Your sleeping position affects your brain and overall health

By: Mohan Garikiparithi | Brain Function | Saturday, October 31, 2015 - 02:00 PM

sleeping position affects your brainTossing and turning, getting cocooned by the sheets, or waking up several times during the night because of your partner’s snoring? (“What? You’re kidding – I don’t snore!” is a common response by your better half.) If this happens on a regular basis, you may be sleep-deprived. You’re bound to wake up feeling groggy and miserable, no matter how much coffee you drink to perk you up.

There are no two ways about it. Sleep is crucial for your health. It bolsters your immune system so you can fight off illness. It gives your body a chance to repair and reset, your subconscious mind time to roam free, and helps keep your weight in check. Adequate sleep is linked to numerous benefits, including better memory, curbing inflammation, and, take note: a happy marriage.

It was also noted in a recent study that your sleep position can affect your brain. To read more, click here.
Since we sleep – or try to sleep – for a third of our lives, it’s going to have a significant impact on our day-to-day.
So, if things aren’t perfect under the covers, it’s time to take a look at your sleep position and how it could affect your health.

Sleeping position #1: On your back

sleep-apnea-signs-and-symptoms-300x200Sleeping on your back is the best position to get proper rest. The back-sleeper maintains the back, neck and spine in a neutral position, making it better for your body’s alignment, especially if you’re prone to back pain, stiffness or problems. The back position is also good for circulation to the brain and preventing acid reflux. When the head is elevated (a single, puffy pillow is recommended), your stomach sits below your esophagus so acid or food can’t come back up. While it’s best to avoid foods that irritate or cause acid reflux, this is a reassuring technique.

You’ve heard of the term “beauty sleep?” The back-sleeper has the advantage when it comes to wrinkle prevention, simply because nothing is pushing against your face during the night, creating those dents and creases. Breasts, too, can benefit from back-sleeping, keeping them perky by the full support throughout the night.

For back-sleeping, some holistic therapists, such as acupuncturists, suggest placing your hands, palms down, first on your chest, then waist, then belly to find the most comfortable resting place for the hands and to fall asleep faster.

In a recent survey out of Britain on sleep positions, 1,000 people responded to questions about their sleep habits. Researchers found a possible correlation between sleep position and personality. The back position with both arms straight at your sides is called the “soldier;” it was the first choice for best sleep position for eight percent of study participants. Like its namesake, personality traits associated with this position include self-disciplined and reserved with high expectations for themselves and others.

However, the back is not the best position for those with a tendency to snore; the base of the tongue falls to the back wall of the throat, which causes a vibrating sound as you breathe. To head off snoring, try sleeping on your side.
Another version of the back-sleeper is the “starfish” – those who lie on their backs with legs sprawled and arms stretched out beyond the head. In the British sleep survey, starfish sleepers don’t like to be the center of attention, but say friendship is a priority, along with tending to the needs of others.

Sleeping position #2: On your side

ThinkstockPhotos-86506289Side sleepers, good for you! Next to the back, sleeping in this position is good for your overall health and lets you spoon with your partner as you drift off to la-la land. Even better, sleep on your left side, which helps ease heartburn and acid reflux. Side-sleeping also reduces snoring (Amen to that!). Also, sleeping on your left side is the best position during pregnancy; it boosts circulation to the heart, so it’s also a boost for the baby. Pregnant women should not sleep on their back because of the extra pressure and weight this puts on the spine.

Sleeping beauties beware; side-sleeping is not good for facial wrinkles, since half of your face is pushed into your pillow.
What’s your personality when you’re a side-sleeper? If you’re in the “log” position – lying on your side with legs straight and arms resting at your sides, you’re reportedly easy-going, social and trusting, while a little gullible at times, according to the British survey.

And if you side-sleep with both arms stretched out in front, you’re in the “yearner” position. The yearner is described as open, but also cynical and suspicious. You’re slow to make decisions, but when you do, you stick to them.

Sleeping position #3: Curled into fetal position

ThinkstockPhotos-78653563Retreating into the fetal position, with your knees pulled up high and your chin tucked into your chest may seem like the ultimate security blanket, but it’s not so good for your health. It restricts your deep diaphragmatic breathing and puts pressure on your organs, not to mention your spine. People with an arthritic back or joints will only feel more irritation. Straightening out a little can help make this position work better for you. In the fetal position, face wrinkles will be aggravated, although snoring could improve.

In the survey of sleep habits, “fetal” was the most popular among men and women, with 41 percent choosing it as their favorite. The associated personality type is the hard shell and soft underbelly: People with a tough exterior, but shy and sensitive under the surface.

Sleeping position #4: On your stomach

ThinkstockPhotos-135548224Not good, not good! Sleeping on your stomach is bad for your spine. Twisting your neck and face to the side all night on the pillow will cause aches and pains and further discomfort. It puts added pressure on muscles and joints that can snowball by irritating nerves, resulting in numbness and tingling.

Facedown keeps your upper airways more open. So if you snore and aren’t suffering from neck or back pain, it’s fine to try sleeping in this position.

In the personality sleep study, stomach-sleepers are called “freefallers.” They sleep on their stomachs, while the head turns to the side and the arms curl around the pillow. Freefallers are considered sociable and brash, but often have inner anxiety and sensitivity to criticism.

Sleeping solo for relationship harmony

In the I Love Lucy sitcom in the 50s, Lucy and Ricky slept in separate beds. They got along fine, for the most part, although the set-up mirrored the acceptable small-screen rules of the decade. But maybe they were onto something. Sleeping in separate beds can be great for a relationship because both partners will experience a better quality night’s rest, according to a new study by the sleep center at Ryerson University in Toronto. Sleeping separately, people are not disturbed by frequent movement or noise. Or the dreaded no-blanket when it’s yanked to the other side of the bed. In Europe, couples often sleep in the same bed with separate blankets, so they are rest assured of ample coverage. Sleeping should be peaceful, not a half-conscious tug-of-war.

Sleep researchers say that 30 to 40 percent of couples sleep in separate beds, although they may not broadcast it to their friends. I’m not surprised. I think there’s still a taboo surrounding separate sleep arrangements (like taking a carving knife to the marriage bond), and even a derogatory term for it – “sleep divorce” – that just isn’t fair, experts claim.
The fallout from poor sleep, studies show, is people tend to be more short-tempered with their spouse, taking out their sleep-deprived frustration on the person closest to them. They’re more tired, more selfish, and less able to put in the work that makes a relationship go tickety-boo. This way, my friends, that honey-do list just won’t get done.

Sleep is important, and if it leads to better health and marriage harmony, it’s worth improving upon. Although it’s hard to own up to, many of our sleep problems are the result of our own bad habits. We sleep in or we stay up late to catch the Tonight Show. We have a drink late at night – alcohol disrupts our sleep – or we eat foods that disagree with us that also mess with our sleep rhythms.

These habits, over time, teach our body not to sleep, and leave us turning to sleeping pills for relief, or computer work in the middle of the night to pass the time. Now’s the time to take our sleep seriously, instill good sleep habits of regular bed and wake times, a completely dark, cool room, no screens before bedtime and, of course, a sleep position that’s good for our health and helps us work through our personality quirks.

For years, I’ve put in the work to cultivate a good sleep routine. I can honestly say that I am a contented sleeper and a happy man.

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