Hand’s up anyone who has had a bad night’s sleep. Is this something that you really battle with? Do you wish that you could be one of those “good” sleepers?
Do you toss and turn, unable to find the ideal sleeping position? It turn’s out some sleeping positions are better, and some are worse for allowing deep sleep.
According to a report by Dr. Thomas Roth, P.H.D. around one in three people reading this article will suffer from one of the symptoms of insomnia.
The report goes on to say that around about 40% of cases are as a result of a psychological issue, such as stress, anxiety, or depression, for example. But what about the rest? Do you fall into the latter category?
It can be very frustrating to lie awake at night worrying about paying bills but at least you know why you aren’t nodding off. What is more annoying is when you are tired and desperate to sleep but just can’t seem to get comfortable – you’re not worried about anything in particular, but sleep eludes you.
Is it because of your sleeping position? Is there some other reason you cannot sleep?
In this article, we will look at the best sleeping positions (and worst), and why this migh tbe holding you back from a great night’s sleep.
Rating The Different Sleep Positions
A lot of people believe that sleeping on your back is the best option for you. It is certainly comfortable and allows the maximum distribution of your weight. If you have the right mattress/ pillow combination, the spine is wholly supported, and you have better pressure relief.
It’s also for the skin of your face – with little to no contact with the pillow, there is less chance of friction. This reduces the chances of developing wrinkles.
That’s the good, now for the bad.
The higher the pillow you use, the more you compress the cervical vertebrae when sleeping. This can lead to severe neck pain that worsens over time, poor posture and even the need for surgical intervention.
Let’s look at the ugly.
Sleeping on your back increases the chances of you snoring and suffering from sleep apnea. Now, aside from the risk of your sleep-deprived spouse murdering you in your sleep to stop your snoring, there can be serious risks involved in sleeping this way.
Sleep apnea reduces the rate of oxygenation in the blood and can increase your chances of having a heart attack or stroke.
Most people feel that lying on their side is the healthiest sleeping position. It is also one of the most comfortable sleeping positions for many.
Pregnant women are encouraged to lie on their left side when asleep to prevent circulatory issues. The pressure of the growing fetus makes back-sleeping more uncomfortable and can cause the mother to faint.
If you battle with acid reflux, sleeping on your left side may help ease the symptoms.
That’s the good, now let’s have a look at the bad.
You are applying a lot of pressure to the hips and shoulders and, if you choose the wrong cushioning for your head, your spine will be out of alignment. This could lead to pain in the neck upon waking.
By lying on one arm, you could restrict the blood supply down it and wake up with an arm that feels numb. This quickly changes as the unpleasant sensation of pins and needles takes over.
Now for the ugly.
Over time, the increased pressure on the shoulder and the angle of the neck can cause the muscles to spasm and become painful.
There is a lot of debate about whether you ought to rest on your back or your side. One thing most people agree on is that side-sleeping, while comfortable, is not one of the best sleeping positions for you.
The good thing is that it reduces the chances of you snoring and puts you at a lower risk of sleep apnea.
The rest is both bad and ugly. Some might call it the worst sleeping position. Stomach-sleeping is unnatural, and it pulls your spine out of alignment. This pretty much guarantees that you will have pain in the lower back.
The strain on the neck is also increased because it is turned to one side and has a lot more pressure on it in this position.
If you have had a substantial meal or suffer from acid reflux, stomach-sleeping is going to be uncomfortable or even painful.
Ideal Sleeping Position For Different Medical Issues
There is some debate as to what the proper sleeping position is when it comes to back pain. Any of the methods outlined below will offer relief. Try them out and see which works best for you.
- Lay on your side and put a pillow between your knees to help realign the spine.
- Curl up into the fetal position to help stretch out the vertebrae in the spine and help ease tension in it.
- Try back-sleeping but place a cushion under your knees to help distribute your weight more evenly and help with spinal alignment.
The key here is to help provide support for the back and to ease the muscle spasming gently. This can be achieved by gently stretching out the tense muscles but ease into it. If you try to stretch too much, you run the risk of greater spasming.
If neck pain is what troubles you, try laying down with a small towel rolled up behind your neck. You want the cloth just to support the neck so that the head and shoulders rest flush against the bed without adding additional pressure to the neck. If your neck is arching, or your shoulders are raised, you have taken it too far.
Sleeping like this can be helpful in easing a sore neck. If you prefer side-sleeping, you might need to adjust your pillow. In this instance, you want the neck to be parallel to the bed. If there is too much padding, your head will be elevated, and this puts the muscles in an unnatural position.
