Americans are sleeping less and less. The number of people who get less than six hours of sleep per night, the absolute minimum recommended by researchers, is estimated to be around 33 percent of the population according to Science News.
While it’s obvious that having devices around us all the time, including in bed, has become a big distraction, there’s something even more basic to consider—your sleep position.
That’s right; how we place ourselves in bed can have a major effect not just on how well we sleep but on our long-term health. So today, we’ll look at the various sleep positions and see what each of them could be doing to your body.
Whatever you do, don't sleep on your stomach.
For many people, sleeping on their stomach is the most comfortable position. Interestingly enough, this often corresponds to people who were placed on their bellies when they were babies. In the past, mothers were advised by pediatricians and baby books to do this.
Unfortunately, research now clearly shows that this just isn’t a good position for restful sleep. The problem has to do with the neck and head, primarily. In order to continue breathing, your neck has to be turned one way or the other, and this leads to straining the base of the neck.
As Dr. Andrew Bang explained to the Cleveland Clinic, “imagine standing and looking one way for two or three hours at a time. Stretching your neck muscle for that long creates soreness.”
Why you shouldn’t sleep on your stomach: https://t.co/DoJDA8shQr
— Cleveland Clinic (@ClevelandClinic) July 21, 2018
Another problem with stomach sleeping is that many people will bend one knee up toward their torso to spread the weight more evenly. But Dr. Andrew Bang advises patients: “avoid bringing one leg up. It can lead to soreness by torquing your hips and low back.”
Overall, stomach sleeping isn’t a great option. As Dr. Carol Ash told TODAY, “if you have health or breathing problems, stomach sleeping can be a problem, but if you enjoy it, sleep on your stomach if it gives you good rest.”
Side sleeping is recommended by sleep researchers as being the most restorative for your body and your mind. “When you sleep on your side, you actually clear out proteins and toxins that build up from the day that we know can be associated with neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s,” as Dr. Ash told TODAY.
According to an Australian study on sleep positions, sleeping on the side “significantly protected against waking cervical, scapular and arm pain and significantly promoted high sleep quality ratings.”
One sleep position in particular can even potentially help fight Alzheimer's.
However, there are better and worse ways to sleep on your side. You don’t want to bend your chin into your chest, as this is an unnatural position for your neck. Rather, according to Dr. Andrew Bang, you should make sure that your neck is in good alignment with your shoulder.
“When you’re standing with ideal posture looking at the horizon, your ear hole should line up with your shoulders.” This will keep you from getting twisted and contorted.
Though for most people it doesn’t really matter which side you sleep on, it does make a difference for women who are pregnant. For mothers-to-be, it’s best to sleep on the left as that maintains good circulation through the reproductive systems.
Finally, sleeping on your back can be very comfortable for some people, especially since the weight of your body is evenly distributed. You’re not going to have problems with a twisted neck or spine, as everything is straight and in line.
However, it’s important to think about your bedding and especially your pillows in this position. In waking life, our neck has a natural curve, like a banana or the letter c. If your pillow is too hard, then your neck won’t be able to curve, pushing your chin up and making breathing difficult.
However, memory foam pillows, which adjust to conform to the natural shape of your body, will have enough give to make space for your neck.
Now that you know what the benefits and risks are of each position, you can start to train yourself for the best sleep. Not only will you be preparing yourself for all the challenges of the day, but you will be helping your body and mind get the rest they need for a long life.