We’re all unique and what’s most comfortable for one person is not going to be the same as what’s most comfortable for another. Your sleep posture is personal to you. Your body shape, your health, even your bed all play a part in how you drift off to sleep each night. But some positions are better than others, and if you are waking up feeling groggy and stiff you may want to make a change to your nightly routine. So what’s the healthiest sleeping position?
How Do We Sleep?
We all know how important sleep is but did you know that the position you find most comfortable to fall asleep in may not be the most beneficial to your health. Bad sleep posture could be to blame if you are suffering from back and neck pain, headaches, sleep apnea, bad circulation, heartburn and even premature wrinkles.
The main positions are sleeping on your back, your side or your stomach, with variations of each. Throughout your life there will be times when the position your favour changes due to something like a health issue or pregnancy. Most positions have pros and cons, lets take a look at some of them.
On Your Back
Only around 10% of people sleep on their backs, or in the supine position as the experts call it. It’s not the most popular position but it does have some perks. With the right pillow, something fairly low with good neck support, the spine is kept in a neutral position so there’s less pressure, resulting in less pain.
Having said that, if you already suffer with back pain this position may aggravate it. If you feel pain in your lower back try sleeping with a pillow under your knees to help balance the curvature of the spine.
Sleeping on your back with your head slightly elevated is the best position for heartburn sufferers. It helps to stop stomach acids travelling up the esophagus, warding off acid re-flux.
If you’re worried about ageing then sleeping on your back is the best position to avoid those pesky sleep wrinkles that develop from having your face smushed into a pillow every night. It also prevents the wrinkles down the middle of the chest that are caused by the skin folding when you sleep on your side.
Back sleeping is not a good idea if you experience sleep apnea, a condition that causes breathing to repeatedly stop and start throughout the night. The supine position can obstruct the airways, meaning that if you’re prone to snoring you might just end up waking up the neighbours.
Variations of the back sleeping position are:
- The Starfish – Sleeping on your back with your arms up over your head. Interestingly, it’s thought that people who sleep in this position are more likely than others to sleepwalk.
- The Soldier – Sleeping on your back with your arms down by your sides. People who sleep in this position don’t tend to move much during the night.
On Your Side
The side sleeping, or lateral, position is by far the most popular position with more than half the population sleeping in one of its variations. It has many benefits, along with some disadvantages too. If you have trouble sleeping the lateral position is supposedly the easiest one to fall asleep in.
If you’re a snorer then sleeping on your side should help. It keeps the airways open and unobstructed, so it’s the recommended posture if you suffer from sleep apnea too.
Sleeping on your left side is better than sleeping on the right. Laying on your right side relaxes the valve connecting the stomach and esophagus, and can cause acid re-flux. It also puts pressure on your liver. Sleeping on your left takes the pressure off the vargus nerve and helps keep your blood flowing steadily. It’s especially important for pregnant women in their second and third trimester to sleep on their left side. The baby can put a lot of pressure on the vargus nerve, resulting in a sudden drop in blood pressure. Sleeping on your side will alleviate that pressure.
If you suffer from back or hip pain then try sleeping on your side with a pillow between your knees for support. But if arthritis is the problem you may not be able to get comfortable on your side.
The big downer about side sleeping is what it does to your face. Hours every night spent with your face pressed into a pillow will leave you with sleep wrinkles. When you’re young these wrinkles fade soon after you wake up but the older you get, the longer they take to disappear. Eventually they stop disappearing and you’re stuck with permanent wrinkles, most prominently on the the side that you sleep.
Crinkles, the cutesy name for chest wrinkles, are also a problem for side sleepers. The skin between the breasts folds over, leaving lines that end up sticking around too. There’s also suggestion, though no scientific proof, that sleeping on your side may cause your breast to sag as the ligament stretches over time.
If you worry about wrinkles but just can’t get to sleep in any other position there are some specially designed beauty pillows and bras that can help you avoid the dreaded wrinkles while side sleeping.
Variations of the side sleeping position are:
- The Fetal Position – Sleeping with your knees pulled up and your chin pointed down into your chest. This is a position we’ve used since infancy and it’s one we feel safe and protected in. A loose fetal posture, with legs stretch out a bit, is one of the best ways to sleep. It’s good for circulation and breathing, and is the perfect position if your pregnant. Curling up too tightly can obstruct breathing as the diaphragm doesn’t have enough space to function.
- The Yearner – Sleeping with you legs straight and your arms reaching out in front of you. Apparently this position is more popular with the older generation, which is strange as it’s not great for those that suffer with arthritis. It’s good if snoring is your problem though.
- The Log – Sleeping with your legs straight and arms down by your sides. Another position that’s not great for arthritis but is good if you snore.
On Your Front
Sleeping on your stomach is the worse position to sleep in. The only thing it’s got going for it is that it may help with snoring. Everything else about this position is a problem.
Firstly, if you use a pillow you’re putting pressure on the neck as it’s being forced into an unnatural angle. Turning your head to the side puts additional pressure on the spine.
The weight of your body will be pressing down on your organs and muscles, causing them to have to work harder. There’s also pressure on your nerves that can cause tingling, numbness, and pain.
Obviously this is not a good position for your skin. With your face pressed into the pillow or mattress you’re going to end up with sleep wrinkles. If you must sleep on your stomach then try just having your forehead on the pillow and keeping your face downwards. This will help your neck into a more neutral position and may help the skin to avoid getting so wrinkled.
Variations of the front sleeping position are:
- The Sky Diver – Sleeping on your front with your arms around or under your pillow. This is probably the unhealthiest position to sleep in, and people who sleep in this position tend to toss and turn a lot more than others throughout the night.
What Your Sleeping Position Says About You
You may know that body language gives an insight into your personality, but it might surprise you to learn that even while you sleep you may be giving out clues as to what kind of person you really are.
Different sleeping positions are good for different things. It’s really down to the individual to find out what suits them best. If ageing is your biggest concern then sleep on your back. If your snoring is driving your loved ones insane then try sleeping on your side. It’s best for everyone to avoid sleeping on their stomachs if possible, but apart from that any position that is comfortable and allows you a deep, restorative sleep is the right one for you.
See how you feel each morning. Do you wake up with aches and pains in certain places? Do you still feel tired after a full night’s sleep? If so then maybe it’s time you tried sleeping in a different position.
Does the way you sleep really make a difference? Let us know what you think in the comments below.