Too little padding has the same effect, the neck will not be adequately supported, and the muscles will be in an unnatural position. If either position is repeated night after night, it could cause the compressed muscles to shorten and throw off your posture.
If you experience neck issues at night, check out our neck pain pillow buyer’s guide.
When it comes to arm pain, there are a few different approaches that could be effective. You will need to go by which feels best for you as two of these really are opposites.
The first option and one that should work in most cases is to rest on the arm that is free of pain with that arm extended out in front of you. Keep your knees a little bent.
Find a cushion or a soft toy, etc. that you can hug and that will support the sore arm nicely, holding it up and a little away from the body.
Alternatively, do the exact opposite. Compression can help in some cases so rest on the arm that is sore. If the pain eases, stay that way all night.
A final alternative is to stretch out on your back, with nothing restricting either of your arms. This works because there is no muscle strain.
If you have scoliosis, these suggestions may be helpful. Let your body guide you or consult your health care practitioner if you want to try these.
The primary treatment is to help the spine realign and to ease pressure on it. If you have a curve in the upper back, you can place a thin pad between your shoulders to relieve the pain when you are stretched out on your mattress.
If the curve is in the lower back, you will need to experiment with pad placement. When on your back, this will be either just above or below the lower back. A hand-towel rolled up and placed under the neck can help too.
If you want to rest on one side, put a pad or folded towel between your knees. This should help in either lower or upper back curve.
It is essential that this process not be painful. If it is, consult your doctor before continuing.
Kyphosis is a condition that is managed. If it is structural kyphosis, there is not as much you can do about it. However, functional kyphosis, the form that many sufferers have, is mainly caused by bad posture. If left too long, functional kyphosis can become structural and more difficult to manage so your sleep posture is also essential.
To get this right, an orthopedic pillow can make a big difference. You will need to get one made especially for you though. If you don’t want to go this route, try stretching out at night on your back and use a folded towel or thinner pad to support your head and neck. Your shoulders should be on the bed at all times.
You can raise the knees a little with extra padding to release tension.
This is the best way to improve your posture if you have this condition.
Racing Mind (Anxiety)
If you are an anxious person at night while you try to sleep then give this experiment a try: Raise your arms up to shoulder height and open them as far as you can. How did that feel? Can you feel the tension easing a bit straight away?
When you are anxious or feeling very stressed out, you may tend to carry a lot of that stress in your shoulders. Laying down in the fetal position feels calming, but it is not suitable for relieving the tense shoulder muscles.
Try this tonight, when you go to bed, stretch yourself out. Open up those shoulders and let them sink into your mattress. You will find that this is a far better way to relax them.
As always, make sure that they are flush with the surface and not raised as this could cause more issues for you later on.
Is there anything worse than the throbbing ache of sciatica pain? It never seems to comply, does it and can make it tough to get a decent night’s rest. You will benefit the most here if you lie on your back in order to even out the pressure.
Bend your knees and slide your feet up until your heels are touching the bed. Add cushioning to the gap until you get a comfortable level of support. This may not work the first night, or even the second night but sciatica should start to ease off reasonably soon if you are diligent with the application of this.
Side-sleeping is really not your friend here but if you feel you must, help alleviate the tension by placing some padding between your knees.
Aside from that, check that your bed is offering the support that you need. Support with a good deal of pressure relief is what you are after.
The best sleeping position for women who are pregnant is side-sleeping. During the first trimester, before you start to show, it doesn’t matter as much, but as that belly begins to grow, you’ll naturally want to avoid back-sleeping.
Stick to your left side when at rest and you will find that there is less pressure on the bladder, making you more comfortable. As the belly gets bigger, placing a cushion underneath it for support will help to relieve the stress of the abdomen pulling away from the body in the side posture.
Stomach-sleeping is contraindicated for a pregnant woman, especially as the pregnancy advances because it crushes the fetus and places a lot of extra pressure on the spinal column and neck. You may also find that a knee pad is useful.
According to an article in Women’s Health Mag, sleep specialist, Priyanka Yadav recommends that you be a side-sleeper if you want to ease digestive issues such as heartburn or indigestion. More particularly, keep to the left because this is when there is less pressure placed on the esophageal sphincter.
The more pressure on this area, the higher the likelihood that stomach acid can seep into the throat and cause irritation. Keep the legs slightly bent to help even more.
He also says that the best sleeping position for men and women with severe heartburn that will not respond to the abovementioned treatment is on their back but with one difference – the head should be elevated. So, either tilt the bed up or add more pillows and sleep with the shoulders raised as well.
