Snooze on your side? How your sleep position can affect your health

A new study examining sleep found that one position in particular is the best for brain health.
by Meghan Holohan /  / Updated  / Source: TODAY

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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 study from Stony Brook University examined sleep position and found that side sleeping is the best for brain health.

Past 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 amyloid beta peptides involved in the formation of the degenerative brain disease.

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.

“These studies are important because they help shine a light on the underlying mechanisms so we can understand the physiology of sleep,” said Dr. Carol Ash, director 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.”

Researchers at Stony Brook wondered if different sleep positions influenced amyloid beta in the brain. Here's what they found:

1. Side sleepers

Sleeping positions: 1 - Back
Angeliki Jackson / TODAY

They examined rats and found that sleeping on the side makes it easier for the brain to eliminate the amyloid beta. It also opens the airways and improves air flow.

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.

2. Back sleepers

Sleeping positions: 1 - Back
Angeliki Jackson / TODAY

People with sleep apnea, cardiac disease, acid reflux or neurological disease with impaired swallowing often sleep inclined on their backs.

"Back sleepers, what that does is help to distribute the weight more evenly," said Ash.

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.

3. Stomach sleepers

Sleeping positions: 1 - Back
Angeliki Jackson / TODAY

"If you have health or breathing problems, stomach sleeping can be a problem, but if you enjoy it, sleep on your stomach if it gives you good rest," advised Ash, who noted this position doesn't provide any health benefits.

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