Sleeping on your back or face down could trigger neurodegenerative diseases, study shows
A study by The Conversation conducted on rodents demonstrated that sleeping on our side can protect our brains from neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, ALS, and Parkinson’s. While sleeping on our backs or our front could trigger them.
The study demonstrated that glymphatic clearance is most efficient in a lateral (or side-sleeping) position. The reasons are not yet fully understood but are possibly related to the effects of gravity, compression, and stretching of brain tissue.
The glymphatic system is a glial-dependent waste clearance pathway in the brain that drains away toxic proteins and metabolic products.
This brain process is mostly switched off while we’re awake but kicks into gear during sleep to distribute compounds essential to brain function and to get rid of toxic waste.
That might be why even tiny creatures, such as flies need sleep to survive. Whales and dolphins alternate their sleep between brain hemispheres, keeping the other hemisphere awake to watch for predators and alerting them to breathe.
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This is why the risk of neurodegenerative disease is higher in older people.
Research conducted by the scientific journal PNAS, has shown that a single night without sleep can result in increased accumulation of toxic waste protein in the brain.
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By studying ageing mice, the study found that the glymphatic system might be a potential therapeutic target in the treatment of ALS.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is the most common form of motor neuron disease. People with ALS progressively lose the ability to initiate and control muscle movements, including the ability to speak, swallow and breathe.
It affects as many as 30,000 Americans with 5,000 new cases diagnosed each year and estimates suggest that as many as five out of every 100,000 deaths in people aged 20 or older, according to the Johns Hopkins University.
There’s no cure for the disease the famous physicist Stephen Hawking had, although this new research points to the brain’s waste clearance system being key in the treatment of the illness.
Also, according to The Lancet, research is gaining a deeper understanding of ALS pathophysiology to facilitate development of mechanism-based therapies. "A more comprehensive picture could usher in genetic therapies and preventive interventions".
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Deep sleep can help prevent neurodegenerative diseases. Sleep includes both rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep. This latter stage is when our glymphatic function is more active, according to PubMed Central.
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Eating more fiber, less sugar, and not having caffeine at least seven hours before going to bed, are all ways of improving deep sleep, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
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Moderate consumption of alcohol has been shown to improve waste clearance, according to PubMed studies. In mouse studies, both short and long-term exposure to small amounts of alcohol were shown to boost glymphatic function, while high doses had the opposite effect.
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Exercise and the consumption of Omega-3 found in oily fish, flaxseeds and walnuts can also improve brain waste clearance, according to PubMed.
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