Longevity experts like Peter Attia tout sleep as one of the most important keys to increasing your health span. But new research shows that the benefits stem from more than logging enough shut eye at night and getting enough REM sleep. Turns out your sleep position matters too, and so does whether or not you nap.
Best Sleeping Positions for Longevity
It’s not just sleeping itself, but how you sleep, that’s important if you want to optimize your longevity. Depending on your sleeping position, you can reap different benefits like lowering your dementia risk, preventing cardiac events, and boosting digestion.
For brain health
Pick a side. Any side. Research shows that side sleeping, whether left or right, may reduce dementia risk by supporting your brain’s waste clearing process (1).
This waste clearing process flushes out substances like beta amyloid—which is commonly found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s—via cerebrospinal fluid. Side sleeping boosts the heart’s ability to pump cerebrospinal fluid, thus optimizing the clearing process (1).
For heart health
Got heart issues? Roll over to your right side to sleep.
Sleeping on your left side may cause your heart to shift which can cause changes in its electrical activity, according to a 2018 study (2).This can lead to sleep-disrupting loss of breath and discomfort if you have a preexisting heart issue. Researchers suspect that this is because the heart is supported by the mediastinum—a membrane in your chest cavity—more effectively when laying on your right side.
Sleeping on your left side probably won’t have any negative impacts on your heart health if you don’t have a prior history of congestive heart failure.
For gut health
If you suffer from GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) at nighttime, sleeping on your left side may stave off flare-ups.
Participants with GERD experienced up to 50% less instances of nighttime reflux when sleeping on their left side in a double-blind, randomized 2022 sleep study (3). Researchers suspect that this is due to your stomach being positioned under your esophagus when you sleep on your left, which prevents acid from leaking out and causing irritation.
And another study found that men who sleep on their right side are more likely to be diagnosed with GERD earlier in life (4).
Napping May Lower Brain Age
Alarmingly, your brain shrinks as you age—starting around your 30s. This process speeds up even more in your 60s and may be the culprit of slower cognitive processing, psychiatric disorders, and poor emotional regulation, according to Columbia University. But taking daily naps may curb this process by up to 6 years.
Using a sample of 378,932 people from the UK Biobank—a database that contains genetic and health information of over 500,000 United Kingdom citizens—researchers identified those who habitually took daily naps and examined their previous MRIs and cognitive assessments (5). People who took daily naps were found to have a larger total brain volume, which is associated with a younger biological brain age.
“Our findings suggest that, for some people, short daytime naps may be a part of the puzzle that could help preserve the health of the brain as we get older,” said study author and genetic epidemiology researcher Victoria Garfield, Ph.D., in a statement.
Daytime napping may also boost cognitive function and memory, according to a 2022 meta-analysis of over 50 studies (6).
Lee, et al (2015). The Effect of Body Posture on Brain Glymphatic Transport.
Schuitenmaker, et al (2022). Sleep Positional Therapy for Nocturnal Gastroesophageal Reflux: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Sham-Controlled Trial.
Nathanson, et al (2016). An analysis of sleep position during young adulthood in men who develop Barrett’s Esophagus.
Leong, et al (2022). Systematic review and meta-analyses on the effects of afternoon napping on cognition.