It’s common knowledge that the amount of sleep you get is important – the current recommendation for adults is seven to eight hours per night. But did you know that the position you snooze in can also affect your health?
“Eighty percent of the population will have back problems at some point in [their] lives oftentimes caused or aggravated by the way they sleep,” says Dr. Hooman Melamed, an orthopaedic spine surgeon at the DISC Sports and Spine Centre in Los Angeles. In fact, a poor sleeping position can cause neck and back pain, stomach problems, and premature aging.
Let’s explore four common sleeping positions and the effects they have on your body.
1. on Your Back, Arms Down
The general consensus is that sleeping on your back is one of the best positions to sleep for spine and neck health, as long as you don’t go overboard with pillows. It allows for our head, neck, and spine to align and remain in a neutral position. It also prevents wrinkles and breakouts on your face, and can ease problems with acid reflux. Your head is generally elevated when you sleep on your back, which means that the stomach remains below the oesophagus and therefore stomach acid has a harder time coming back up. And for women, sleeping on your back means the weight of your breasts is fully supported, which decreases sagginess.
However, a downside to back sleeping is that it tends to make you snore more than any other position. It can also lead to sleep apnea, which is the involuntary cessation of breathing during sleep. The severity varies from person to person, but it can happen hundreds of times a night, depriving the brain and body of adequate oxygen, and it can become a serious problem if left untreated.
2. on Your Back, Arms Up (Starfish)
This is another good position for your back. Arms up is slightly inferior to arms down, however, because it puts pressure on the nerves in your shoulders, which often leads to pain. Snoring and sleep apnea are still the main two downsides.
3. on Your Side
Side sleeping is generally agreed upon as the second-best position for sleep. It’s especially beneficial for people prone to snoring, suffering from sleep apnea, neck or back pain, and for pregnant women. It naturally opens up the oropharynx (the part of the throat where snoring happens), and eases back pain by lengthening the spine. There are a couple different variations of sleeping on your side:
Arms at Your Side
This position best supports your spine’s natural curve, which lessens back and neck pain and eases problems with sleep pane.
Arms out Straight
This has most of the same benefits of your arms at your sides, but there’s one disadvantage: because of the restricted blood flow and pressure on the nerves, shoulder and arm pain can result.
It may feel comforting to sleep so curled up, but it puts serious strain on your neck and back, and also leads to wrinkles and saggy breasts. The fetal position can also hinder deep breathing. This is considered one of the worst sleeping positions.
Right or Left
And whether you sleep on your right or left side can even play a role! Sleeping on the left can strain the liver, lungs, and stomach, while sleeping on the right can worsen acid reflux. For pregnant women, it’s typically advised to sleep on the left as much as possible, as this ensures optimal blood flow to the fetus.
Some of the drawbacks to side sleeping in general include wrinkles and, for women, saggy breasts, since there is nothing supporting their weight. “If you’re going to sleep on your side,” says Vivian Eisenstadt, a physical therapist in Los Angeles, “pillow prop using the following: an ergonomic pillow thick enough so your head doesn’t tilt down, a small pillow under your waist so you stomach doesn’t curve down, and a third pillow between your legs.”
4. on Your Stomach
Stomach sleeping can be helpful for people who snore since it keeps the upper airways more open, but having your head on one side for such a length of time leads to neck pain. It is widely agreed that stomach sleeping is the worst position. It doesn’t support the natural curvature of your spine and leads to overarching. This leads to pain, tingling, and numbness because of the pressure it puts on joints and muscles. Eisenstadt states, “[I]t forces your neck to be in a rotated, [close packed], tight position, which also compromises your breathing and circulation.”