When you go to sleep tonight, think about how you’re lying in bed. Most people don’t consider their sleep position (unless they’re trying to get comfortable on a sleepless night). However, the way you sleep can impact your health in a variety of ways. Sleep positions can be broken down into three different categories—back, side, and stomach sleepers.
Many people claim that sleeping on your back is the best way to sleep. By lying on your back, you can prevent back and neck pain. This is because you aren’t twisting your back or neck into an unnatural position. You also don’t have to worry about crushing your arms or legs when sleeping on your back.
However, sleeping on your back isn’t always the way to go. If you snore, sleeping on your back can actually make your snoring worse. People with sleep apnea should avoid sleeping on their backs, too. This can make sleep apnea worse.
Pregnant women shouldn’t sleep on their backs, either. Sleeping on your back during pregnancy puts additional strain on the lower back, leading to increased pain.
Side sleeping is the most common sleep position. More than half of all people sleep on their sides. If side sleeping feels natural to you, then stick with it. Trying to change your sleep position from side to back can make it harder to fall asleep when you’re used to laying on your side, and sleeping on your back usually isn’t much better for you than sleeping on your side.
There are some drawbacks to side sleeping, however. If you sleep on your side, you may notice you often wake up with one arm numb. This is nearly impossible to avoid when sleeping on your side. You should move regularly in your sleep, which helps prevent numbness, but you can’t exactly force yourself to move around while you’re in a deep sleep.
Some people claim that sleeping on either the left or right side is better for your health. Sleeping on the left side is recommended for pregnant women, as it is said to improve circulation for both mother and baby. Sleeping on your left side can also help with acid reflux and heartburn. Don’t fret if you prefer to sleep on your right side—it’s best to do what comes naturally and feels comfortable for you.
One trick that can help side sleepers is to put a pillow between your knees at night. This keeps your knees from knocking into each other while you sleep, and provides a bit of additional support for your joints. You can purchase pillows made especially for this purpose.
Sleeping on the stomach is the worst possible way to sleep. By lying on your stomach, you flatten out your back. This means there’s no support for your spine, so that nice firm mattress you purchased isn’t giving you the support it’s built for. Sleeping on your stomach can cause you to wake up with back pain.
Stomach sleeping is bad for your neck, too. When you sleep on your stomach, you have to turn your head to the right or left to avoid lying face-down in your pillow. This puts strain on your neck, and you may wake up with a stiff, sore neck.
There are some cases where stomach sleeping can be good. Those who snore at night and people who suffer from sleep apnea may actually find relief from sleeping on their stomachs. Stomach sleeping keeps airways open and allows you to breathe easily. However, unless you have severe sleep apnea, the benefits of sleeping on your stomach aren’t likely to outweigh the health risks.
Do what’s comfortable
The most important thing is simply to do whatever is most comfortable. Everyone has a natural sleep position that they tend to fall into during the night, and that’s okay. Trying to change your sleeping position can prevent you from falling asleep and cause you to wake up during the night to adjust your position.
If you currently sleep on your stomach and wake up with pain, you may want to consider switching to side sleeping. Use pillows to support your body and make the change gradually. But if you’re a back or side sleeper, keep doing what feels best.