During sleep, your body works to restore and repair itself. Your sleep position can either help or hinder that process, depending on how effectively it supports the natural curvature of your spine. It’s also common for people to wake up with brand new aches and pains in the morning, sometimes due to sleep position.
We spend a third of our lives asleep or resting, so it’s important to choose a sleep position that assists your body with physical recovery. A proper sleep position can relieve stress on your spine, while an unhealthy position can increase pain or stiffness in the back, arms, or shoulders, all while contributing to lower-quality sleep.
What Is the Best Sleeping Position?
The best sleep position is one that promotes healthy spinal alignment from your hips to your head. What that looks like for you depends on your health situation and what you find comfortable.
Having said that, some positions are considered healthier than others. Specifically, sleeping on the side or back is considered more beneficial than sleeping on the stomach. In either of these sleep positions, it’s easier to keep your spine supported and balanced, which relieves pressure on the spinal tissues and enables your muscles to relax and recover.
However, if sleeping on your stomach feels good to you, don’t feel forced to change it. You can minimize your risk of pain and improve spinal alignment with the right mattress and pillow.
Different sleep positions provide different benefits that may be helpful for you if you’re dealing with back pain, pregnancy, allergies, acid reflux, or another health condition. In these cases, it may be worth trying a new sleep position to enable more restful sleep. In one study, a group of adults with back pain were trained to sleep on their back or their side. They experienced significant pain relief in just four weeks.
Adjusting to a new sleep position takes time, but it is possible. Be patient with yourself and use pillows to help train your body to the new position.
Sleeping on Your Side
More than 60% of people sleep on their side, with men spending more time on their side each night than women. As children, we split our nights by sleeping in all positions equally, but by adulthood, a clear preference for side sleeping emerges. The flexibility of our spine decreases as we age, which may make the side sleeping position more comfortable for older adults.
Sleeping on your side offers several benefits. It promotes healthy spinal alignment and is the sleep position least likely to result in back pain, especially when supported with pillows. Side sleeping also may reduce heartburn and snoring, making it a better sleeping position for people with sleep apnea or acid reflux.
Best Sleeping Position for Pregnancy
Experts recommend that those who are pregnant sleep on their side with the knees bent. The side sleeping position relieves the pressure of a growing belly, enabling the heart to pump and blood to flow easily throughout the body. In particular, the left side is recommended because it prevents pressure on the liver and facilitates healthy blood flow to the fetus, uterus, kidneys, and heart.
If you feel discomfort sleeping on your left side during pregnancy, you can switch to the right side now and then to relieve pressure on the left hip. You can also relieve tension by placing pillows under the belly, between the legs, and at the small of the back.
Best Sleeping Position for Back Pain
Choose a pillow with a loft, or thickness, that matches the distance between your neck and your shoulder. With a thicker pillow, your neck will stay aligned with your spine as you sleep on your side, preventing pain and soreness while maintaining proper alignment.
Sleeping on Your Back
Lying on the back is the second most popular sleep position, with plenty of benefits to rival the side sleeping position. When you’re flat on your back, it’s easy to keep your spine in alignment and to evenly distribute your body weight, preventing any potential aches in the neck or back. Sleeping on the back can also relieve the congestion of a stuffy nose or allergies, so long as you prop yourself up into an upright position.
Your skin also benefits from the back sleeping position. Since you’re facing upward, there is no pillow or mattress pressing against your face and contributing to wrinkles.
However, Back sleeping is the worst sleeping position for people with snoring and sleep apnea because it leaves you susceptible to airway collapse. More than half of people have position-dependent sleep apnea, meaning that the severity of their symptoms increases when they lie on their back.
Best Sleeping Position for Stuffy Nose
If you’re coping with allergies or a stuffy nose, use pillows to prop up your upper back so you’re in more of an upright position, without collapsing the spine. This positioning can enable your airways to stay open and may help drain your nose. Avoid lying flat on your back, as that may increase nasal congestion.
Sleeping on Your Stomach
The stomach is the least popular sleep position. Research suggests we spend less than 10% of our night sleeping in this position. Stomach sleeping does have some benefits, however. Namely, the stomach sleeping position can help relieve snoring, by opening up your airway. However, your ribs do have to work against gravity in order to breathe in this position, which may force you to use more energy and thereby make your sleep less restful.
The stomach position provides the least back support of all sleeping positions and increases pressure on the spine, sometimes causing pain upon waking up. In order to sleep on your stomach, you must sleep with your head facing one side, invariably twisting your neck and head out of alignment with the rest of your spine. If your mattress isn’t firm enough, your stomach and hips will sink into the mattress, uncomfortably stretching your spine out of alignment. This kind of asymmetrical sleep posture can negatively impact your spine over time.
The best sleep position for you is whichever sleep position enables you to enjoy a restful night of uninterrupted sleep and wake up in the morning feeling refreshed, without any aches and pains. If that describes your current sleep position, don’t feel forced to change it. If you think a new position might make sleep more comfortable for you, though, go ahead and try another position. Be patient and use the strategies named to help yourself adjust to the new position.
Your sleep position plays a pivotal role in the quality of your sleep. Changing it up is just one of many strategies you can try for better sleep.
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