Getting a good night’s sleep is one thing everyone craves! And it is vital, too, for your physical as well as psychological health.
The importance of a good night’s sleep has been supported by countless studies. Lack of sleep has been linked to many health problems, from obesity to heart disease, from dementia to diabetes and from hair loss to premature aging signs.
Still, many people do not get the required sleep. According to a 2014 report by the National Sleep Foundation, 45 percent of Americans reported suffering from a lack of sleep at least once in the past 7 days.
Many factors can affect your sleep, including the room environment, the mattress, your stress level, your diet and so on. But often, body position is overlooked, even though it is actually a key contributor to a good night’s sleep.
You will be amazed to know that sleeping posture has a major impact on your slumber plus your overall health.
Sleeping on your side, back or stomach– all the positions greatly influence your health and demeanor. They not only affect how you feel physically the next morning or throughout the day, but may also affect your brain health and contribute to brain disorders like dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.
Not only this, sleeping posture plays a key role in snoring, acid reflux, heartburn, sleep apnea and even wrinkles!
Here are the best and worst sleeping positions and their effects on your health.
1. On Your Back, Arms at Sides
Position: Lying down on your back with your arms resting at your sides. This position is also known as the ‘soldier pose’.
Pros – Sleeping on your back is usually considered the best position for your spinal health, as the back remains straight. It reduces pressure on the discs, thus preventing pain in the neck and back.
Also, sleeping on your back reduces acid reflux, helps maintain perky breasts and minimizes facial wrinkles.
Cons – Sleep apnea and snoring are common issues associated with back sleepers.
When you sleep on your back, gravity forces the base of the tongue to collapse into the airway. This obstructs breathing and causes snoring that can keep your partner up at night.
If sleeping on your back causes snoring and breathing problems, you can combine this position with a side sleep pose. The combination of the two positions will help you sleep soundly and wake up more refreshed.
Try to sleep on your back without a pillow to keep your neck in a neutral position. Make sure not to use too many pillows, as it can make breathing more difficult. It is best to use a large pillow under the back of your knees to support the natural curve in your lower back. You can also use a buckwheat pillow under your head to support your neck when you lie down.
2. On Your Back, Arms Up
Position: Lying down on your back with your arms resting beside your face and above your head. This is also called the ‘starfish’ position.
Pros – Back sleeping is considered the best position in terms of your spinal and neck health. This particular pose places less pressure on the discs, thus preventing spine and neck pain.
In addition, it helps reduce acid reflux because the head is elevated and the stomach is able to sit below the esophagus. This prevents the digested substances from coming back up into the esophagus.
This starfish sleeping posture also prevents facial wrinkles and skin breakouts.
Cons – On the downside, this position can result in snoring issues. Also, having your arms raised above your head can cause pain due to pressure on the nerves in the shoulders.
Avoid using a pillow while sleeping in this posture to allow your head, neck and spine to rest in a neutral position. This means there’s no extra pressure on those areas during your sleep.
3. On Your Side, Arms at Sides
Position: Sleeping on your side with both arms positioned downward in a straight line. This is also referred to as the ‘log’ posture.
Pros – This is an ideal sleeping position for the spine, as it receives complete support in its natural curve. The straight spine not only prevents back and neck pain but also reduces sleep apnea.
In addition, sleeping on your side also reduces snoring. This is the best sleeping position for pregnant women.
Cons – As the top leg does not get enough support in this sleeping position, chances are high that you may develop back or hip pain in the future. Also, side sleeping can lead to skin aging (facial wrinkles and sagging breasts) due to gravity. It can even cause neck pain.
As this position can cause neck pain, use a thick pillow to support your neck. For your pillow, always use a satin pillowcase to prevent facial wrinkles.
Also, place a pillow between your thighs to support your top leg.
4. On Your Side, Arms Out
Position: Sleeping on your side, with your legs slightly bent, arms outstretched and head slightly angled off center. This is also known as ‘the yearner’ position.
Pros – This sleeping position prevents back and neck pain. In addition, it helps reduce snoring and ease heartburn and acid reflux.
Not only this, this sleeping posture even allows the body to clear waste from the brain more efficiently and reduce the risk of developing brain disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Plus, people who sleep in this posture are less likely to wake up in the middle of the night. This is mainly due to the comfort your body gets during sleep.
