When researching material for my extensive article on how to improve sleep, I came across a term called 'Inclined Bed Therapy' or IBT.
Despite being obsessed with ways to improve sleep for nearly a decade, this term was new to me.
I added it to my 'need to research' list and continued working on my article - research various sleep experts across the world. Funny enough, I was introduced to two sleep experts who both swore by Inclined Bed Therapy for improving ones sleep.
In my interviews with these experts, they both listed IBT as a top recommendation for anyone looking to improve sleep and health (to see their full recommendations for improving sleep, please see my article How To Improve Sleep: 25+ Experts Share Their Helpful Tips).
Still extremely intrigued by the subject, but lacking in time (there are so many topics to research when it comes to health and sleep!) I shelved the idea once more.
A few months later I was in LA talking to Claus Pummer - Holistic Sleep Expert of SAMINA. I met Claus as I was interested in buying one of his beds for my home (I found his beds after looking for the best and healthiest mattress on the market, Samina beds were the solution. You can read my review HERE).
A Samina Inclined Bed System
Claus showed me one of his Inclined Beds that he personally used and swore by. Deciding enough was enough, I had to investigate this topic in more detail. If the managing direct of the worlds best mattress and bed system slept on an inclined bed, along with the 2 sleep experts I had interviewed earlier, I knew there was something too it (side note, I ended up buying a Samina mattress, stay turned for my detailed review!)
As I started by research into IBT, I went back to the two experts I had interviewed about sleep.
Andrew Fletcher has an amazing side at InclinedBedTherapy.com - this is chock full of guides, published papers, and tips to help you get started into the world of IBT. He also runs a popular facebook group on the same subject.
Inclined Sleeping - a slight raise at the head of your bed. Source: Samina Sleep
Tom had this to say in one of our exchanges:
I think a key point to understand is that ~90% of brain detoxification occurs while you're sleeping and deep, slow wave sleep seems to be the most important phase of sleep.
Anything that disrupts your normal sleep cycle has the ability to decrease your short and long-term brain health (read: brain fog and Alzheimer's disease). Lack of sound sleep leads to changed in the gut microbiome which may increase body-wide inflammation. This can lead to symptoms the further disrupt sleep.
The gut directly influences neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and GABA, and brain plasticity factors. So, alterations of the microbiome can lead to changes in mood, cognition and sleep.
Sleep can often be improved by simply removing processed foods from the diet and allowing the gut to return to a more natural state. The feedback loops between the gut and the brain that regulate sleep are numerous, but these simple, effective places to start.
In my practice, I find patients commonly try all the fancy things and miss the simple foundational aspects of health.
He then went on to tell me he had published a white paper looking at ideal sleeping positions, brain detoxification and inclined bed therapy.
With his permission, I have shared this paper and it's amazing findings below.
I am certain you will enjoy the paper and it's fascinating findings. I'll see you at the bottom of this article with my closing remarks.
Scientists and physicians long debated why we sleep. Today we know sleep is required for consolidation of long-term memories and improves learning. It is a key component of hormone synthesis.
Sleep allows for the growth and repair of muscles and tissues. And now we know sleep is critical for brain detoxification. In fact, the vast majority of all brain detoxification occurs while we’re sleeping.
During the day, toxins, such as β-amyloid and tau-proteins, are slowly building up in our brains. When we sleep a relatively newly discovered brain cleansing system, called the glymphatics, goes to work.
The cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that surrounds, nourishes and protects the brain interacts with the interstitial fluid to create a cleansing wave that moves through the brain removing the toxins that have built up during the day. The glymphatics are the waste removal system of the brain.
As these toxins build, so do the levels of inflammatory mediators, such as interleukin-1 beta (IL-1β) and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α). As levels of IL-1β and TNF-α increase, the body prepares for sleep. At usual end of day levels, these inflammatory mediators help promote non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep.
This is critical as stage 3 NREM is slow wave sleep, the stage of sleep when the glymphatic system is most effective. In states of acute illness, when IL-1β and TNF-α are further elevated, the body experiences greatly increased levels of NREM sleep. This highlights the body’s amazing self-healing, self-regulating mechanisms. When acutely ill, the body promotes deeper, more restorative sleep and greater brain detoxification.
Deposition of β-amyloid in the brain leads to cognitive decline and eventually Alzheimer’s disease. The accumulation of β-amyloid in the prefrontal cortex is associated with disruption of slow wave sleep and may reduce the ability for memory consolidation (Mander 2015). Researchers have found shorter sleep duration and lower sleep quality are associated with greater β-amyloid burden (Spira 2013).
