Sleep positions and health: What you should know

Most people don’t consider whether they should sleep on their back, belly or side. They just get into bed, get comfortable and snooze. Though it may seem that the most comfortable sleeping position is the best way to sleep, it may actually be detrimental to your well-being. Here’s what you need to know about sleep positions and health.

woman sleeping on her back

Sleeping on your back

Lying down with your head cushioned comfortably in the middle of your pillow, hands crossed on your stomach with legs straight is generally a comfortable position (perhaps reminding you of your childhood days lying on the grass and looking up at the clouds in the sky).

Pros

If you have back pain, sleeping on your back can provide relief because it allows for natural curvature of your spine. To further support your spine, make sure your pillow supports your head and neck, and place a small pillow underneath your knees to take pressure off of your lower back. Sleeping on your back is also a natural remedy for heartburn, as long as you elevate your upper body on extra pillows so that your head and neck are higher than your stomach, which will keep stomach acid from flowing into your esophagus. Beauty sleep bonus: Sleep, by itself, is an effective anti-aging treatment — but sleeping on your back can help reduce wrinkles on your face and chest.

Cons

Back sleeping is not recommended if you have sleep apnea or have a tendency to snore. Sleeping on your back can interfere with your breathing.

Sleeping on your stomach

Flat on your stomach, your cheek resting on your pillow, arms tucked underneath is the sleeping position of choice for some people. A study on the sleep positions of about 1,000 Brits showed that about seven percent of participants favored stomach sleeping.

Pros

Though stomach sleeping may feel natural for some, it is the sleep position that causes the most health issues. Comfort — for a small percentage of people — is about the only thing it has going for it.

Cons

Sleeping on your stomach forces you to sleep with your head turned sideways, and if kept in that position for hours, it can result in neck pain or a “crick in the neck,” which may lead to headache, shoulder pain and upper back pain. It could even lead to cervical nerve damage, numbness down into the arms and postural misalignments. Sleeping on your stomach can also put pressure on your low back and cause pain. Further, stomach sleeping can cause breathing problems because lying on your chest compresses your diaphragm.

Sleeping on your side

Also called the fetal position, side sleepers typically lie on one side with their knees bent and forward, arms forward with elbows bent.

Pros

Side sleeping is the ideal position if you have sleep apnea or snore because sleeping on your side keeps your airway open. Side sleeping is also a go-to position for many pregnant women seeking comfort. Sleeping on your left side can help promote blood flow to the fetus. For optimal comfort, consider sleeping with a body pillow in between your arms and knees.

Cons

Side sleeping can cause neck pain if you don’t have a pillow that supports your head to keep it in line with your spine. Sleeping on your side with your knees together can also cause low back pain — sleep with a pillow in between your knees to take pressure off the lower back. Side sleeping may cause wrinkles in your face because your face is pressed into the pillow and it can also cause cleavage wrinkles because your breasts are pushed together all night.

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