We all know how much of an impact sleep – or lack thereof – has on our physical as well as mental well-being. But a new study finds that your sleeping position – not just how much you sleep – can have an effect on the health of your brain in the coming years.

According to the research that appears in the Journal of Neuroscience, sleeping in a lateral position may be more effective in removing brain waste as compared to sleeping on one’s stomach or back (though these positions have their own perks).

Lead study author Helene Benveniste, MD, Ph.D., professor of Anesthesiology and Radiology at New York’s Stony Brooks University says that being one of the most metabolically active organs in the human body, the brain is subject to a lot of clutter or waste over the course of a day.

While sleeping in general helps the body dispose of the waste, their study suggests that staying in the side position is more effective to stop the buildup. Benveniste goes on to explain that similar to the body’s lymphatic system that removes toxins from organs, the glymphatic pathway is a complex system where the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is exchanged with the interstitial fluid (ISF) to clear harmful chemical solutes and wastes from the brain.

For the study, Dr. Benveniste and team used the dynamic contrast MRI method to analyze the performance of the glymphatic pathway in rodents sleeping on their backs, stomachs, and sides. They observed that glymphatic transport was most efficient in the lateral (side) position – up to 25 percent more – as compared to the other positions. The researchers are still waiting to test this in humans.

It’s worth noting that side sleeping is already the most popular position not only in humans but also among animals. Close to 60 percent of Americans sleep on their side, and it’s possible that with years of evolution, we have adapted this particular position to most efficiently ‘clean up’ the mess we tend to gather while we are awake.

Side-sleeping has other health benefits too. During pregnancy, sleeping on the left side is recommended as it improves blood circulation to the heart, which is good for both mom and baby. This infographic also suggests sleeping on the left side may help alleviate heartburn symptoms.

Having said that, more often than not, we gravitate towards a position we feel the best sleeping in. We also tend to choose one based on how well we’re able to breathe. So, what if you’re not a natural side sleeper?

For those, Dr. Benveniste suggests special pillows that promote side sleeping and, at the same time, offer support to the neck and shoulders. The easiest way, though, is to simply put an extra pillow between your legs, or, sleep with a pillow next to your body.

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