What’s the Right Sleep Position?

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Woman sleeping comfortably in bed

Sleep plays a vital role in our health and wellbeing. To get better sleep, start with the basics: your sleeping position.

How your body is positioned affects sleep problems like snoring, acid reflux, and general aches and pains. This can interrupt your sleep and also cause problems during the day. A different sleep position might help improve your in-bed issues so you can wake up rested and refreshed.

Sleep Positions

The three main sleep positions are side, back, and stomach. Each one of those has variations that can impact your health. What works for one person may not work for another, so make sure to take into account your individual preferences and limitations.

Sleeping on Your Side

Our bodies seem to prefer sleeping on our sides. It might be curled up in a comforting fetal position, or laying straight like a log. About 63% of people prefer this position.

  • Side Position Variations – The fetal position (the most popular, it means being curled up, and is helpful during pregnancy), the log (arms down, close to the body), and the yearner (legs straight, arms out).
  • Benefits of Side Sleeping – This position can prevent neck and back pain, aid digestion, reduce acid reflux, prevent snoring, and improve sleeping during pregnancy.
  • Negatives of Side Sleeping - Might cause wrinkles by pushing the face against the pillow and bedding. It can also make breathing difficult by putting pressure on the stomach and lungs. You might also have an increased chance of problems caused by lack of blood flow by putting all your weight on one side.
  • How to Improve Side Sleeping – Stretch out from a tightly curled ball to ease pressure on the organs. Make the spine as straight as possible and keep the neck aligned with the back. A pillow or blanket between the legs eases pressure on the hips and keeps the spine in line.

Sleeping on Your Back

This position is widely considered to be the best for your health. Only 8% of people sleep this way, but it offers the best chance to prevent back pain.

  • Back Position Variations – The soldier (arms at the side), and the starfish (arms and legs spread).
  • Benefits of Back Sleeping – Keeping the spine straight and evenly supported reduces back, head, and neck pain. It keeps the stomach lower than the esophagus to ease heartburn and acid reflux.
  • Negatives of Back Sleeping – The mouth can fall open if the head isn’t tilted, which might increase snoring and sleep apnea.
  • How to Improve Back Sleeping – For any position, a bed that’s supportive and in good condition is important to getting quality rest. Try sleeping on your back without a pillow to reduce the strain on your neck and allow for the perfect spinal alignment. If you snore or have sleep apnea, a good pillow with neck support will open airways. Put a pillow under the knees, which helps move the spine into a more natural curve.

Sleeping on Your Stomach

This is the least common sleep position, likely because there aren’t too many health benefits. However, it might work for you or help ease certain health conditions.

  • Stomach Position Variations – The freefall (arms up), and the combo (half the body facing down).
  • Benefits of Stomach Sleeping – Doesn’t open the mouth, so this can benefit those who snore or have sleep apnea.
  • Negatives of Stomach Sleeping – This position weighs down the spine and puts it out of alignment, so lower back and neck pain and overall stiffness can result. Stomach sleepers have more restlessl sleep, and it might mean more trouble breathing with the face pressed into the bedding. It also might make acid reflux and stomach problems worse by putting pressure on those areas.
  • How to Improve Stomach Sleeping – Avoid stiff or thick pillows because they bend the spine even more. Prevent breathing problems by propping up the forehead and facing downward instead of to the side. Put a pillow under the hips to add some support to the lower back and curve to the spine.

How to Change Your Sleep Position

Knowing what issues you have can help you find the sleep position that will help you the most. If you’re already sleeping in that position, try the suggested improvements we mentioned to get more benefits. If a lot of extra pillows aren’t working for you, or you want more options, find a store near you and try out an adjustable bed which will keep the optimum position without moving around like pillows will.

But if you’re not naturally sleeping in the position that might get you better rest, it is possible to train your body to change. Switching to back sleeping is especially recommended. Start off the night in the position you want to be in. Make sure you’re comfortable with the right bed, bedding, and pillow configuration to reinforce the position (and your comfort). Every time you find yourself moving to the old position, move back – unless it interferes with your sleep.

It takes a while to create a new habit, but to be better rested and relieve health issues, it’s worth it.

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