Talking about sleeping positions might seem futile, but they’re far more important than most people realize.
We tend to not think about the importance of our sleeping position because it’s something that we’ve done for so long that it’s become automatic. But the reality is that your sleeping position matters. A lot.
If you’re sleeping in a position that compromises your body’s ability to function and recover, it doesn’t matter how many hours of sleep you get, you’re still going to feel exhausted when you wake up.
One of the most important facets of your sleeping position is maintaining the integrity of your spine. If your spine is compromised and there’s a break in the information between your brain and your body, chronic problems can take place. Some of these problems can be rooted in the way you’re sleeping.
There are many variations of positions, but these are the basics. And to make it even simpler, we’re just going to focus on getting you in the best position on your back, your stomach or your side. Here’s how to do it:
Have your own back
Many experts say that sleeping on your back is the ideal position. First, your spine can be in the best position. You also will have less likelihood of digestive distress, like acid reflux, in this position. And, for all those who are cosmetically conscious, sleeping on your back allows your facial skin to breathe, so you’ll be less prone to having breakouts and early-onset wrinkling.
The downside of sleeping on your back is the greater likelihood of snoring and sleep apnea. This is partly because when we sleep on our backs, gravity can force the base of the tongue to collapse into the airway, obstructing normal breathing. Another reason for this is general throat weakness that’s exacerbated by lying on your back, which can cause the throat to close during sleep. If someone has too much body fat on their frame, fat gathering in and around the throat can cut off the normal air supply. Losing excess body fat and utilizing a different sleep position can help to remedy this.
Sleep like a baby
Sleeping on our stomachs used to be synonymous with sleeping like a baby. Laying infants on their stomachs to sleep has gone in and out of favor and is still much debated.
Dr. Václav Vojta, a child development specialist, said that lying on our stomach when we are infants is actually critical to our development. Through 50 years of research, Vojta identified specific pressure points on our bodies that “activate” nervous system programs when we are infants. These pressure points are engaged when children are allowed to lie on their bellies and do subtle movements that they would naturally do while sleeping.
Update that to our adulthood, and many people just feel more comfortable and peaceful lying on their bellies. There are many pros and cons to this, so if you’re going to do it, do it right.
Lying face down with your legs straight and your arms right by your sides is probably a bad idea. This is compromising your back by taking away the natural curve of the lumbar spine. Add having your head to one side, smashed into a pillow for hours on end, and you’ve got a serious recipe for disaster. On the brighter side, some research shows that lying on your stomach can help prevent minor snoring and some symptoms of sleep apnea.
On the winning side
Most people report that they prefer to sleep on their side, and for good reason. Our most intense times of sleep and development happened while we were in the womb, curled up in the fetal position. Sleeping on our side is the natural sleeping position to emulate this developmental template, and get this: Sleeping on your side can even protect your brain.
Side sleeping can be a quick fix for snoring and can help to improve breathing, compared with lying on your back. Plus, sleeping on your side (the left side in particular) has been reported to ease troublesome digestive problems like acid reflux and heartburn.
The downside, as most side sleepers know, is the dreaded “dead arm” and finger numbness from this position. Sleeping on your arm for too long can cut off blood flow and nerve function. You can wake up feeling that your arm was slathered with Novocain. But this should help: Make sure that your head isn’t propped up too high on pillows. You want to ensure that you’re maintaining the natural straight position of your spine with a pillow that supports your neck but doesn’t raise your head too much.