In this position, the stomach acid cannot seep into the throat. The acid will level out and remain in the stomach where it belongs.
Ways To Improve
Get a Mattress That Matches Your Needs
Choosing the right mattress is the first step. You need to select a bed that adequately supports your body, and that offers some pressure relief as well. In the past, if you had a backache, you would have been told to go for something firmer, but newer research is showing that it is just as essential to relieve pressure points and allow for deep compression.
Something that has a medium firmness rating is usually the best idea because they suit a range of conditions. You could always use a topper if you want a bit more luxury as well.
Memory foam offers some compelling benefits regarding increased comfort without sacrificing too much regarding support.
As with all things, it is best to do some research into which brands offer the best value and products. Look for ones that have consistently good ratings, and that stand up well over time.
Same Goes for a Pillow
Your choice here is going to be a lot more dependent on your preferred sleeping posture. With your bed, you can get away with something that is less customized, but the same is not true when it comes to what cradles your head.
Be guided by the position of your neck. It should always be as close to natural as possible. If you lie on your side, you’ll need a pillow with more height, and that is a little more on the dense side. If on your stomach, you should probably not use anything.
With a back-sleeper, a less dense material is required, and the height should also be lowered.
Put some careful thought into your pillow this selection as this can make a massive difference to your comfort and spinal health as well. Choose something that has a breathable cover, and that will hold up well over time. And a product that is easy to wash and dry as well.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is There A Sleeping Position That Will Help Me Lose Weight?
While there is not one specific posture that will help you to lose weight while you are actually sleeping, making sure that you get the proper level of support will ensure that have a restful night and this can aid weight loss.
According to the Mayo Clinic, studies have shown that sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain. It is believed that the reason for this is that the hormones that control hunger, leptin, and ghrelin, are affected by how many Z’s we get nightly.
It’s simple – the more fatigued you are, the more energy you need and the more food you need to eat. In the studies, those who were sleep-deprived ate more throughout the next day.
There is more to it, though. You are also more likely to make unhealthy food choices. This is both because the fatigue makes it harder to exert normal willpower and because your body is craving a higher-calorie fix for energy.
Do Men and Women Have The Same Preferred Position?
Not really, though it seems that men may be more likely to be stomach- or back-sleepers and women are more likely to be side-sleepers. Overall all though, it generally evens out with members of both sexes choosing the style that suits them best.
Having a partner in bed with you may get you change this, though. Logistically, with two of you in the bed, it is harder to take up more space. If you snore, your partner might also get a few jabs in and plead with you to roll onto your side.
Man, or woman, though, you will opt for comfort.
What Does My Position Say About My Personality?
Your posture at night is thought to give a fascinating insight into your character, according to an article by the BBC. This was based on a study conducted in Britain. The results are interesting.
- Fetal position: You are a softie inside and likely to be shy when meeting someone. Around about 41% of people surveyed fell into this category.
- Log (A side-sleeper with your arms at your side): You might be more likely to fall for a scam. You are more trusting and easy going.
- Soldier (A Back-sleeper with your arms close to your side): You don’t make much of a fuss and have exacting standards.
- Freefall (A stomach-sleeper): You have a nervous energy and are sensitive to criticism. You are likely to be sociable.
- Starfish (A back-sleeper with arms up): You are a good companion and help others.
Should I Sleep On My Left Side If I Have Acid Reflux?
According to my research, the answer to that question is, “Usually.” As mentioned before, this will alleviate the pressure on the esophageal sphincter muscle and make it harder for stomach acid to slip through and affect your food pipe.
It is the acid that causes the burning sensation that is so painful.
There are going to be times, however, when this is not going to be enough. When acid reflux is very severe, you may need to sleep in a more upright position in order to find relief.
Both methods will help to ensure that the stomach acid stays where it is supposed to.
That’s all folks. The position that you sleep in has a significant impact on the quality of your sleep and can also impact your health. Getting this wrong could mean that you increase your chances of developing sleep apnea, and, consequently, having a heart attack or stroke, or digestive and spinal issues.
The consensus is that you need to put a lot of thought into how you sleep and what you sleep on. Choose a bed and cushions that work well in conjunction with the posture you usually adopt.
Your mattress should provide a mixture of support and comfort. If it is too hard, your body will be supported, but you won’t get much in the way of pressure relief. If it is too soft, you could experience severe spinal problems.
The different sleeping positions all have the pros and cons, and these should be considered carefully for health reasons.