Getting a good night’s sleep is pivotal for our health, body, mind, and our mood, especially since we spend one-third of our lives asleep. While it is recommended every adult get seven to eight hours of sleep per night, according to the National Sleep Foundation, for many of us this is easier said than done. Sleep difficulty can be caused by a number of things, ranging from eating or drinking the wrong things before bed to our sleep position.
“Eighty percent of the population will have back problems at some point in [their] lives oftentimes caused or aggravated by the way they sleep,” Dr. Hooman Melamed, an orthopedic spine surgeon at the DISC Sports & Spine Center in Los Angeles, Calif., featured on The Doctors,Dr. Oz, and The Steve Harvey Show, told Medical Daily in an email. This suggests our p.m. pose could be the cause of our back and neck pain, stomach troubles, and even premature aging. To discover the best sleep positions for our body and the ones we may want to avoid, Medical Dailyhas put together a list so you can optimize your hours of sleep and stay healthy.
Best Position: On Your Back
Sleeping on our back makes it easier for our head, neck, and spine to align and keep it in a neutral position. No extra pressure or curves are being added to the back. “You are in the best position as your spine stays in natural alignment all night long,” Melamed said.
This position is good for your back, too. It prevents facial wrinkles and skin breakouts. “Sleeping on your back also combats acid reflux,” said Dr. Decontee Jimmeh, a neurologist in Norwood Clinic in Birmingham, Ala. to Medical Daily in an email. Lying on your back means the head is elevated, and the stomach is able to sit below the esophagus, making it less likely for digested substances to come back up. It’s important to note sleeping in this position can result in snoring. In addition, placing your arms up adds pressure on the nerves of the shoulders, which leads to pain.
Second Best: On Your Side
Sleeping on your side is beneficial for patients who have obstructive sleep apnea, prone to general snoring, neck and back pain, and for those pregnant. Fletcher said “[S]leeping on one’s side is helpful by mechanically opening up a crowded oropharynx. It also elongates the spine, which helps back pain.”
Being a side-sleeper, however, can also cause unwanted skin aging, since placing one side of your face on the pillow can cause you to get wrinkles, and even leads to saggy breasts.
On The Right Side And On The Left Side
The side in which you sleep on can also play a role in your health. Sleeping on the ride side can worsen heartburn. However, sleeping on the left side can put a strain on internal organs like the liver, lungs, and stomach, but also while reducing acid reflux. Pregnant women are advised to sleep on their left side for optimal blood flow.
Vivian Eisenstadt, physical therapist in Los Angeles, Calif., told Medical Daily in an email, “if you’re going to sleep on your side, pillow prop using the following: an ergonomic pillow thick enough so your head doesn’t tilt down, a small pillow under your waist so your stomach doesn’t curve down, and a 3rd pillow between your legs.”
The Worst: On Your Stomach
Sleeping on your stomach is never advised because it doesn’t support the natural curve of your spine, leading to overarching. This places pressure on joints and muscles that can lead to pain, numbness, and tingling. “[I]t forces your neck to be in a rotated, closed pack, tight position, which also compromises your breathing and circulation,” Eisenstadt said.
Stomach-sleeping could be beneficial for those who snore as it helps keep the upper airways more open. However, this having the head to one side for a long period of time could soon lead to aching. This position should also be avoided for those who suffer from neck or back pain.
Second Worst: On Your Side With Knees Drawn Up To Chest (Fetal)
The fetal position may be comforting at the moment, but this can lead to neck and back pain, wrinkles, and saggy breasts. Sleeping in the fetal position can cause a strain on your back and joints, especially when your knees and chin are tucked into your chest. Melamed suggests we avoid sleeping on our side, like the fetal position, because the shoulder and neck should be aligned when sleeping. “You should choose a softer mattress to avoid press points but not one so soft that it doesn’t properly support your neck,” he said.
Sleep positions and the type of mattress you have play a major role in providing support along the contours of your body as you lie in bed. Placing pressure to any given parts of the body can disrupt sleep. A good night’s sleep requires a good sleeping environment, a good mattress, and plenty of rest.
Regardless of health benefits, people sleep in the position they find comfiest. Experimenting with different sleep positions won’t do any harm, so feel free to try each position for a few nights and see which is the best fit. Whether it’s back, side, or stomach, people tend to wake up in the position that their bodies naturally snooze in. Unless a doctor specifically recommends switching, it’s probably best to keep doing what feels right.