Sleep Positions: What You Need to Know

Daily Health Solutions, Featured Article, Healthy Living, Sleep
on June 12, 2012

The position in which you sleep can significantly impact both the quality of rest as well as how you feel in the morning. Here are the three most common sleep positions and how they can impact your overall health.

Back Sleeping
For most people, on the best sleep position is on the back. This position keeps your neck and spine in their natural position. When you sleep on your back, it is important to keep your neck supported so that it stays in alignment with your head. This can be accomplished with a fluffy pillow or a special pillow that slightly lifts your neck. To further enhance the neutral position of your back, use a small pillow under your knees to alleviate stress on your hips.

In addition to being the best position for your back and neck, the back position also helps prevent gastroesophageal reflux because your stomach sits lower than your esophagus when your head is slightly elevated.

Side Sleeping
For folks who snore, back sleeping is not always the best option. If you snore while you sleep, the best sleep position for you is on your side. In this position, it is even more important to put a large fluffy pillow under your neck to support your head. The average adult head weighs approximately 10 pounds, and this weight, if not supported, can cause significant strain on your neck and shoulders.

For optimal alignment of your back and hips while side sleeping, use a small pillow between your knees. People with joint pain will feel more of the beneficial effects of proper hip placement during the night.

For pregnant women, side-sleeping, especially on the left side, is ideal for comfort  and the promotion of blood flow. The normal position of the growing baby within the pelvis is just anterior to the vena cava, which is the largest vein in your body. As the baby grows and rests on this vein, it can block the mother’s blood flow and impair circulation. Lying on your left side will prevent this blockage by letting the baby rest to the side of this large vein.

Left-sided sleeping is also beneficial for those who have gastric reflux because the natural curvature of the stomach is in the leftward direction; lying on that side allows food to settle in the stomach rather than flow backward toward the esophagus.
Bear in mind two downsides to side sleeping: Sleeping on your side can generate facial wrinkles from compression of the pillow against your face. What’s more, the way women’s breasts fall during the night while in this position can cause them to sag.

Stomach Sleeping
Stomach sleeping presents the most health issues because it requires you to sleep with your head turned to one side, putting undue stress on your spine and neck and potentially compressing nerves in your neck. Stomach sleeping also restricts airflow because your body weight is essentially resting on your diaphragm and chest muscles.

If you must sleep on your stomach—or if you frequently wake up to find yourself sleeping that way—try sleeping without a pillow to allow your head to rest in a more neutral position relative to your neck and back.