When you’re trying to fall asleep, you’re probably not thinking about the position you’re lying in. Some of us are back-sleepers, while others are stomach-sleepers. Some of us prefer the fetal position while others just let their body take over the entire bed. But maybe you should take a moment to think about what your favorite sleeping position means for your health.
Nutritionist and health writer Dr. Sarah Brewer explained, “During sleep, your brain processes information and experiences to lay down new memories, your muscles and joints recover from constant use during the day, and you produce increased amounts of growth hormone to boost cell renewal and tissue repair. But while you’re asleep, your voluntary muscles become paralyzed to prevent you acting out your dreams. While this aids muscle relaxation, it could lead to aches and strains if you are lying in an awkward position.”
Below you will uncover how popular sleeping positions affect your health.
Sleeping on your side: This is the most common sleeping position. Lying on your right side has been found to increase the risk of indigestion and heartburn. Sleeping on your left side allows trapped air to be released, so you can let out a satisfying burp.
Sleeping on your stomach: When you sleep flat on your stomach, your head has no choice but to tilt to one side, which can cause stress to your spine. Dr. Brewer added, “This position also compromises the natural curves of the spine, so you are more likely to wake with neck, arm, shoulder, or back pain. This will be worse if the height of your pillows causes your head to twist upwards, stressing the ligaments in your neck even further.”
Sleeping partially on your front and partially on your side: This position is known as a natural recovery position.In this position, you’re half on your side, half on your front, and your knee is tucked in. Dr. Brewer explained, “This position is great for keeping your airway open, and is the least likely to lead to snoring and joint problems — as long as you don’t raise your top leg too far, which can twist the spine and cause back ache. When lying on your side, drawing your legs up slightly will reduce nerve compression. Placing a long pillow between your knees is also comforting if you have joint pain.”
Sleeping on your back: Sleeping on your back is often recommended for those with neck, shoulder, or back problems, as it is safe for the spine. For added support, you should use a small pillow behind the knees. On the other hand, there is a higher likelihood for snoring when sleeping on your back. For some, this triggers what is known as obstructive sleep apnea, as the airways become blocked and breathing stops for 10 to 30 seconds. Using a CPAP device can help prevent this.