ to occur.”

Additionally, research in rodents has found that glymphatic clearance is more efficient in the lateral (or sideways) position, compared to prone (on the back) or prone (front) positions, according to David Wright, PhD, Associate Professor. in the Department of Neuroscience at Monash University.

Yet the reasons why certain positions are more effective at assisting the glymphatic system in removing brain waste products are not fully understood at this time, but may be due to the “effects of gravity, compression, and tissue stretching,” added Wright.

How to improve the functioning of the glymphatic system (in addition to sleep)

While experts are still learning about the role of the glymphatic system in neural functioning, there are small lifestyle changes that can improve brain waste disposal and minimize the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases. According to Wright, some of these changes include:

  • Moderate alcohol consumption – In studies with mice, exposure to moderate amounts of alcohol has been shown to stimulate lymphatic function, while high doses of alcohol have the opposite effect.
  • Exercise – Regular exercise has also been found to improve memory and cognition in neurodegenerative diseases and may help with lymphatic clearance.
  • Consuming certain vitamins – Research shows that omega-3 or fish oil pills can help promote the elimination of proteins from the brain and have a positive effect on glymphatic function.

While these are worth considering, Wright said more research is needed “to focus on therapies that directly target the glymphatic system to help those who already suffer from these debilitating conditions.”

What else you need to know about the study

To find out how the glymphatic system plays a role in preventing ALS, Wright and his colleagues turned to mice.

Some mice have been genetically engineered to express the human ALS-related protein, a protein called TDP-43. Some mice were fed food containing an antibiotic called doxycycline, which allowed the researchers to turn off TDP-43 expression and ultimately allowed the mice to age normally. However, when the genetically modified mice were switched to a normal diet, TDP-43 expression was activated and toxic proteins began to accumulate.

They found that over time, the genetically modified mice showed classic signs of ALS, including progressive muscle impairments and brain atrophy, loss of neurons.

“What the study showed was that the ALS brain in the mice actually had reduced cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) clearance compared to the normal brain,” said Santosh Kesari, MD, PhD. , a neurologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. California (which was not part of the study), told SeniorsMatter.

Reduced clearance of CSF in the brain is thought to contribute to the development of many diseases, including neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

Additionally, using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the researchers found that the genetically modified mice had a harder time clearing waste from the brain than control mice.

“Our study provides the first evidence that the glymphatic system could be a potential therapeutic target in the treatment of ALS,” Wright wrote in The Conversation. “Sleeping position is also thought to affect glymphatic clearance.”

“The onset of symptoms in ALS is often insidious and diagnosis remains difficult. As such, a definitive diagnosis is often delayed and misdiagnosis is common,” he added. imaging that we have employed can help clinicians make an earlier diagnosis, offer treatment and enable earlier enrollment in clinical trials.”

How to promote comfortable, quality sleep

The National Sleep Foundation recommends these practices for better sleep:

  1. Spend time in bright light during the day.
  2. Regular exercise.
  3. Eat meals at consistent times every day
  4. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and heavy meals before bedtime.
  5. Stick to a sleep routine or schedule.
  6. Avoid electronics and other devices before bedtime.

Finding the right pillow can also make sleeping more comfortable or encourage side sleeping. A good pillow helps keep the neck aligned with the spine during sleep. It can also properly support the head to keep it aligned and prevent it from tipping towards the mattress.

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