Tossing 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
Sleeping 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
Side 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
Retreating 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
Not 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, 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.
Position Your Bed for Comfort
Sleep position isn’t the only thing to consider when looking to get a good night’s sleep. Experts recommend replacing old pillows and mattresses. While the mattress softness comes down to preference, it should still support the body. The correct type of pillow should cradle the neck and ease pain in the lower back.
Make sure sheets are clean to rid them of dust and dandler that can cause allergies. Use curtains or blinds to keep the room as dark as possible but be sure to open them in the morning to help reset your internal click.
Remember that location matters. Position your bed away from any distractions, such as a desk stacked with work or blinking lights.
The sleep environment is something that can be easily changed. With just a few adjustments, you should be able to sleep better.
Tips for Transitioning to a New Sleep Position
If you are ready to try a new sleeping position, it may take a few nights to get used to your new position. This transition period can be difficult but stick with it. You will most likely get some poor sleep at first until your body gets used to a new position.
There are a few tricks from experts on how to make the transition easier. They suggest blocking out all light in the room and banish all electronic devices at least two hours before bedtime.
You can also try sleeping on the opposite side of the bed than you usually do. This could help your body not revert automatically to your old position.
Sleeping Solo for Relationship Harmony
In the I Love Lucy sitcom in the 50s, Lucy and Ricky slept in separate beds. For the most part, they got along fine, although the set-up mirrored the acceptable small-screen rules of the decade. But maybe they were onto something. According to a new study by the sleep center at Ryerson University in Toronto, sleeping in separate beds can be great for a relationship because both partners will experience a better quality night’s rest. 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 shows that 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.
Lifestyle Changes That Can Help You Sleep Tonight
Set a sleep schedule
Setting a time to go to bed every night and wake up in the morning may be the most important part of healthy sleeping. Your internal click, known as circadian rhythm, needs to stay on schedule, and a daily routine will help you get better sleep.
By going to bed at the same time every night, your body will quickly train itself to sleep between certain hours. Try not to get into bed until you are ready, as lying in bed when you are not sleepy can set you up for failure.
It may be tempting to get a quick workout in before bedtime, but some people find that doing vigorous exercise can keep them up at night while their body continues to recover. By exercising in the daytime, you can boost your energy levels for the rest of the day. Exercise is also known to relieve stress, which can contribute to insomnia.
Quit caffeine by noon
If you want to fall asleep quickly and easily, ditch the caffeine after lunchtime. Drinking coffee, tea, soda, or even eating chocolate should be stopped four to six hours before bedtime. Be sure to check food labels to avoid consuming hidden sources of caffeine before bed.
Reduce intake of spicy, acidic, and fatty foods
Eating spicy, acidic, or fatty foods can contribute to heartburn. When laying down, heartburn can be exacerbated as the acid from the stomach leaks into the esophagus, causing an uncomfortable feeling in the chest. This can affect sleep quality.
Eat a light snack
Some foods can actually help you sleep better, such as turkey and dairy products. An amino acid, tryptophan, found in these foods, get turned into sleep-promoting melatonin and serotonin.
Similar to caffeine, nicotine has stimulating effects. Smoking should be avoided at all times for overall better health, but if you do smoke, avoid it for 45 minutes before bedtime.
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, instil good sleep habits, 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.