Logic behind sleeping positions: Sweet Dreaming or Total Nightmare?

Logic behind sleeping positions: Sweet Dreaming or Total Nightmare?

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When you get in bed and cozy into your covers at night, you probably don’t put much thought into whether you’re on your side, back or stomach. But if you snore like a bear every time your head hits the pillow or you wake up feeling stiff as a board, it might be time to switch things up at bedtime.

Here’s the scoop on the benefits and drawbacks of the most common sleeping positions.

Side Sleeping:

The Good: Side sleeping is by far the most commonly reported sleep position, and for good reason — it can have a whole lot of health benefits. If you snore or have breathing problems, sleeping on your side is the best choice for opening your airways so you can breathe better at night, says sleep specialist W. Christopher Winter

Plus, it can be ideal for your spine and might help ease low back pain. The slightly curled-in fetal position recreates the natural curve your spine had in the womb, before holding your head up, sitting down or walking around changed the curvature of your spine and potentially put stress on your lower back, explains Winter.

Snoozing on your side can help give your spine a break from the tension from holding your head up, standing or sitting throughout the day.

Similarly, sleeping on your left side, specifically, could help the flow of blood to your heart. When your heart pumps blood out to your body, it gets circulated and then flows back to your heart on the right side, Winter explains.

If you sleep on your right side, the pressure of your body smashes up against the blood vessels that return to your ticker, but “sleeping on your left side with your right side not squished is supposed to potentially increase blood flow back to your heart.”
And anything you can do to help your most important organ pump more efficiently is good for your health, he says.

Pregnant women in particular should consider sleeping on their left side because the baby is pushing their organs upward, says Winter. (There’s only so much space in there, after all!)

During pregnancy, the heart is already working harder to support the baby, and snoozing on the right side, combined with the extra pressure from the organs, could hinder the flow of blood to mom’s heart — and to the little one, says Winter.

During pregnancy, the heart is already working harder to support the baby, and snoozing on the right side, combined with the extra pressure from the organs, could hinder the flow of blood to mom’s heart — and to the little one, says Winter.

The Bad: Ever slept on your side and woken up with a numb arm? That pins and needles feeling comes from “capillary crush,” when the weight you’re putting on your arm, or another numb body part, is putting intense pressure on your blood vessels.

Back Sleeping:

The Good: Falling asleep on your back might help you wake up feeling much more refreshed than usual. That’s because sleeping on your back is the best position for getting high quality sleep, says Breus. It’s the only position you can sleep in all night without having to readjust. When you sleep on your back, your weight is evenly distributed across your skeletal frame, unlike other positions.

Plus, if you have lower back pain, sleeping on your back with your knees propped up by pillows could take some pressure off your spine and relieve pain.

The Bad: While back sleeping is the optimal for many people, it’s not for everyone. When you’re on your back, your upper airway is the least stable, says Winter. The result? You might snore more or experience worse symptoms of sleep apnea, two conditions that can be annoying to bed partners and also potentially detrimental to your health.

Stomach Sleeping:

The Good: If you’re a back sleeper who snores and you can’t switch to sleeping on your side, laying on your stomach could be a good compromise that can open your airways a bit, says Winter. But there aren’t many other benefits to the face-plant approach.

The Bad: Sleeping on your stomach could be a pain in the neck — literally. Breus considers this the worst position because you have to turn your neck to almost an entire 90-degree angle from your body while also raising your head and neck up to pillow height. These crazy contortions could lead to neck pain. Plus, it’s not great for your back, either.

Should You Switch It Up?

Whether you sleep on your side, back or stomach, if you wake up feeling refreshed and pain-free, there’s probably no reason to break a habit that’s working for you. But if you’re having any of the issues mentioned here, it might be a good idea to experiment with something new.

 

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