Adults spend 25 to 33 percent—or more—of their life sleeping. That’s a fairly large chunk out of each day, but cutting back on sleep isn’t a great idea since it’s so critical to our physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
Sleep matters big time: we can’t live without it, and while we sleep the body and brain are engaged in countless renewal processes ranging from tissue and muscle repair to hormone release, memory storage, and waste removal from the brain, to name just a few.
Recently I came across a few studies about sleep that made me contemplate my sleeping habits, and I’d like to share my findings with you. No, I’m not going to talk about the same old boring sleeping tips, like establish a set time to go to bed or limit your naps (although these are good ideas).
Instead, I’m going to talk about position, nudity, and scent.
How you sleep matters: position
Study results from researchers at Stony Brook University School of Medicine (July 2015) noted that sleeping in the lateral position (i.e., on your side) beats sleeping on your back or stomach because it facilitates the removal of waste materials from the brain. Specifically, it helps get rid of amyloid-beta, proteins that accumulate in the brain and have been associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Based on this study and prior work, scientists say that the body actively promotes the elimination of amyloid-beta from the brain during sleep. The system that transports the waste is called the glymphatic system, which includes the cerebrospinal fluid, interstitial fluid (which surrounds and bathes the cells), and astroglial cells, which have structures that help with the elimination process.
Animal research shows that the glymphatic system is most efficient when lying in a lateral position. Therefore, changing your sleep position could ultimately help prevent or postpone the onset of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.
How you sleep matters: naked
Someone once told me she would never sleep in the nude because if there was a fire or some other emergency in the middle of the night, she didn’t want to run out of the house naked. I understand her point, but when you weigh the risk-benefit ratio, I think you’ll agree that sleeping naked is a wise choice. Why?
- If you have a partner, sleeping naked increases the chances of skin-to-skin contact. Yes, that includes sex, but on a more basic level, skin-to-skin contact triggers the release of the hormone and neurotransmitter called oxytocin, which has been called the cuddle chemical and hug hormone, among other names. Oxytocin is produced in the brain and secreted by the pituitary gland. Experts have found that oxytocin has an ability to change social behavior and have an impact on the loving bonds between individuals, sexual behavior, and trust.
- Sleeping naked allows your skin to breathe. This in turn can reduce your risk of developing skin conditions such as athlete’s foot, jock itch, or heat rash.
- Sleeping in the raw helps keep your body temperature in a range that is more suitable for creating moderate levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. If your body is overheated while you sleep, your cortisol levels could be elevated, resulting in feelings of anxiety as well as cravings for certain foods and excessive eating. Yes, sleeping naked could help you not gain weight!
- Sleeping naked is good for men because it helps to keep their testes at a lower temperature, which means healthier sperm and reproductive function. For women, being in the buff can prevent yeast infections, since the organisms thrive in a moist, warm environment.
How many adults sleep in the nude? According to the 2013 International Bedroom Poll (associated with the National Sleep Foundation), sleeping in the nude is practiced by 30 percent of adults in the United Kingdom, 14 percent of Canadians, 12 percent of adults in the USA and Mexico, and 9 percent of adults in Germany.
How you sleep matters: scent
The same International Bedroom Poll reported that 92 percent of adults in Mexico, 90 percent in Germany, 86 percent in the United Kingdom, and 78 percent in the United States and Canada say that having a pleasant scent in the bedroom makes them feel more relaxed. Only 41 percent of adults in Japan agree with this idea.
Since stress and tension are reasons many people have trouble falling asleep, perhaps introducing a pleasant scent in the bedroom could help. In fact, David Cloud, CEO of the National Sleep Foundation, noted that “Having a pleasant scent and a relaxing bedroom routine can contribute to a good night’s sleep.” The two scents discussed in the poll—lavender and jasmine—were favored by at least 53 percent of adults in five countries, while only 30 percent agreed in Germany.
So, how you sleep matters. Following these three tips could improve not only your sleep but your health as well. Why don’t you sleep on it!
2013 International Bedroom Poll
Neumann ID. Oxytocin: the neuropeptide of love reveals some of its secrets. Cell Metabolism 2007; 5(4): 231-33