If you’ve ever heard someone say “sleep is overrated,” think again! For something we spend up to a third of our lives doing, it’s not such a simple thing. Both sleeping too much and sleeping too little have been linked to a number of health problems, from obesity and heart disease to dementia and diabetes. Furthermore, sleep can play a role in snoring, heartburn, and even wrinkles! Here are your choices from best to worst, complete with pros and cons…I’ll leave it up to you to decide which is best for you.
Sleeping On Your Back:
Pros: The vast majority of doctors agree that this is your best sleeping position, especially for neck and spine health, because the back is straight and not forced into any contortions. This position also helps the mattress do its intended job of supporting the spine. In a perfect (and most likely uncomfortable) world, everyone would sleep on their backs without a pillow, since this position leaves the neck in a neutral positions. Those who use too many pillows, however, may make breathing more difficult. Cosmetically, back sleepers don’t have their face smoothed up against a pillow, so this may actually lead to fewer facial wrinkles. And for anyone suffering from neck pain, simply rolling up a towel and inserting it in your pillowcase can provide much needed support for your neck. Similarly, for those of you with lower back pain, rolling up a blanket and placing it under your knees can help you get the restful sleep you may be lacking.
Cons: Snoring and episodes of sleep apnea are much more common when you sleep on your back. In fact, if you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, then sleeping on your side is the preferred sleep position. When we sleep on our back, gravity forces the base of the tongue to collapse into the airway, leading to obstructed breathing and snoring.
Sleeping On Your Side:
Pros: Whether curled up in a fetal position or lying straight on one side, this position seems to be the most popular with the masses! Doctors encourage sleeping on the left side during pregnancy since it improves circulation to the heart. Side sleeping is also encouraged during pregnancy as sleeping on your back can increase pressure on your lower back due to the added weight, and sleeping on your stomach is, well, impossible for obvious reasons. For those of you not expecting, sleeping on the left side can also help to ease acid reflux and heartburn, making it easier for those individuals with these conditions to doze off.
Cons: However, sleeping on the left side can increase pressure on the stomach and lungs, so the best thing would be to alternate sides to prevent organ strain. Also, side-sleepers can often awaken with pins-and-needles in the arm they’ve been lying on, since resting the head (or the whole body) on a single arm can restrict blood flow and compress nerves. In this position a lot of stress is placed on the shoulder, leading to possible tightening and constriction of the neck and shoulder muscles.
Sleeping On Your Stomach:
Cons: Sleeping on your stomach is generally regarded as your worst sleeping position. It reduces and flattens the natural curve of your spine, potentially leading to increased back pain. Sleeping all night with your head turned to one side is not good for the neck, either. However, if this does happen to be your preferred sleeping position, then try using pillows to gradually train the body to sleep on one side. In the event that you start to experience lower back discomfort, try putting a pillow under your hips and lower abdomen to help support the base of the spine and keep the natural curve in your lower back from flattening out.
So, What’s The Verdict?
Individuals tend to sleep in the position that they find most comfortable, regardless of health benefits. There’s no harm in experimenting with different sleeping positions, so feel free to try each position for a couple of nights to see which is the best fit for you. Whether it’s back, side, or stomach people tend to awaken in the position that their bodies naturally snooze in. Unless a doctor or Physical Therapist specifically recommends switching, it’s probably best to keep doing what feels right for you.
If you or someone you know is having difficulty sleeping because of pain, don’t wait to take action. Call my office at once at (302)691-9055 or visit my website at www.wildermanphysicaltherapy.com to schedule a Free 30 minute consultation to see how Physical Therapy can help. Don’t wait–schedule now!