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A Guide to How Your Sleep Position Affects Your Health & Wellness

by Mitchell Chitiz |

You probably don’t give much thought to your sleep posture...until it becomes a problem. Maybe it’s a kink in your neck or relentless heartburn, or maybe it’s just a feeling of restlessness. Sleep deprivation or pain has a way of making you rethink how you get your shut-eye.

Well, the truth is in the way you sleep just as much as how much sleep you get. And in a world where getting regular, refreshing sleep is more of a challenge than ever, compromising your sleep because of poor resting position isn’t worth the hassle.  

But you can spare yourself from the effects of poor sleeping posture. This guide is here to help you learn how different sleeping postures affect your health and how to adapt to your ideal position. 

 

Quick Facts About Sleep Quality & Its Relationship to Sleep Position

Before dissecting the pros and cons of various sleep positions, there are a few “fun facts” you should know about sleeping. The better you understand how sensitive you are to sleep, the more likely you are to see the impact of posture on your sleep quality and wellbeing.

 

Fun Facts About Sleep

  • Ideally, falling asleep at night should only take you 10-15 minutes
  • Pain tolerance is reduced by sleep deprivation
  • 1 in 4 couples sleep in separate beds
  • Snoring affects up to 90 million American adults
  • 36% of Americans drive drowsy or fall asleep while driving
  • Scientists have linked personality type with sleep position

How does this relate to sleep posture?

Well, your sleep position can influence how long it takes you to fall asleep, whether you’ll snore or not, and the quality of your sleep as well, which will affect your energy and mood throughout the day.

Of course, your sleep posture can affect your spouse as well since you might keep them up with your tossing and turning, or your snoring (assuming that you have these issues). So, it makes sense for you to find your best sleep position.

 

Three Main Sleeping Positions & Their Variations

The three main sleeping positions you can adopt are back sleeping, side sleeping, and stomach sleeping.

We’ve discussed some of the pros and cons of side sleeping and stomach sleeping  in previous posts, but it’s worth revisiting their effects once again. Remember too, that any one of these positions can be “good” or “bad” depending on your current state of health, as well as other factors.

 

 Sleeping on your back Sleeping on your side Sleeping on your stomach

Pros

  • Prevents acid reflux & heartburn
  • Easier to keep your spin properly aligned
  • Prevents wrinkles and sagging (since excess weight is not placed on one side of your body)
  • Prevents neck and shoulder pain

Pros

  • Easy to keep your spine properly aligned
  • Prevents acid reflux & heartburn
  • Prevents snoring and sleep apnea (since airways are more open)
  • Supports fetal health (especially during the second and third trimester of pregnancy)

Pros

  • Prevents snoring and sleep apnea

 

 

 

 

 

Cons

  • Worsens snoring and sleep apnea (due to restricted airways)
  • Can cause lower back pain in some individuals 

 

 

Cons

  • Causes wrinkles and breast sag (due to excess weight placed on one side)
  • Can worsen arthritis symptoms (fetal only)
  • Can prevent deep breathing (fetal only)

 

Cons 

  • Causes wrinkles and breast sag
  • Pulls spine out of natural alignment
  • Creates pressure on muscles, joints and soft tissues
  • May lead to back and neck pain

 

 

As you can see, different positions can have different effects on your body. Sleeping on your back or side are the healthier options out of three while sleeping on your stomach is regarded as more problematic. Even then, there are variations on these postures, which too, can affect the quality of your sleep.

 

Variation of Back Sleep

The three main types of back sleep positions are the soldier, starfish and savasana (a pose which is adopted in yoga).

Common back sleep positions

The soldier and savasana positions are similar, except for the fact that in the soldier position, a sleeper keeps their leg bent. Both the soldier and savasana positions help to evenly distribute your weight, effectively reducing the pressure on your spine and back.

The caveat of the soldier position, however, is that it can worsen snoring, especially in those who have sleep apnea because the tongue gets pulled downward in this position.

The starfish position also distributes your body weight fairly evenly, so that there isn’t too much pressure on your joints and muscles. With that said, keeping your arms above your head for a sustained period of time can cause shoulder pain or discomfort.

 

Variations of Side Sleep

The three main types of side sleep positions are the log, fetal and yearner positions.

Side sleeper positions

The log is an ideal position for maintaining a healthy spinal alignment, and it reduces excess pressure on your back and neck. However, your top leg will not receive the same amount of support as your lower leg, and that could lead to some hip pain.

The fetal position is a very popular one - you likely know or have seen a family member or friend sleep this way - and for good reason.

