Hello everyone! Dr. Shea back for another edition of Wellness Wisdom and today we are addressing a common problem that we see in our practice... bad SLEEP HABITS and how it is affecting your health. How many of you out there are only able to fall asleep while laying on your stomach? Maybe with a pillow under your arm, your torso twisted, your neck completely turned to the side and your hips locked up? For some of us this is the only position that is comfortable...but LONG-TERM it can be a nightmare.
When you sleep on your stomach your neck is forced to be twisted for extended periods of time straining muscles and eventually locking joints. Long-term twisting and rotation of the torso and pelvis can lead to radiating pain into the arms and legs, constant stiffness and frequent headaches. These long term patterns that we set for ourselves show up on x-rays in our office every day in the form of abnormal curvatures, rotations and degeneration. But new research has just came out that indicates that the way that we are sleeping can have even more serious long-term affects... on our BRAINS!
According to a recent study in the Journal of Neuroscience sleeping on our side rather than our stomach will allow the brain to most efficiently discard dangerous WASTE products (amyloid and tau proteins), therefore reducing the chance of ALZHEIMER'S, DEMENTIA and other neurological diseases! We have known for years of the recuperative powers of sleep but we are just now figuring out HOW our body is doing this. Researchers are starting to better understand a pathway called the GLYMPHATIC system where cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) filters through the brain and exchanges with interstitial fluid (ISF) to clear waste. This is similar to how the bodies lymphatic system clears waste from organs.
"It is interesting that the lateral sleep position is already the most popular in humans and most animals — even in the wild — and it appears that we have adapted the lateral sleep position to most efficiently clear our brain of the metabolic waste products that built up while we are awake."
- Dr. Maiken Nedergaard
Sleeping on your stomach is a habit that is extremely hard to break but hopefully once you are more aware of the negative consequences you can start to make some positive changes in your sleep habits. Here are some other tips or "hacks" that can make a world of difference in your quality of sleep! Hope this helps everyone... sleep well!
- If you must sleep on your stomach... put a pillow under your pelvis to take some pressure off of your low back and use a very thin pillow for your neck.
- If you sleep on your back (a very good option as well) place a pillow under your knees to take some pressure off of your low back and use a quality cervical pillow to increase your cervical curve.
- Side sleeping can actually have some drawbacks too if your bed is too stiff it can cause some shoulder discomfort and if your pillow is too high or too low it can cause neck discomfort so be aware of your body position. Always use an extra pillow between your knees to keep your pelvis neutral.
- If you are having trouble sleeping melatonin supplements can be a great short term solution. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates your circadian sleep/wake rhythm.
- A lot of people also aren't aware that light (specifically the blue wavelengths) suppress your natural release of melatonin. Any LED light bulbs, cell phone screens, iPads and TV's create a blast of artificial blue light to your pineal gland. Look for apps such as Flux that is a blue light filter that works with Windows, Mac OS, Linux and iOS. Twilight is the app that I am currently using for my Android phone.
- Don't forget to breathe! So many times we are laying in bed motionless... and that includes very shallow almost nonexistent breathing. But think about how a person who is in deep sleep breathes (or snores!). Prep your body for deep sleep by doing this quick breathing exercise. Close your mouth and inhale through your nose for 4 seconds. Hold your breath for 5 seconds. Slowly exhale for 6 seconds. Repeat this 3 times and you are on your way to a deep sleep!