Categories: Sleep Science

The Best and Worst Sleep Positions for Your Health

Do you wake up with heartburn, a cricked neck, and a backache? Or maybe it’s more subtle: you wake up feeling tired, like you haven’t really slept. Surprising new research suggests your sleeping position may be to blame. Most people have a preferred position, a default that feels the most natural. But just because something feels natural doesn’t make it healthy. Here’s a run-down of the best and worst sleeping positions, and what you can do to make them more comfortable.

The Best: Sleeping On Your Back

Let’s talk alignment. Sleeping on your back is the best position for relieving pressure on your spine. It helps to keep your neck and back relaxed and in a gentle, natural alignment. Dee Anna Glaser, M.D., a professor of dermatology at Saint Louis University notes that back sleeping can also prevent wrinkles and acne since your face isn’t in contact with your pillow. If you’re a woman, there’s more good news. Sleeping on your back supports your breasts, preventing premature sagging. Of course, if you (or your partner) snore, back sleeping may not be so great. The weight of your face and neck on your air passages is greatest in this position, restricting air flow and contributing to nighttime chortles. If you’re a snorer, or if you sleep with one, try side sleeping instead.

The Second Best: Sleeping On Your Side

Side sleeping is great for digestion, especially if you sleep on your left side (this position increases circulation body-wide). Your spine will still be elongated in this position, and your snoring will be kept to a minimum. During pregnancy, side sleeping is a must, since it ensures adequate blood flow to the fetus. On the downside, all that face smushing can cause facial acne and wrinkles. You can minimize the acne by keeping your hair clean and by regularly changing your pillowcase. You can minimize wrinkles by choosing a pillowcase made of smooth material that reduces friction, like silk or satin. Still, hour after hour, day after day, side sleeping will take a certain inevitable toll on your face. If you’re a woman, it will also take a toll on your breasts.

The Worst: Sleeping On Your Stomach

Stomach sleeping is the most comfortable position for some people, unfortunately it’s also the most detrimental. On the one hand, it helps to ease snoring, so if you have sleep apnea, a potentially dangerous condition, stomach sleeping may be worth the risks. But it’s terrible for your back, neck, face, and breasts, says Ken Shannon, a physical therapist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Sleeping on your stomach can irritate nerves in your neck, particularly if you use a thick pillow and sleep with your neck at a sharp angle. You may end up with persistent tingling, numbness, and pain. If you’re a stomach sleeper and are struggling to get comfortable, try a natural latex mattress. The whole-body support reduces pressure on your entire body and may offset the aches and pains caused by stomach sleeping.

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    Amber Merton

    Amber Merton writes exensively regarding green living and sleep. She has been an author on the PlushBeds blog for the past 7 years.

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