While sleep is a big part of our lives, our sleeping position may seem to be a trivial aspect.
However, sleep position plays a significant role in your quality of sleep and it deserves some serious contemplation.
Different sleeping positions have been strongly promoted and there seem to be different schools of thought when it comes to the best sleeping position.
Opinions differ widely among healthcare practitioners and change over time.
It is definite that there is a gap in the literature when it comes to the topic of various sleeping positions.
In this post, we aim to review the available data on sleeping positions and try to answer one of the most basic questions:
What is the best sleeping position for a good night’s rest?
There are four main sleeping positions in which we can sleep:
- Supine (i.e., flat on your back)
- Lying on your side
- Prone (i.e., lying face down), or
- Fetal position.
There are advantages and disadvantages to these different sleeping positions, and you need to decide which one is the best choice for you based on your health, comfort and lifestyle.
While a sleeping position may have many advantages, it may take time to train yourself to sleep in a new position, so don’t worry too much if you don’t get it in one night.
Moreover, it is extremely important that you are comfortable while you are sleeping, so if you find that a new sleeping position is making you uncomfortable and comprising your sleep, don’t force yourself to sleep like that.
Supine (Lying Flat on Your Back)
Description: The supine sleeping position is when you are lying flat on your back and it is said to be the most beneficial sleeping position. However, it is not recommended for everyone.
Advantages of sleeping in a supine position: This position may be optimal if you have chronic back, neck, shoulder, hip or sciatica pain.
This is also one of the best sleeping positions to protect your spine because gravity is used to keep your body in an even alignment which may reduce unnecessary pressure on your back or joints.
As a result, this position also helps reduce joint pain such as knee or hip pain.
This position is also useful when you want to avoid getting wrinkles on your face from pressing your face against your pillows since sleeping on your back reduces the skin contact on your pillow, putting the “beauty” in “beauty sleep”!
Disadvantages of sleeping in a supine position: Sleeping on your back is not recommended to those who suffer from snoring or Sleep apnea.
For people who suffer from heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease, this sleeping position may also not be suitable as it may increase the symptoms.
While sleeping on your back is said to help with back pain, it is important that you are properly supported otherwise this position could increase the back pain.
It's advisable to maybe place a pillow underneath your knees which can aid the support of the natural curve of the back.
Moreover, this position is not recommended to pregnant women as it has been associated with late stillbirths in the third trimester.
Lying on Your Side
Description: This is when you sleep on your left or right side of your body. Believe it or not, it does make a difference on which side you sleep on!
Advantages of sleeping on your left side: Sleeping on your left side can help in reducing snoring and can help aid digestion and reduce heartburn.
It also makes breathing easier and reduces back pain but also relieves pressure on the bladder in pregnant women.
Disadvantages of sleeping on your left side: Patients with heart problems are advised not to sleep on their left side.
This is because the internal organs in your thorax region (chest area) can move which can result in the lungs weighing heavily down on the heart.
This increased pressure may cause strain on the heart and affect the hearts functionality.
Advantages of sleeping on your right side: Sleeping on your right side avoids the disadvantages of sleeping on your left side as well as sleeping in a supine position.
Naturally, sleeping in this position is recommended if you have pain in the left side of your body such as in the shoulders, hips or neck.
Disadvantages of sleeping on your right side: This position is not recommended if you suffer from heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease.
Sleeping on your right side can also constrict and add strain to your lungs and ribcage due to the added pressure on the ribcage from sleeping on the right side.
Takeaway: Regardless of which side you sleep on, this position may also cause stiffness in your shoulders and jaws depending on which side you sleep on.
Sleeping on your side may also contribute to wrinkles.
Preferably, it is recommended to switch sides during the night to gain all the benefits of sleeping on each side but at the same time reducing the negatives.
Prone (Lying Face Down, on Your Stomach)
Description: Prone sleepers sleep on their stomach and this is the least favourable position to sleep in.
Infants and babies are commonly made to sleep in this position as it can be beneficial to them.
Advantages of sleeping in a prone position: Other than the fact it is a good sleeping position for snoring and Sleep apnea, the benefits end there.
Infants are sometimes placed in the prone position and this is to prevent gastroesophageal reflux.
The prone and in particular the prone position with the head slightly raised has shown to significantly reduce the amount of reflux in infants.
Disadvantages of sleeping in a prone position: The biggest con for sleeping in this position is the likelihood of developing back pain due to the unnatural curve of your spine.
In addition to this, people who sleep on their stomachs tend to rest their head on one side (so that their noses are squished into the pillow) for easier breathing and this can result in a stiff neck and neck pain.
Extra effort is also needed for breathing because of the pressure that is against the ribcage.
Description: Fetal position sleepers sleep on their side with their legs curled inwards. This is the most popular sleep position and luckily it has a lot of benefits.
Advantages of sleeping in fetal position: Sleeping in a fetal position has many of the same benefits as sleeping on the side such as reducing lower back pain and snoring.
It has also good for reducing Sleep apnea breathing irregularities.
Disadvantages of sleeping in fetal position: Unfortunately, sleeping in this position may cause joint pain or stiffness that may leave you sore in the morning.
If sleeping in this position be sure that your posture is loose and relaxed.
If you curl up too tight, this position could limit deep breathing while you sleep.
To combat this, you can try the technique of keeping a pillow between your legs to help extend the legs and loosen your posture to ensure that you don’t curl yourself up too tight.
While it may not seem like a big deal your sleep position is an important consideration to keep in mind next time you want to hit the hay.
In addition to keeping a good sleep position, there are plenty of other ways to ensure that you receive a full night’s rest, reduce anxiety and be ready for the following day.
Try incorporating some or all of these into your night-time routine:
- Put your phone and laptop away at least an hour before bed.
These devices emit a blue light that disrupts your body from releasing melatonin, which is the hormone responsible for sleep.
Not only that, scrolling aimlessly through social media and coming across a post of what your ex is doing can peak your anxiety levels. Not worth it.
- Read a book.
Catch up on your favourite novel by taking some time to read.
It will help you relax and unwind.
Just be sure not to get so caught up in it that you forget to sleep!
- Prep your bedroom.
Make sure the temperature, humidity and lighting are set at the right levels by the time you get to bed, preferably 2-3 hours before.
Also, make sure your bedroom is clean and free of clutter! No one wants to sleep in a dirty room.
- Make sure that your bedroom is in total blackout.
Research shows that even small amounts of light coming into your bedroom can hamper your sleep negatively.
- Have a sleepy time tea.
Avoid caffeine at all costs.
You don’t want to consume caffeine before bed because even if you can fall asleep it may affect your sleep quality as it may interrupt the stages of your sleep and you may wake up groggy and tired instead of refreshed.
Rather opt for something more soothing such as chamomile tea.
- Create a to-do list for the following day.
Write it down on paper and cast it out of your mind.
It will reduce your stress and anxiety levels and make you prepared for the following day.
Essentially, your preferred sleep position is your personal choice.
If there is nothing wrong with your sleep quality and quantity and you are waking up refreshed and ready to go, don’t feel like you have to change up your sleep position.
These are just guidelines to help you became more aware of the different sleep positions and to guide you to make a more informed decision if you feel like you have to change your sleeping position.
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