It takes the pressure off of your vital organs, greatly reduces snoring and, very appropriately, the fetal position is a blessing for pregnant women since it is comfortable and supports fetal health. The main disadvantage of the fetal position is that it can strain your neck and back, causing aches and stiffness.

Lastly, there is the “yearner” position. It offers similar benefits to the log and fetal position by reducing the strain on your neck and back, helping with alignment, and it’s helpful for those with breathing problems. However, the yearner position can aggravate arthritis symptoms.

 

Variations of Stomach Sleep

Stomach sleep positions aren’t as varied as the back or side sleep positions. The main variation on an otherwise straightened posture is the freefall position.

The freefall position is a common stomach sleep position

The freefall position can put sleepers in a conundrum of sorts because it can be equally comfortable as it is uncomfortable. For a spouse who has had to endure months or years of snoring, the freefall position can be a blessing because it can eliminate snoring altogether. For the sleeper, laying in this position can feel very relaxing.  

But that’s where it ends - sleeping on the stomach like this can cause significant strain on the neck, back and shoulders, leading to pain and discomfort throughout the body later on.

 

Choosing a Sleep Position

Ultimately, choosing a sleeping position should boil down to comfort level, the state of your health, and the sleep quality you experience.

Comfort level is a no-brainer - if sleeping on your side, for example, presses on a painful shoulder, then avoid that position. But sleeping on your back feels like you’re floating on a cloud and you can fall asleep within minutes, then go for that position.

The state of your health is another important consideration as well. For example, if you are pregnant, then sleeping on your side will be more ideal than sleeping on your back. Or, if you have hip pains, then you can still sleep on your side, but maybe not in the log position.

Your current health circumstances will play a significant role in how your sleep position affects your wellbeing. Lastly, you should also choose a position that leaves you feeling refreshed in the morning.

For example, if you notice that you feel most energized and refreshed after a night in the fetal position, then it is likely to be one you should spend more time in. Remember, getting 7-8 hours of sleep is not the same as getting 7-8 hours of high-quality, refreshing sleep. Sleep quality and sleep quantity aren’t the same.  

Now, what if you’re dealing with complications. For example, let’s say you sleep better on your back, but your snoring keeps your SO (and maybe even the neighbours) up all night? Or what if you sleep best on your stomach, but worry that it may hurt you in the long run? The key to overcoming those challenges is to support your sleep positions with the right bedding.

 

Sleep Positions & Your Bedding

So, let’s say you’ve found the sleep position that’s just right for you - at least in terms of comfort. Or maybe, it’s not very comfortable, but it will prevent you from dealing with aches, pains or some other ailments.

You’re in a bedtime catch-22.

What do you do? The answer is relatively straightforward - you invest in better bedding, whether that be a different mattress, use of a special pillow, or even the use of your pillow. Since here at Westex we are in the business of making comfortable bedding, we will give you the 411 on what bedding you should choose based on your chosen sleep positions.

 

Your Sleep Position and Pillow Usage

 

  • Pillow Use for Back Sleepers - If you’re a back sleeper, you can help support natural spinal and body alignment by putting a pillow under your knees and the arch of your lower back. If, however, you have circulatory problems, DON’T put a pillow under your knees as this may contribute to deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Also, make sure to rest your head on a puffier pillow so that your head and neck stay aligned with your spine.
  • Pillow Use for Side Sleepers - For stomach sleepers, make sure to put a pillow under your waist (the side you sleep on). Also, put a pillow between your knees as this reduces direct pressure on the knees (when they’re on top of each other) which is helpful for those who have knee pain and stiffness. It also helps to align the hips and prevent over adduction.
  • Pillow Use for Stomach Sleepers - If you sleep on your stomach, you need to pay more attention to your posture and alignment than your back and side-sleeping counterparts. You need to place a pillow under your hips to prevent your spinal curves from being pulled too far out of alignment. This is important because stomach sleepers are more likely to suffer from this than back and side sleepers.

 

Get Sleep Positions Right & You’ll Sleep Tight

When you’re healthy, young or have no issues with sleep, the position in which you get shut-eye usually doesn’t warrant too much thought. However, when you miss a few nights of sound sleep for whatever reason, your sleep habits now suddenly demand some attention. But we think that you should take charge of your sleep position, regardless of how you feel.

Good sleep posture can not only alleviate pain and stiffness, but it can also prevent it and help you get deeper, more refreshing sleep. Make the effort to find your ideal position and the bedding to support that position. Your body and mind will thank you for it!

 

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