Can sleep posture affect the quality of your sleep and health?
Researchers suggests that sleeping positions can provide clues to our personalities, our mental and physical status. Fatigue, sleep apnea, headaches, heartburn, and back pain are some of the complaints that can be aggravated by improper sleep posture and a bad night’s sleep, says Steven Park, MD.
Getting a good night’s sleep is pivotal for our health, body, mind, and our mood, especially since we spend one-third of our lives asleep. While it is recommended every adult get seven to eight hours of sleep per night, according to the National Sleep Foundation, for many of us this is easier said than done. Sleep difficulty can be caused by a number of things, ranging from eating or drinking the wrong things before bed to our sleep position.
“Eighty percent of the population will have back problems at some point in their lives oftentimes caused or aggravated by the way they sleep,” Dr. Hooman Melamed, an orthopedic and spine surgeon. This suggests our p.m. pose could be the cause of our back and neck pain, stomach troubles, and even premature aging.
“You’re naturally going to gravitate toward a position that you feel best sleeping in,” Park says. You’ll also tend to choose one based on how well you’re able to breathe. “The smaller the airway in your throat becomes at night, the more likely it is you’re going to sleep on your stomach,” he says. You may want to experiment with different positions, but Park advises against switching from your natural inclination unless there’s a health condition that calls for it.
Some common sleeping positions and how they affect on your health
- On Your Back, Arms at Sides
Sleeping on your back with your arms at your side is generally considered to be the best sleeping position for spine health and it’s good for your neck, too, as long as you don’t use too many pillows.
- On Your Back, Arms Up
This so-called “starfish” position is also good for the back. However, having your arms up can put pressure on nerves in your shoulders, leading to pain.
“You are in the best position as your spine stays in natural alignment all night long,” Melamed said.
- Face Down
Sleeping on your stomach can improve digestion but it can put a lot of strain on the neck. Sleeping face down can also cause back pain, as the curve of the spine is not supported.
“It forces your neck to be in a rotated, closed pack, tight position, which also compromises your breathing and circulation,” Eisenstadt said.
- Fetal Position
The extreme curl of the fetal position might be one of the worst sleeping positions to consider as it can do a number on your back and neck. It can also restrict deep breathing.
- On Side, Arms at Sides
When you’re sleeping on your side with both arms down can definitely help reduce back and neck pain while also reducing sleep apnea. However, sleeping on the side can contribute to skin aging due to gravity, meaning facial wrinkles and sagging breasts.
- On Side, Arms Out
This position has many of the same benefits of sleeping on your side with your arms straight down. However, any side sleeping can cause shoulder and arm pain due to restricted blood flow and pressure on the nerves.
- On the Right Side
If you’re a side-sleeper, which side you sleep on also makes a difference. Sleeping on the right side can worsen heartburn while sleeping on the left side can put strain on internal organs like the liver, lungs, and stomach (while minimizing acid reflux).
- On the Left Side
Research suggests sleeping on the left side can relieve heartburn symptoms, while right-side sleeping makes them worse. Sleeping on the left side is also recommended during pregnancy to improve circulation to the heart – good for mom and baby.