What sleeping position do you find yourself in most often when you go to sleep? Do you lay on your side with your arms pinned down? Or maybe on your stomach like an abalone stuck to a rock? As it turns out, a whopping 47% of all Americans sleep like babies — not in the sleep-through-the-night sense, but in a fetal position, curled up like a ball. But what is the best sleeping position for you? What are the pros and cons of each option and how can you get the most out of each option? Let’s dive in!
Sleeping On Your Back
A tried-and-true classic, laying on your back with your arms up near your head or down by your side is favored by roughly 18% of all sleepers. But also, this is how Dracula sleeps in his coffin, which is a good sign that… ya know, maybe it’s not the best? On the plus side, though, if you suffer from musculoskeletal or sciatica pains, sleeping on your back can help a lot by distributing and therefore relieving pressure on your skeleton. It’s also the best sleep position for those who have the foot or ankle swelling. When laying on your back, it is easier to prop your feet up so that they’re above your heart, improving circulation. While notably helpful if you struggle from back or neck pains because of the rigidity and straightness of your spine in this position, there are downsides.
Folks who have trouble breathing when they sleep find themselves worse off. If you have a soft palate or less-than-toned neck muscles, the relaxed additional weight against your neck and throat can increase your propensity to snore, which can make you more prone to sleep apnea. This sleep position is also bad for those with acid reflux issues, especially if you’re overweight, because the weight of your stomach pressing down can drive acid into the esophagus. If you suffer from either acid reflux or snoring, there’s a better sleep option for you.
Advanced Technique: Pillow/Rolled Up Towel
If you do enjoy sleeping on your back but find that sometimes your lower back or hips need a little extra support (or just feel stiff in the morning), try putting a pillow or rolled up towel under the back of your knees. It’ll help with the natural joint bend in your legs and allow the bed to support your lower back better!
Sleeping On Your Side
Left vs Right
While sleeping on your side lets you avoid the adverse effects of supine sleep (on your back), there are some notable differences between how your body reacts to sleeping on your left or right side.
When sleeping on your left side, there is increased pressure (and strain) on the heart from the weight of the lungs resting against it. Having pressure against your kidneys from left side sleeping can increase your need to urinate at night, interrupting your sleep and negatively affecting your REM cycles.
As a right-side sleeper, gravity shifting your internal organs in the other direction and you face the possible issue of decreased lung volume, which may cause shallow breathing or even strains on your cardiovascular system by compromising your blood oxygen levels.
Sleeping on only one side can be detrimental too, because the body shifts and adjusts to your sleep position over time, which can cause hip or spine curvature issues, so don’t be afraid to flip flop every once in a while!
It might sound like there’s no good way to sleep without hurting yourself but rest assured (see what I did there?) that side sleeping is the best sleep position — it has benefits drastically outweigh the unlikely negatives.
Side Sleeping is #1 — Here’s Why!
Sleeping on your side is the best sleep position because of these numerous benefits:
- Your spine’s naturally-occurring curvature is supported, which can help reduce neck and back pain. When you lay on your side, you’re not putting pressure on your spine to align with anything other than your body’s normal shape. This makes it the best sleeping position for lower back pain.
- Without the additional weight of your neck and throat tissues weighing down on your esophagus, you’ll reduce your snoring and your risk of developing sleep apnea. This allows you (and your partner) to sleep through the night easier!
- Left-side sleeping may help minimize acid reflux disease and, if you’re pregnant, improve circulation to the fetus.
- This is one of the best couple sleeping positions — you not only get to spoon when you’re both on your sides, but you won’t have to fight for space on the bed!
- Sleeping on your side with a proper pillow (one that supports your neck) will help you to reduce neck strain, especially if you’re prone to headaches.
Classic Variant: Fetal Position
There are lots of variant positions in the side sleeping subcategory (arms out, glued to your sides, crossed, above your head, etc.) but the fetal position is the most common — it’s favored by 47% of American sleepers, and not just because we’re big babies. Curling up so your hips rise closer to your chest can help with circulation, but more than anything it’s comfortable (and if Sigmund Freud has anything to say about it, it provides the allusion of childlike safety). It may not be the healthiest for you because it can constrict breathing (particularly in heavier folks), but comfort factor does matter, especially if it results in a full night’s sleep.
Advanced Technique: Pillow Supplementation
Regardless of how you’re sleeping on your side, a pillow can help support your body’s natural weight. Having a pillow between your knees and thighs supports your joints and helps to alleviate hip pain from the natural relaxation of your legs. If you don’t like sleeping on your side because it torques your hip, throw a pillow down there and feel the difference!
Sleeping On Your Stomach
Tummy Time — is it just for babies? Across the board, sleeping on your stomach is not suggested! It’s the least common sleep position and probably for good reason — it puts a lot of strain on your body. When you lay on your stomach you have to turn your head to the side to breathe, which not only strains your neck but your shoulder and upper back as well. Pressure on your lungs (because the diaphragm and rib cage are constricted) leads to shallow breathing, and tucking your arms under you can cause excessive pressure on your nerves. On the plus side, however, laying on your stomach can help alleviate snoring issues, but why not try something comfortable to solve your snoring issue?
Side Sleeping is the best sleep position! The benefits are clear and will be immediately noticeable if you switch from supine sleeping. If you have hip or back pains, you may just alleviate them with a simple change in how you sleep at night. Just remember to flip flop here and there to keep your body even, in the same way that you wouldn’t work out just one side of your body. Go forth and sleep better!