When you get tired at the end of your day, and you head off to bed, how often do you think about your sleep position? I am guessing about zero percent of the time. Instead, you plop down, lay down, pull and adjust the covers and try to get comfortable.
You might toss and turn a bit, roll around, tuck the blankets under your legs and punch your pillow until it fluffs up. But how you sleep is important. We all know there are three basic sleep positions: side, back, and stomach. However, you can also fall into a sub-category of these positions, some of which can be bad for your health.
Let’s find out the best sleep positions for your overall health, well being and most restful sleep.
What are the Various Sleep Positions?
There are probably about as many different sleep positions as there are people in the world. Different variations of similar sleep poses. Perhaps you lay on your back with your arms over your head. Maybe you sleep on your stomach with one arm and one leg hanging over the edge.
The possibilities are near endless. However, for the sake of this article, we will assume that there are four categories: front, back, side and combination.
Front Sleeping Positions
Front sleepers, also known as stomach sleepers, face-down sleepers or dead-man falling sleepers. Will always have their stomachs on the mattress. The legs are usually straight out, and the arms are either down to the side (called the log position) or overhead, either on top of or tucked below the pillow.
The head, in these positions, will be turned to one side or another. You will need to breathe, after all. The hips are generally flat to the bed in line with the stomach, and the legs either bent at the knees or straight out from the trunk of the body.
Back Sleeping Positions
Back sleepers will face the ceiling with their backs touching the mattress. While there are many derivatives when it comes to the arms and legs, the head and core usually remain inline and flat against the bed.
Some people that sleep on their backs will tend to hike one leg up to the side, or even put their feet flat on the mattress with their knees in the air. The arms can be anywhere in this position, overhead or out to the sides or even straight down like they are at attention, only laying down instead of standing.
Side Sleeping Positions
Side sleeping, in general, has the most variations because of the different angles and positions being on our sides can create.
The fetal position, for example, brings the knees to the chest and the arms down to the side. However, it is also common for the fetal position sleeper to have their arms out in front of them or under their head or pillow.
We also have a left side and a right side, one of which is generally more comfortable than the other for an individual. Side sleepers also tend to be more prone to becoming combination sleepers than the other two positions do.
Combination Sleeping Positions
Combo sleepers are those that roll around a lot while they sleep. They may fall asleep on their side, but wake up on their back. This is called side to back sleeping. There are others as well:
- Side to front, when you sleep on your side or stomach.
- Side to side, when you sleep on the left and right sides.
- Front to back, an uncommon position where sleep is done on the stomach and the back.
If you sleep in multiple positions, you are a combination sleeper.
How do the Positions Affect the Body?
As you can imagine, the different sleep positions will have varying effects on our bodies. The effects can be minimal or monstrous depending on the sub-category of the sleep position. For example, having your arms over your head decreases your blood flow to your shoulders and hands.
Not every effect is a bad one, though and you may find some comfort in your particular sleep position because of its benefits.
Back Sleepers Effects
Back sleepers get a more restful sleep than the other positions. The entire body can relax and allow our weight to melt into the bed. Because of this, the body rests deeper and more soundly in most situations.
However, back sleepers are more prone to sleep apnea and snoring than the other positions. It is also possible for the head to fall back on the pillow putting undue stress on the spinal cord and neck.
There is proof that acid reflux or heartburn is less likely in back sleepers as well.
Side Sleepers Effects
Side sleeping (and it’s many variations) is the most common position for sleeping. Over 60 percent of all of us sleep on our sides. There are a lot of benefits to side sleeping as well. The most notable is that sleeping on your left side will reduce acid reflux.
Because the spine can curve naturally, and the knees tend to bend, blood flow is increased when we sleep on our sides over the other two primary positions.
There are problems, though. Side sleepers tend to have more problems with shoulder pain and pain in the pressure points because the body is laying on itself. These can be alleviated, which will be discussed later.
Other problems that can occur because of side sleeping are wrinkles and saggy body parts. Gravity pulls on the body more when we sleep on our sides, and we are smashing our faces into the pillow.
Stomach Sleepers Effects
Stomach sleepers have the most health concerns of all three major sleeping groups. Not everything is bad, though and most of the problems can be reduced. The good things include less frequent snoring and reduced chances of sleep apnea.
However, stomach, or front sleepers, wake up more often, have more anxiety and are more likely to have muscle aches, sore bodies, and stiff joints when they wake up.
