At the end of a long day do you sometimes feel like you could sleep anywhere? You could fall asleep at the kitchen table, on the bus, on your kid’s floor, or even on the toilet. But the best sleeping position has an impact on how you’ll feel tomorrow and on your health in the long run. If you’ve ever slept in a weird position only to wake up unable to turn your neck or bend over, then you know what we’re talking about. It’s not as simple as closing your eyes and drifting off to a peaceful slumber. You need to sleep in the right position if you want to get a good night’s sleep and you want to prevent back pain. According to Dr. Santhosh Thomas, DO, a spine specialist with the Cleveland Clinic and associate medical director of the Richard E. Jacobs Medical Center in Avon, Ohio, “any sleeping position has the potential to amplify back pain if you maintain it for too long.” And beyond that, if you don’t sleep in the right position you will not only experience pain but you also won’t get the rest you need. And “sleep deprivation is known to affect mood and functional ability and negatively impacts perception of pain.” We bet you’ll think twice about your sleep position when you lie down in your bed tonight.
So what is the best way to sleep? We all have a favorite position that we instinctively choose when we first hit the mattress. But is it the best sleep position to ensure a healthy spine and maintain back and neck support throughout the night? Here’s what you need to know about the best sleeping position (and the ones to avoid).
Sleeping on Your Side
If you’re a side sleeper, then you’re in luck because this is one of the best positions for your body. Sleeping on your side (so the side of your body is on the mattress, the side of your face is on your pillow, and typically one of your arms is under your pillow) is good because it has been shown to reduce acid reflux, prevent back and neck pain, minimize snoring, and it helps to elongate your spine. That said, this position can also be potentially harmful to your health because it can “cause nerve compression in the arms and legs, which can lead to chronic pain,” according to Rachel Salas, MD, assistant medical director for the Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep. If you do sleep on your side, try to put a pillow in between your legs and/or a body-pillow behind your back to help support your spine and ensure alignment of your legs and hips. And if possible switch between sides so that you don’t put all of your weight and pressure on only one side of your body.
Sleeping on Your Back
According to the experts at Health.com, sleeping on your back is the best position to ensure a good night’s sleep and a healthy body throughout life. That is because your body is typically in good alignment when you are on your back, and all of your limbs are free to move while you sleep so you maintain a neutral, comfortable position. In addition, as CNN reports, it’s great for fighting reflux because “if the head is elevated, your stomach will be below your esophagus so acid or food can’t come back up,” explains Eric Olson, M.D., co-director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Sleep Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota. Another perk of sleeping on your back? You can prevent wrinkles on your face. Yes, that’s right; forget expensive anti-aging products (fine, you might want those too), sleeping on your back, with nothing rubbing against your face, is a great way to keep skin tight and smooth. Fighting wrinkles while you sleep seems like a pretty good incentive to flop onto your back each night. So what is sleeping on your back bad for? Snoring. If it sounds like a foghorn in your room when you are sleeping, then you might want to try shifting positions from your back to your side.
Sleeping on Your Stomach
Stomach sleepers (belly down, face down, arms outstretched) are notoriously friendly and outgoing in life, but when it comes to the quality of sleep in that position, there are a lot of negatives. Sleeping on your belly can be really bad for your back and neck because it’s almost impossible to have a neutral spine in that position. You also tend to sleep with your neck turned so you can breathe, but the result is you might experience spasms and chronic neck pain. In addition, you may have numbness or tingling because in this position you put too much pressure on your joints. The only thing stomach sleeping is good for is snoring, but at the end of the day, all the other cons seem to matter more than a little peace and quiet at bedtime.
Sleeping in Fetal Position
Similar to side sleeping but with your legs bent up so that your knees are near your chest, the fetal position is a good option for a healthy night’s sleep. It is especially good during pregnancy, when you want to ensure proper blood flow throughout your body and to your fetus, even when you’re catching some Zzz’s. The issue with sleeping in this position is you could potentially restrict breathing because of the way your abdomen and chest are curved, and the curving of your back and spine could result in back pain over time. To improve this position, ensure your mattress isn’t too firm, put a pillow between your legs, and make sure the pillow under your neck and head is plump enough to offer proper support.