February 1, 2021
Getting comfortable in order to fall asleep is essential. Think about that moment before you fall asleep. What sleep position do you go to first? When you wake up in the morning, what position do you find yourself in?
Most people have a preferred sleep position in which they spend much of the night — but is that the most beneficial position for your specific health needs? What many people don’t realize is that each sleep position comes with its own set of pros and cons. The way in which we sleep plays a direct role in our everyday health.
Though there are several variations, sleep positions generally fall into the following three categories. Each category’s benefits may vary based on variations that include placement of arms or other body parts, or the strategic utilization of a pillow used for support.
Stomach / Face Down
- Relieve breathing difficulties caused by sleep apnea that lead to snoring
- Diminish sleep apnea symptoms
- Can be good for digestion
- Puts stress on the back, neck, and joints
- May perpetuate discomfort associated with acid reflux
For some, particularly for those with persistent snoring and/or sleep apnea, the benefits of sleeping on your stomach may outweigh the negatives. Sleep apnea and, often, snoring are caused by your tongue falling back into the throat or loose tissues in the throat obstructing the airway. When you lay on your back, gr
For some, particularly for those with persistent snoring and/or sleep apnea, the benefits of sleeping on your stomach may outweigh the negatives. Sleep apnea, and in some instances, snoring, are caused by your tongue falling back into the throat or loose tissues in the throat obstructing the airway. When you lay on your back, gravity causes the tongue and tissues to “fall” and block airflow. This obstruction can be prevented by laying on your stomach, allowing you to breathe more easily.
If snoring and sleep apnea are not concerns, however, sleeping face down may not be the optimal position for you as it strains the back, neck, and joints. It’s very difficult to maintain a neutral spine position on your stomach, which causes stress that can then carry over to the rest of your body. Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to sleep face down without turning your head to one side, requiring you to twist your neck for an extended period of time. In the short-term, you may experience aches and pain after a night of sleeping on your stomach. Over time, it can lead to problems in the spine, with severe cases resulting in a herniated disk
- Head, neck, and spine rest in neutral position
- Alleviates acid reflux
- May worsen/aid in the development of snoring and/or sleep apnea
For most people, the most beneficial sleep position is face-up, laying on your back. As long as you aren’t sleeping on a mountain of pillows, the head, neck, and spine remain in a neutral position throughout the night, eliminating strain caused by other sleep positions.
It has also been shown that acid reflux is significantly reduced by sleeping on your back. The key is to ensure that your pillow elevates your head above your esophagus so as to prevent acid from coming up your digestive tract.
For people with sleep apnea and/or persistent snoring, sleeping on your back often perpetuates the conditions. As explained above, gravity causes the tongue or lose tissues in the throat to collapse and block the airway. This obstruction then leads to snoring and/or the potentially life-threatening sleep disorder: sleep apnea.
- Alleviates acid reflux
- Relieves breathing difficulties that lead to snoring
- Diminishes sleep apnea symptoms
- Wards off back and neck pain
- Back and neck pain associated with side-lying fetal position
Side sleeping is by far the most common sleep position. As with sleeping on your back, this position can help reduce acid reflux and, since your spine is elongated, ward off back and neck pain. Additionally, sleeping on your side has the same benefits as stomach sleeping for those with sleep apnea and/or persistent snoring because it reduces obstruction of the airway. Many doctors recommend side sleeping as a strategy to help manage the two conditions.
Sleeping on your side in the fetal position (with your knees drawn up to your chest) does not carry the same benefits. In fact, this position can worsen already existing back and neck pain. The fetal position can be beneficial for people who experience menstrual periods, though, as the fetal position takes the pressure off of your abdomen.
In addition to sleep position, other considerations that are necessary to promote healthy sleeping habits include:
- The overall tranquility of your sleep environment: Loud noises, sleeping next to someone with a different sleep schedule, excessive light, and other distractions can disrupt your environment, affecting your ability to receive quality sleep.
- Your exercise habits: The time of day in which you exercise has a direct impact on your ability to fall and stay asleep. Working out in the morning or the early afternoon is best for people who go to sleep relatively early and wake up early. If you tend to fall asleep later in the night and wake up in the late morning/early afternoon, then there’s nothing keeping you from exercising later in the day.
- Diet: What you eat plays a significant role in the quality of your sleep. There are specific foods that promote healthy sleep, and also foods that can negatively impact your sleep (an excessive amount of carbs, sugars, and alcohol). Fueling your body and maintaining a healthy diet will benefit your sleep today, tomorrow, and in the long run.
- The age, state, and firmness of your mattress: The general lifespan of a mattress is 6-8 years. Certainly, not everyone has the privilege of consistently replacing their mattress – that’s why it’s important to keep your sleep space clean. Wash your sheets often and consider investing in a mattress pad.
- The number of pillows you use: Pillows are made to increase your quality of sleep, but this is also why so many different types of pillows exist. Using the wrong pillow can have adverse effects on your head, neck, and spine. Pillows, like mattresses, also have a lifespan. If your pillow no longer puffs up after you fold it, it may be time for a new one.