The good news is that of all the sleeping positions front sleepers are the smallest group (less than 20 percent of us sleep on our stomachs).
Which Sleeping Position is Best?
Picking the best sleeping position is near impossible. There isn’t any one position that is overall better than the others. Each position has pros and cons and picking the best one depends on a lot of factors.
What is it we are judging as best? We can choose from comfort, blood flow, restful sleep, less pain, less snoring, the position with the best chance of REM sleep, and on and on.
In each category, there is a clear winner, but when you put everything together, one doesn’t stand above the rest (or lay, as it were).
Because it is the most common and has the most beneficial elements compared to the negative ones, side sleeping is generally preferred. However, this only counts for those that sleep on their left side. Right side sleepers have no more positive benefits than back sleepers (just different benefits).
The best sleeping position also needs to take into account your level of sleep, the amount of REM sleep you get, the ambient temperature, your size, and weight as well as things such as the type of pillow, mattress or bedding.
To pick a single position as best is difficult. What we can tell you is that side sleeping positions are the most common, at around 60%. Back sleepers are the second most common coming in at about 23%, and stomach sleepers are the least common with only 17%.
Can You Change Your Position?
Habits are hard to break, and how you sleep is a habit. It can be done, of course, but you will need conscious effort and practice to make it happen.
If you are a stomach sleeper, for example, you can try to fall asleep on your back, but you will most likely end up waking up in the morning face down. To help fight the stomach sleeping, you can position yourself against the wall or invest in large body pillows to lay between.
Sleeping on your side can be accomplished with the help of pillows, too. Putting a pillow between your knees, under your hip, and against your chest will help you reduce the urge to roll over to your face in your sleep.
Because we are generally unaware of our position while we are actually asleep, it makes training ourselves more difficult. Instead of trying to change your sleeping position, you should instead, look for ways to make the position you do sleep in more beneficial and comfortable for you.
How to Make Your Sleep Position Better
There are several things you can do to increase the benefits and decrease the disadvantages of your sleeping position, regardless of how you sleep. Some may or may not be easier than others, but with time, they will all work.
For stomach sleepers, the most notable disadvantage is spinal alignment. Because your hips and back are inline, but your head is turned you put an unnatural twist to the top of your back and lower neck.
The proper pillow can help in this case. Finding a pillow with a lower loft and a firmer compression will help keep your head up and your spine in line. People who sleep on their stomachs tend to put their arms under their pillows and hike a knee up towards their chest.
This can cause your back to round and your spine to remain in an awkward spot for long periods. To help this, you can buy a pillow with armrests that allow you to have your arms up without affecting the angle of your head.
For the knees, you can purchase pillows that rest between your thighs. Some have straps that you can attach to prevent one leg from raising.
Side sleepers also have some disadvantages in sleeping position. The shoulders and neck are the most prominent areas of concern. However, the hips and knees and to some extent the ankles, are all included as well.
The pressure points don’t get any relief in this position, and over time you can wake up sore, or with “dead arm.”
To alleviate this, you should invest in a high-quality mattress that will give under the pressure points while still maintaining support of your body and weight. Knee pillows can also be used to keep the knees from resting on top of one another.
For the shoulder, the rotator cuff needs a mattress or padding that will allow it t0 sink in while still being supported. Taking the pressure off is crucial. Finally, a high-quality pillow with the correct loft will allow you to maintain your neck position.
Back sleepers need to invest in a mattress that is right for their body size and weight and distributes the weight of the body evenly.
Other than that, all they really need is a good pillow with a proper loft and compression to prevent the head from being pushed forward (chin to chest) or falling backward. The right pillow will keep the head and neck aligned with the shoulders and spine to prevent any stress, compression or pain.
The best sleep position is ultimately the one that gives you the most comfortable and restful night’s sleep. Stomach sleepers, by nature, are at the largest disadvantage. While side sleepers top the charts with the greatest number of people sleeping in that way, back sleepers enjoy a more restful sleep naturally.
Each position has variations, and each variation comes with its own pros and cons. Finding the right position for you may be difficult, but each position’s negative aspects can be altered to some degree. The use of pillows, for example, can relieve knee discomfort in the side sleeping positions, while a pillow with the proper loft can help back sleepers from snoring.
Reduce your pain and alleviate your symptoms with the use of high-quality pillows and mattresses and your sleep will come more easily and last longer.