Finding Your Best Sleep Position
The Best Sleep Positions to Encourage Good Health
A good night’s sleep provides some important benefits to your body and mind. As well as ensuring you are well rested, good-quality sleep helps to ease stress, strengthen the immune system, heal injuries, and boost your mood.
There are 3 main sleep positions, each having their unique benefits and drawbacks. Without understanding the benefits or drawbacks, it can be difficult to determine which one is best for you.
It’s important to remember to prioritize comfort when sleeping. There may be more than one sleep position that offers health benefits to you; try each one out and stick with the one (or two) that makes you feel the most comfortable.
If you are looking to find out more about different sleep positions, their features, strengths, and weakness, keep reading!
Sleeping on your side
Research has shown that the most common sleep position is on the side, with over half of people adopting this pose at bedtime. Comfort certainly plays a role in the popularity of this position, but there are other key benefits to side-sleeping, as well as drawbacks to take into consideration.
Benefits of sleeping on your side
Improved digestion and circulation
If you have issues with digestion, you may find relief by sleeping on your left side. This position allows gravity to assist the digestive process, by encouraging food waste to move from the large intestine to the colon. Sleeping on your left side also increases blood flow to the heart and kidneys, while opting for the right side improves circulation to your liver, lungs, and stomach. The best approach, therefore, is to switch sides during the night; but don’t be tempted to set the alarm! If you wake up during the night, turn over to the other side to reap the benefits of both sides!
Sleeping on your right side reduces the pressure on your stomach, which lowers the risk of acid reflux and heartburn. If you are prone to this condition, it’s also a good idea to use an extra pillow to elevate the upper portion of your body slightly. The action of gravity helps to prevent acid reflux and ensures that you won’t be disturbed during the night.
Good for brain health
There is emerging evidence to suggest that sleeping on your side can have benefits to brain health. Researchers have discovered that this position can aid the brain in removing waste and harmful chemicals, a process that takes place while we are sleeping. Waste products in the brain have been connected with susceptibility to developing Alzheimer’s disease, and it is thought that interruption of sleep can inhibit the removal of waste. Researchers believe, therefore, that the continuous restful sleep in addition to side-sleeping may help to protect against the development of Alzheimer’s and similar conditions. This is a promising area of research, and efforts are underway to discover more about a correlation between sleep positions and brain health.
Beneficial to people with sleep apnea
If you are living with sleep apnea, a condition which causes breathing disruption during sleep, it can be very difficult to get sufficient rest. Sleeping on your side may help to alleviate your symptoms, as this position reduces the pressure on your airway, allowing you to breathe easier.
Ideal for pregnancy
Sleeping on your side during pregnancy is known to relieve pressure on your back and promote good-quality rest. If you sleep on your left side, this position increases blood flow to the placenta, which helps to support your growing baby. It may be beneficial to use a cushion between your knees to help align your hips, or a specialist pregnancy pillow to support your body while you sleep.
Great for couples
After a stressful day, it’s very relaxing to spend time cuddling and chatting with your partner. Resting on your side helps to facilitate this; whether you’re facing each other or spooning, it’s a position that makes you feel safe and loved.
Drawbacks of sleeping on your side
Can lead to pressure points and pain if you’re not properly aligned
Maintaining good posture is just as important at night time as it is during the day. Depending on how you position yourself, and the rigidity of your mattress, sleeping on your side can create pressure points, usually at the shoulder, hip, or knee. Poor alignment can also lead to pain in your back or intercostal muscles. If your mattress is too firm or soft, you may benefit from replacing it or purchase a mattress topper to find an optimal balance. To improve your alignment, ensure you are adequately supported with a properly sized pillow under your head and one between your knees. If you experience pressure on your shoulder or shoulder pain, bolster it with a small cushion, and recline back slightly at a 45-degree angle. Reclining backward slightly will increase the surface area of where your body comes into contact with the mattress reducing the amount of pressure concentrated in one spot. You should notice an immediate improvement in your comfort level.
The same technique can be used if your arms are prone to numbness if slept on for too long.
If you’re a side-sleeper, you’ve most likely experienced the disconcerting sensation of waking up to a numb arm. This is due to body weight being distributed unevenly; the shoulder and upper arm tend to take most of the pressure, which causes nerve compression and numbness. Fortunately, it’s easy to remedy; invest in a firm pillow and position it under your shoulder and upper arm. This will provide support to the area and help to redistribute pressure, reducing the likelihood of waking up with an arm that’s still asleep!
Which type of pillow is best for sleeping on your side?
When sleeping on your side, it’s important to have plenty of support. Memory foam pillows are perfect for this purpose; they are extremely comfortable and firm enough to maintain good posture all night. Click here to discover the ideal pillow choice for side-sleepers.
Sleeping on your back
The supine position is simple; straight back, limbs neutral. If asked to conjure an image of someone relaxing, it’s what most of us would imagine.
Benefits of sleeping on your back
Neutral position prevents aches and pains
The key strength of supine sleeping is that you are resting in a neutral position; that is, the head, neck, and spine are in alignment, and weight is distributed evenly when you have a properly sized pillow under your head and your knees. This reduces the risk of excessive pressure in one area, numbness, and aches.
Drawbacks of sleeping on your back
If you are a snorer or sleep beside someone who is, you will know that sleeping on the back increases the volume and depth of snoring. This is due to vibration caused by the tongue and soft palate at the back of the throat. Snorers should restrict time spent sleeping in this position, and try their side instead.
Not ideal for sufferers of sleep apnea
The issue explained above is far more dangerous in sufferers of sleep apnea. Pauses in breathing caused by the condition are often worsened by sleeping in this position. It is best to avoid supine sleeping entirely or to have the upper body elevated at an angle. This can be achieved with a wedge pillow. Of course, if you suffer from sleep apnea, make sure to seek the advice of your physician before attempting this position.
Sleeping on your stomach
At Ravenswood Chiropractic we see lots of neck pain caused by stomach sleeping, and we don’t recommend it. In fact, we help you find ways to break the habit and find another position (or two) that is more comfortable for you. If you do sleep on your stomach regularly, consider switching to your side at least occasionally, to minimise adverse effects such as neck pain.
Drawbacks of sleeping on your stomach
Flattens the natural curve of the spine, which can lead to back pain
The prone position makes it difficult, if not impossible, to maintain a neutral spine. This means that the body is not aligned, and more significantly, that the natural curve of the spine is disturbed. When repeated over time, it can lead to considerable back pain. Consider switching to one of the side-sleeping positions to alleviate this.
Neck strain caused by sleeping with the head to one side
When sleeping on the stomach, the head must be turned to facilitate breathing. When the head is locked in position for several hours, it causes substantial strain on the neck. This can become inconvenient as an acute injury, and debilitating if sustained over time. If you notice frequent neck strain caused by your sleep position, try to make side-sleeping a habit, and if you do roll over to your front, make sure your neck has plenty of pillow support.
Considered the worst position by sleep experts
Given the negative effects caused by prone sleeping, as well as limited benefits, sleep experts generally consider this position to be the worst. As such, it is a good idea to try to train yourself to find comfort from another position.
Don’t forget that finding the perfect sleep position is a trial-and-error process. Certainly, consider which position is most helpful to your unique health circumstances, but the priority is to ensure optimal comfort and restful sleep.