Wondering how your go-to sleep preference affect your heart, digestion or the development of wrinkles?
While you might toss and turn throughout the night, chances are you have a preferred, default sleeping position. Some people develop a go-to sleep position early in life and then just stick to it. Others shift as they age, gravitating to what feels comfortable as their bodies change. But what do healthcare professionals and science say about how you should be spending your time sleeping? Do side sleepers reign supreme? What about tummy or back sleepers? We’re curious too, so we dug in to find some answers.
According to a survey by the Better Sleep Council, 47% of Americans sleep on their sides, knees raised and bent, to take on a fetal position – one that we’ve been enjoying since infants. Women are most likely to prefer sleeping like this – 54% versus 39% among men. And it’s the position that most people (37%) feel is the best one. But is it?
Good news for side sleepers
There are plenty of reasons to feel good about being a side sleeper. If you or your bedmate tend to snore, then this is the position you want to adopt. It reduces the roar and lessens stress on the respiratory system overall. If you have back problems or you’re pregnant, side sleeping is a winner since it helps ease the stress on your lower back. For those who may be eating spicy burritos or heavy snacks close to bedtime, this is also a good choice. It’s ideal for reducing heartburn and indigestion.
Another big and important benefit of side sleeping? It helps cleans the yuck from your brain, something scientists call interstitial waste. A good nightly brain cleansing while snoozing on your side may help reduce your risk of developing neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Just a couple of caveats for side sleeping devotees….
If you’re one of those fetal position fans, you’ll want to keep your posture loose and not too tightly curled. The risk of waking up with sore, stiff joints increases, making those first few steps uncomfortable, once you get moving. To prevent you from doing a tight tuck like an Olympic diver, try putting a pillow between your legs to keep those knees slightly extended. If you have shoulder issues, side sleeping might not be the ultimate position for you.
And one more reason to second guess your choice to sleep on your side? Those who stare into the mirror in search of wrinkles each morning may see them more readily. There’s some research suggesting side sleeping encourages the formation of facial lines. Quelle horreur!
But wait, what about the left side/right side debate? One study looked at how participants who ate a high-fat meal right before sleeping faired. It found that those who slept on their right sides had higher levels of acid reflux. Most science-backed results say that sleeping on your left side is the way to go. And your bowels may thank you too. Gravity helps waste travel more freely to the ascending colon, then onward down to your descending colon, ready for that bathroom visit come morning.
When it comes to heart health, the debate between left and right rages on. While there are plenty of theories about which side is best, there’s no clear-cut winner so expect researchers to keep conducting studies on the issue until we can find definitive answers.
Feel-good news for back sleepers
Here are the straight goods for back sleepers. Your preferred position makes it easier to keep your spine straighter. It also eases pressure on your shoulder and jaw, which can help reduce tension headaches. Some other conditions that are well-served in the prone position include reduced hip pain, arthritis, nasal congestion, knee pain, bursitis and fibromyalgia. You’ll also keep the “beauty” in beauty sleep since your face won’t be mushed up against a pillow, which can contribute to wrinkles.
If you’re a card-carrying back sleeper, keep in mind that you can make it even healthier by elevating your head by at least six inches with a sleep wedge or a pillow. If this causes your chin to touch your chest, you’re too elevated. Take the stress off your lower back by spreading your legs hip-width apart, or use a pillow to lift up your knees.
Tummy sleepers beware
Most sleep experts aren’t fans of tummy sleeping. Lying on your stomach can add unnecessary strain to your joints and muscles, and increase neck and back strain – not to mention how it encourages facial lines. Perhaps that is why just 17% of the population make it their preferred way to sleep.
Experts are primarily concerned about how sleeping on your stomach affects the spine. For most people, the bulk of their weight is around the middle of the body, so a prone position is more apt to cause a misalignment of the spine, then possibly back problems. Add to that, a sharp twist of the neck and it’s a recipe for future pain. But it’s not all grim news for tummy sleepers. They do have a reduction in sleep apnea and snoring.
It’s hard to retrain yourself and adopt a new sleep position, so if you find you get the best sleep on your belly, try to reduce the risks. Use a very soft or flat pillow, or none at all, so you don’t make the misalignment in your neck worse. A pillow under your hips can also help minimize the strain of your lower back. And when it’s time to rise and shine, spend a few minutes doing gentle, slow stretches to straighten up your spine again and to help strengthen your muscles.
Rest well & wake up ready to go!
Better sleep gives rise to better mornings, bringing your goals into focus and dreams within reach. Hungry for more sleep info? Dig into these posts:
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