Sleeping Positions – While you probably already know you should aim for eight hours of sleep each night, what you might not realize is that the quality of sleep you get is just as important as the quantity. And one important aspect of sleep quality? Your sleeping position.
Sleep positions are an often-overlooked aspect of sleep health and can have a significant impact on issues like sleep apnea, orthopedic problems, and back pain. You might have a favorite sleeping position, but you might be surprised to find out that you’re sleeping all wrong for your body.
So what’s the best position for sleep? While there’s no single best answer, there are pros and cons of each sleeping position you can be aware of to determine what’s best for your body and needs.
Sleeping Positions – The Back Sleep Position
Sleeping on your back keeps your neck, spine, and pelvis in the ideal neutral alignment.
Despite the fact that back sleeping is one of the best positions for your spine it might be surprising to learn that back sleeping is one of the least common sleeping positions. It’s estimated that less than 10% of people sleep on their backs.
For individuals living with back pain due to herniated discs or other orthopedic issues, back sleeping on the right mattress often makes the difference between living in constant pain and finding a level of medication-free relief. If you sleep on your back, it’s a good idea to use a firm pillow to support your head. Keep a pillow or rolled-up towel under your knees while you sleep in order to support your lower back and avoid lumbar issues.
One negative side of sleeping on your back is that it can exacerbate snoring, or sleep-related breathing disorders like sleep apnea. Sleeping on your back can allow for your tongue or soft palate to block your airways, temporarily depriving you of oxygen and waking you up. If you snore or have sleep apnea, it’s a good idea to avoid sleeping on your back to ensure the highest quality sleep possible.
Back sleeping can also trigger acid reflux symptoms since the position allows stomach acid to flow upwards into the esophagus.
If you live with any of these issues, try other sleep positions to avoid making your symptoms worse. An adjustable bed may also be a good way for back sleepers to combat these issues without changing sleep positions.
Sleeping Positions – The Side Sleep Position
Side sleeping is slightly more common than back sleeping; 15% of people sleep on one side or the other.
Side sleeping is much better for snoring and acid reflux than back sleeping. Individuals with sleep apnea may find it allows for open airways and keeps the face unobstructed for CPAP masks.
Side sleeping can cause pain in the one shoulder and/or hip which touches the bed.
Change sleep positions each night or every couple of nights to avoid asymmetry issues. Place a firm pillow or rolled-up towel between your knees in order to keep your hips in a neutral position. Some side sleepers like to use a full-length body pillow for this.
Sleeping Positions – The Fetal Position
The fetal position is by far the most popular of any sleeping positions, with over 40% of people reporting sleeping like a baby – literally.
The fetal position cuts down on snoring, sleep apnea symptoms, and acid reflux. The fetal position is also by far the most comfortable of positions for pregnant women.
Thought it’s so popular the fetal position can put pressure on some individuals’ diaphragms, restricting breathing.
If you have hip or lower back pain, try sleeping with a body pillow between your knees to keep your hips and pelvis in neutral alignment.
Sleeping Positions – The Stomach Sleep Position
The sleep position with the most cons is stomach sleeping. Only around 7% of people report sleeping on their stomachs because stomach sleeping most often leads to back and/or neck pain.
One good thing about stomach sleeping is that it tends to be one of the best positions for snoring and/or sleep apnea as it allows the tongue and soft palate to relax away from the airways. However, side sleeping can offer the same benefits without opening the door to orthopedic issues.
The curvature of the human spine is most well-suited for back or side sleeping, so sleeping on one’s stomach can throw things out of alignment. If you sleep on your stomach and suffer from chronic neck pain, aches, or even numbness or tingling in your extremities, try a new position.
Find Your Best Sleep Position
Given that sleep is one of the most determining factors in your overall mental and physical well-being, it’s important to find a sleep position which is best for your body.
Every sleep position has good and bad side effects. Neck and back pain generally stem from sleep position, and if you’re sleeping in the wrong positions or on the wrong mattress, it will be difficult to alleviate these issues. If you sleep with a partner, that can also further complicate things.
Sleep is one of the most personal and private things we do each day, but that doesn’t mean you should simply sleep how you want to without considering the alternatives. If you’re looking for better quality sleep, try a few new sleep positions and see which one makes the difference for you.