Cons – Sleeping on your side restricts the proper flow of blood and puts pressure on the nerves, which may cause pain in the shoulders and arms. Nerve compression may place strain on internal organs like the stomach, liver and lungs, which can cause discomfort.
Side sleeping may also cause saggy breasts and premature skin aging, as placing one side of your face on the pillow results in facial wrinkles.
Sleep on a satin pillowcase to reduce the chance of facial wrinkles. To support your top leg, you can place a pillow between your knees. However, to reduce upper arm discomfort, it is recommended to switch to the log position, where you put your arms by your sides.
5. On Either Side
Position – Sleeping on either your left or right side.
Pros – Side sleeping is beneficial for those suffering from neck and back pain, acid reflux, snoring and sleep apnea. People are less likely to snore in this posture, as it keeps the airways open. This posture is recommended for people who have sleep apnea.
Side sleeping also elongates the spine, which helps reduce back pain.
Sleeping on the left side is beneficial for pregnant ladies, as it helps improve blood circulation to the fetus.
A 2012 study published in BMC Pregnancy & Childbirth suggests that sleeping on your left side during pregnancy can increase healthy blood flow and provide the optimum oxygen levels for you and your baby.
Cons – Sleeping on the right side may worsen heartburn troubles. On the other hand, sleeping on the left side may put a strain on your internal organs like the stomach, lungs and liver. If you suffer from any kind of stomach, lung or liver problem, switch to the right side.
Side sleeping can even contribute to premature aging, due to gravity leading to facial wrinkles and sagging breasts.
If you prefer sleeping in this position, put a pillow between your knees. Also, use a satin pillowcase to reduce the chance of wrinkles on your face.
Plus, avoid resting your head (or whole body) on a single arm. It is recommended to keep the arms resting by your sides.
6. Fetal Position
Position: Sleeping all curled up on either side, in a ball-like position with your knees drawn up to your chest and chin tilted down.
Pros – This position reduces snoring to a considerable extent. It is also a good position for pregnant women.
Sleeping on your left side can especially help reduce acid reflux, as it will keep the stomach below the esophagus and gravity helps keep the reflux at bay.
Cons – Although this position may be quite comfortable while sleeping, it can put a lot of strain on your neck and back. This can lead to serious neck and back troubles, such as sciatic nerve pain, in the future.
Plus, the extreme curl can strain your back and joints as well as causing a number of issues like restricted breathing, wrinkles and saggy breasts.
Those who love sleeping in this position should use a firm pillow to support their head. Also, the pillow should be high enough to keep the head in a neutral or even position. This will help reduce stress and pressure on the neck to prevent neck pain, muscle aches and stiffness. It is also recommended that people sleeping in this position alternate sides during the night.
Curling on your left side causes stress on vital organs like the liver, lungs and stomach, so if the fetus is your position of choice, curl up on your right side.
7. Face Down
Position: Sleeping on your stomach with your head turned to either side or your arms embracing the pillow. This type of sleeping posture is also known as the ‘freefall’ pose.
Pros – Sleeping on your stomach helps keep the upper airways more open, thus reducing snoring. This posture even helps improve digestion to a certain degree. (However, prolonged sleeping in this position may have a negative impact on your digestive system.)
A 2012 study published in American Psychological Association found that people who sleep on their stomach are significantly more likely to have erotic dreams compared to those who sleep in other positions.
Cons – Sleeping on your stomach may be considered the worst sleeping position, as it causes overarching of your spine. Lying on your stomach does not support the natural curve of your spine and puts a strain on the lumbar spine and other joints and muscles, leading to pain and numbness.
It also forces your neck to be rotated in one direction or the other in tight and closed positions, which strains your neck and restricts proper breathing and blood circulation. This position is strictly not recommended for those who suffer from neck or back pain.
For obese people, this type of sleeping puts extra pressure on internal organs like the lungs.
Plus, even after enjoying a restful sleep on your stomach, you may feel sore or develop a stiff neck or neck pain during the daytime.
A 2015 study published in Neurology observed that people with epilepsy are more likely to die unexpectedly while sleeping on their stomachs.
If you love to sleep on your stomach, try a somewhat side-sleeping position by wedging a pillow between your stomach and the mattress. This will make you more comfortable than side sleeping alone and also prevent you from rolling onto your belly while asleep.