Further studies are needed to determine if poor sleep merely accelerates the development of or is actually a cause of Alzheimer’s disease. Most disturbing is poor sleep can lead to increased β-amyloid deposition and greater burden of β-amyloid can lead to worsening sleep. This becomes a self-perpetuating cycle of ongoing cognitive decline and declining sleep quality.
Additionally, poor sleep leads to over-activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal or HPA axis. This is the master hormone system of our bodies. This system has many functions, including regulating stress hormones, metabolism, sleep, learning and social interactions.
Chronically increased levels of stress hormones increases body-wide inflammation and often leads to poor sleep quality and insomnia; decreasing the brain’s ability to detoxify.
Fortunately, there are things we can do to optimize our sleep and the function of the glymphatic system. Much like the lymphatic system that cleanses the rest of body, the glymphatic system is affected by external factors, such as gravity and body position, even levels of stress.
Sleep researchers have found that poor sleepers often spend more time on their backs with their heads straight and the favorite position of consistently good sleepers is lying on their right side (DeKonick 1983).
Following up on this work, researchers at Stony Brook University and the University of Rochester found that glymphatic clearance is least efficient in rats lying on their stomachs and most efficient when they were lying on their right sides (Lee 2015).
Others studies have found that a nose down position greatly decreases brain detoxification. Observation of wild animals and domestic livestock has shown a preference to sleep not only on their sides, but also with their heads slightly uphill.
When we look for an explanation for why this might occur, we find some answers in unexpected places. NASA scientists have long studied “gravity deficiency syndrome,” a host of metabolic, hormonal and structural issues that occur when the body is in a weightless state. Their research has shown that blood can “feel” gravity and this is a crucial stimulus for the body’s regulatory functions.
Other researchers have had participants spend days up to weeks in a horizontal position in bed. This led to changes in their health similar to that caused by gravity deficiency. Lack of gravity equals lack of health.
The solution: Follow nature’s example.
Seeing the wisdom in the natural world, physicians and researchers began investigating the benefits of sleeping in a more natural position, one where the head is elevated slightly above the feet. While researchers have yet to investigate the direct benefits of this position on the glymphatic system, scientific research and clinical experience has shown that with the head elevated by as little as 3-6 inches (7-15cm), “inclined sleep” has incredible health benefits.
Sleeping inclined decreases snoring and sleep apnea, which in turn decrease the strains placed on the heart, vascular system and brain. Approximately, 56 % of patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) have position-dependent OSA.
Positional treatments, such as inclined sleeping, can be very effective standalone treatments or adjuncts to improve the overall efficacy of other medical interventions (Ravesloot 2013).
The highest pressures your brain experiences throughout the day are when you’re sleeping. And, despite a complex system for regulating pressure in the brain, this can lead to migraines.
Within a few weeks to a couple of months of becoming incline sleepers, many people I work with begin waking up headache free. Improvements in eye, ear and head pressure are often reported.
Page 2 of 4 © 2017 Thomas A. Moorcroft, DO
Gastro-esophageal reflux (GERD) and heartburn are common conditions for which people frequently take one or more medications. Sleeping in an inclined position often improves, if not cures, this condition.
The changes we are discussing are most likely related to the direct activity of gravity on the jaw (keeping the airway open), the blood (less pooling in the head), and the digestive juices (gravity keeping them in the stomach where they belong, doing their job as nature intended). Turning our attention back to the glymphatic system, the CSF and interstitial fluid are primarily water and are strongly acted upon by gravity.
Inclined sleeping may promote increased glymphatic drainage and improved overall quality of sleep by utilizing gravity to help with waste removal. This also reminds us of the importance of keeping ourselves well hydrated.
The brain detoxification potential of inclined sleep is tremendous. I have had patients experience detoxification reactions where they had a temporary, but dramatic increase in brain fog for several days to a couple of weeks after starting inclined sleep. In one severe case, after 3 days of inclined sleep, the person could no longer tolerate the intensity of the detoxification reaction and required treatment with intravenous glutathione, a potent anti-oxidant and toxin binder. Within 30 minutes of the infusion, the person’s brain cleared and he continued to sleep inclined with steady, ongoing improvements in brain function.
Rather than seeing dramatic, overnight changes, when supporting the natural healing systems within the body with inclined sleep, I commonly see slow, steady improvements over time. Most of my patients who start sleeping inclined never go back.
As I mentioned, positional sleep treatment may work so well that it alleviates the need for complex medical treatments and this leads to further benefits. Take the case of sleep apnea. If a CPAP machine is no longer needed, it can be removed from the bedside where it was acting as an antenna bringing high levels of electrical current from the walls much closer to the users head.
