Sometimes it seems finding the best sleep position can be as elusive as capturing a unicorn. Especially on those nights when you think you’ve done everything right to set yourself up for a great night’s sleep, but you still find yourself tossing and turning.
Most of us may have a favorite sleep position that helps us fall asleep initially, but we don’t stay in that same position all night. That’s because many of us are combination sleepers, meaning we change sleep positions throughout the night.
And here’s something many of us don’t realize: our preferred sleep position might be causing health problems or aggravating issues that we didn’t think were affected by the way we sleep. Here are some common sleep positions and their effect on the body:
The Side Sleeper
Did you know that more than 4 out of 10 people favor curling up on their side to sleep? It’s especially popular among women, who are twice as likely as men to sleep in this position. It also happens to be a good position for pregnant women because it prevents the uterus from pressing against the liver and improves circulation to the baby.
The side position allows the spine to rest in a neutral, state, aiding in a natural alignment that reduces pressure. Research says the side, or fetal, position could ward off Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. Even better in the side position is to allow yourself to stretch out a little – rather than curled up – to relax the back and open up the lungs to improve breathing.
If you sleep on your side with arms down and back mostly straight, you’re a log sleeper. Sleep experts say this position can reduce sleep apnea as well as neck and back pain because the spine stays pretty much in alignment.
For a little more comfort and benefit to the body, place a soft pillow between the knees to prevent the back from twisting slightly.
Similar to the Log sleeper, the Soldier position is flat on the back with arms by the side. This position can cause snoring and is not good for folks who have sleep apnea or back issues. Snoring can disrupt your sleep and leads to thickening of the carotid artery which supplies blood to your brain, face and neck.
On the stomach with arms on either side of your head or tucked under the pillow, the freefall position can be bad news for the neck and low back, especially if the head is resting on a pillow. Spinal alignment is key to a healthy sleep position and the on-the-tummy position is hardest on spine. One way to reduce the stress on your neck (and spine) is to try a low loft or pillow, or position the pillow slightly under your forehead and sleep facing the mattress so you can breathe.
The Bottom Line
The reality is it’s very hard to break a habit and change your favorite sleep position even if you know it’s not great for your body. One important thing you can do is consider investing in a mattress that will help you alleviate issues. If your bed is firm, you might consider a more plush or hybrid mattress that adapts better to some of the common sleep positions. Also choose a new or additional pillow that will improve spinal alignment.