Side-sleeper? Belly sleeper? Or back sleeper? We all have a position that we gravitate to! It becomes habitual. You may try falling asleep in a new position, but you wake up back in your typical pose. Although your favorite position is comfortable and feels like home, unfortunately, it may be time to break the habit!
Did you know there is such a thing as the best sleeping position?
For those of us who are belly or side sleepers, you may not like hearing this! The BEST sleeping position is on your back. If you are a side sleeper, you are not as bad off as a belly sleeper - there's a "bad, better, best" to sleeping (belly, side, back respectively). There are of course special circumstances in which you may have to rely on one of the "worse" sleeping positions.
Why is the back the best sleeping position?
When you sleep on your back, your body is in what we call a "neutral position." Your head, neck, and spine are aligned and able to rest with no added pressure. If you want the most ideal scenario, you would also sleep without a pillow as it can cause your head & neck to be out of neutral position.
Another added benefit? Acid reflux. No, not getting acid reflux, but helping lessen it! If you suffer from acid reflux, sleeping on your back allows your esophagus to be above your stomach which helps keep food and acid down. If you are trying to sleep in the most ideal position (i.e. without a pillow) and you suffer from acid reflux, you may actually need that pillow! Just make sure that your esophagus is above your stomach.
Lastly (but probably not as important as the previous reasons for some), sleeping on your back can help prevent wrinkles. Your face is exposed to open air all night as opposed to being smashed into a pillow which can promote wrinkling. So, if you’re concerned about wrinkling, your back is the best choice!
There are some reasons NOT to sleep on your back however.
If you have sleep apnea, it is not recommended to sleep on your back as you may block your airways with your tongue (the base of the tongue relaxes when you sleep and can block your throat opening).
Your partner or neighbors may not like you sleeping on your back as it may make snoring worse.
Why your side over your stomach?
Sleeping on your side can also help you get some relief from back and/or neck pain as the spine is still elongated. As soon as you move to sleeping on your stomach, neutral spine is compromised and more difficult to maintain throughout the night resulting in back pain. Sleeping on the stomach can also cause problems with the muscles and joints resulting in numbness, tingling, and aches & pains.
Further, for the snorers out there, sleeping on your side can help prevent snoring as the airways remain open. When on your stomach, it is recommended to sleep with your head straight down, forehead propped up to allow you to breathe. However, most people sleep with their head turned to the side which can results in neck pain and difficulty breathing.
If you are pregnant, doctors recommend you sleeping on your side, specifically your left, as it promotes circulation to the heart & decreases back pain. When pregnant, the left side is also suggested because it prevents your uterus from pressing against your liver.
Change takes time!
Now, it can be extremely difficult to break the habit of sleeping in your favorite position. Heck! You may have been sleeping in the same position for 30+ years at this point. Don't panic! Change takes time. Do your best to start working towards a healthy sleeping position. Here's some tips:
If your significant other sleeps in the same bed as you, ask them to help you! If they wake up throughout the night and notice you've changed to your habitual position, have them gently wake you and move back to the position you are working towards.
Start the night off in the new position. Although you may automatically gravitate back to the old position, remember it's a starting point.
Purchase a positional pillow. Yep! It's true! They actually make pillows designed to help you sleep in a specific position.
Be innovative! One of our employees was just talking with their family members about sleeping positions and had the idea of using pool noodles to help make the transition. The idea? Get two pool noodles (flotation devices) and place them under the fitted sheet close enough that only you can fit lying on your back.
Again, these are just recommendations for sleeping positions based on the affects sleeping can have on your body. For some, you may already be sleeping in the ideal position (cyber high-five!). For others, if you want to adjust your position to see how it affects your body, don't be frustrated when you find yourself back in your usual position. Habits are hard to break!
If you have any questions regarding how your sleeping position be affecting your body overall, feel free to leave a comment below and one of our physical therapists can weigh in.