What many people don’t realize it that the electro-magnetic fields (EMFs) associated with electrical devices, including CPAP, lights, and even computers and tablets can have significant negative health consequences. Wi-Fi is also a significant contributor to EMF toxicity in our environment.
While we may not be able to protect ourselves from the negative effects of EMFs at all times, we can do this when we sleep. Taking another page out of nature’s book, we can reconnect to the earth while we sleep. This can be done simply by plugging a high quality grounding pad, such as the Lokosana® grounding pad by SAMINA, into a grounded electrical outlet. Electrons, which are critical for cellular communication and turning off inflammation, are brought from the earth right to your bed. I have personally measured an over 1600 millivolt (mV) drop in the electricity levels running through my body by placing a Lokosana grounding pad on my bed. My final reading was 40 mV
(Experts feel sleeping in anything over 100 mV is detrimental to your sleep). Combining inclined sleep and grounding is an excellent combination therapy for anyone who is chronically ill and anyone who wants to be chronically healthy.
In order to get enough slow wave sleep to support optimal brain function, most people need to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. This translates to sleeping approximately 1/3 of your life. If 1/3 of our existence is dedicated sleep that optimizes brain detoxification and our overall health, shouldn’t we do everything we can to optimize our sleep?
Paper by Dr. Tom Moorcroft, DO. Published with his permission.
About Dr. Tom Moorcroft
Dr. Tom Moorcroft is a global leader in solving complex medical mysteries. He is a co- founder of Origins Of Health, an Osteopathic wellness center, focused on solving the riddles of chronic illness enabling their patients to regain their health and regain their lives. Dr. Moorcroft specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of chronic tick-borne illness, mold illness and infections-induced autoimmune encephalitis in children and adults.
For more on Dr Tom Moorcrofts top 5 brain detox tips head to OriginsOfHealth.com
Fascinating stuff huh?!
Inspired by all these evidence, I have slowing started lifting my own bed by a few inches to reap the benefits of Inclined Bed Therapy (unfortunately I couldn't buy the Samina inclined bed frame due to the high shipping cost to New Zealand, instead I went with the Samina mattress system and modified a locally brought bed frame.)
Rather than jumping straight to the recommended 3-6inch incline (7-15cm) I started lifting the headboard end of the bed by 2cm, and continued lifting it by another 2cm every fortnight.
I figured this would give me time to adjust as I didn't want to ruin 2-3 nights of sleep due to a sudden dramatic change.
At the time of writing I am currently up 6cm (2.4inches) so I still need one more lift to get into the target zone.
But I can say this:
My Oura Ring sleep score - I started IBT in June.
I increased my incline to 6cm on Sat 11 Aug, my Oura deep sleep score has increased since then, but it's still early days. And yes 9 hours sleep is pretty standard for me!
Anyhow, I will continue with my experiment and will be sure to report back here when I have hit the 3-6inch incline range (and used it for a few weeks).
Oh, if you're wondering how I'm raising the bed up, I'm simply using some timber plank offcuts under the corner posts. Though I know a lot of people simply use old books.
How I'm raising my bed - timber off cuts, 2cm thick. Adding a new block every 1-2 weeks.
Though I must admit, it is a rather 'tacky' look in our bedroom. And I am a little concerned how stable the bed will be in times of, let's say, vigorous movement.
If you can stretch your budget, I would recommend (and personally prefer) the sleek looking Samina Inclined Bed Frame with it's adjustable wooden blocks.
A nicer (and more stable!) way to raise your bed. Source: Samina Sleep
If so, please leave your comments below. I know I'm eager to hear about your experiences and I'm sure my readers would be too.
If you are keen to try IBT after reading this article, again, please drop a note saying so and keep us posted on your journey.
Finally, if you are having problems with your sleep, be sure to sign up to my free sleep tips by clicking HERE.
Oh and if you think sleeping on an angle is crazy, you should see some of the other nutty things I do to improve my sleep in my article How To Sleep Like A Sleep Coach
This blog post was written by Alex Fergus. Alex is a ISSN Sports Nutrition Specialist, Fitness Professional and certified Superhuman Coach who continues to expand his knowledge base and help people across the world with their health and wellness. Alex is recognized as the National Record Holder in Powerlifting and Indoor Rowing and has earned the title of the Australian National Natural Bodybuilding Champion. Having worked as a health coach and personal trainer for over a decade, Alex now researches all things health and wellness and shares his findings on this blog. Learn more about Alex's Credentials HERE.
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