More and more research is being published on the importance of sleep. But, what if the way you sleep is preventing you from a good night’s sleep? What is the healthiest sleeping position?

Your Sleep and Your Health

Research is showing that sleep impacts many aspects of your health and wellness.  Poor sleep has been associated with  

  • grogginess
  • poor concentration
  • mood changes
  • memory loss
  • weakened immune system
  • increased risk of diabetes
  • increased risk of heart disease
  • increased risk of cancer
  • weight gain
  • high blood pressure
  • low sex drive

There are many issues that can impact your sleep such as poor sleep hygiene (looking at your phone, computer and TV screens late into the night) , lifestyle choices (too much caffeine, poor diet, lack of exercise), work obligations (working late, stress), sleep disorders (sleep apnea), and other medical conditions. Neck and back pain can be a problematic issue affecting good sleep quality. This is where your sleeping posture comes into play.  

Stomach Sleeping 

I do not recommend ever sleeping on your stomach. Stomach sleeping can put a lot of stress on both your neck and your back.

Sleeping on your stomach can cause stress to your lower back. The weight of your stomach can cause your lower back to forcefully extend beyond on its normal limits , creating abnormal pressure on your spinal muscles, spinal joints, and spinal discs. This can definitely lead to chronic pain and stiffness, as well as spinal decay.  This can especially come into play if you are overweight.

Sleeping on your stomach also causes your head to be twisted to one side. This can put a lot of strain on your neck and also place your spine in a poor alignment. Any chronic, poor posture can cause continued stress and strain onto your spine. This can be lead to chronic pain, headache, and even numbness and tingling down your arms into your hands.

If you are a stomach sleeper, I recommend that you train yourself to stop. As with any habit, it will take time to relearn a new, healthier habit. Give yourself time to break your bad habit. Just keep practicing sleeping on your side or back. Every time you wake up, if you are on your stomach, switch to either your side or your back. Eventually, you will break the habit. 

Stomach sleepers often like the pressure on the front side of their body. This pressure can be quite comforting for some. I recommend using a weighted blanket while sleeping on your back. A weighted blanket can give you the comfort that you are looking for. 

Side Sleeping 

Side sleeping is the second best sleeping position. This will take most of the stress of your back and neck. However, side sleeping can still cause some stress to your neck. If your pillow is not supporting your head while side sleeping, this can cause neck pain. Ideally, your pillow should be the same width as between your shoulders and your neck. This way your head is fully supported and not shifted or tilted off to one side. Too small of a pillow can cause your head to shift towards the downwards shoulder. Too large of a pillow or push your head towards the opposite shoulder. Any abnormal posture, especially for an extended period of time, can lead to imbalanced musculature, and eventually pain. 

Sleeping on your side can also put some stress onto your lower back and hips. As you lay on your side, your knees will be in the knocked position. This can tighten up the muscles around your hips and lead to lower back pain. I recommend using a knee pillow for side sleepers to help keep your knees and hips aligned. 

Side sleeping tends to be the best position for heartburn, snoring, sleep apnea, and acid reflex.

Back Sleeping 

In my opinion, back sleeping is the best position. This position keeps your spine in a healthy alignment and evenly distributes your  weight across your body, which can help prevent back and neck pain. 

For back sleepers, I recommend a contoured neck pillow to keep your neck alignment in the best possible position. Never use more than one pillow behind your head if you are back sleeping. If you use too many pillows, or too thick of a pillow, this will cause your head to jut forward. This can lead to forward head posture which can create neck pain, jaw pain, headaches, and numbness tingling down the arms. 

If you experience low back pain while sleeping on your back, I recommend putting a pillow beneath your knees. Back sleepers will often need a firmer mattress, than side sleepers. So make sure you shop around and find the perfect mattress for you. 

In conclusion, your sleeping posture does matter. If you are experiencing neck pain, back pain, or stiffness upon waking, try changing your sleeping positions to see if this helps.