Sleep is such a big part of our lives – even if we’re not getting 8 hours. However, there’s more to it than you might think. Your sleeping position plays a significant role in your sleep quality, which means it might be time for you to switch it up.
People talk about having good posture, so we know to stop slouching, and ensure that our workstation is functional and comfortably set up. On the other hand, we rarely think of this when it comes to sleep. Good sleeping posture helps your back, as the muscles and ligaments of your back relax and heal themselves while you sleep. To protect your back, good posture is important while sleeping.
Sleep posture expert James Leinhardt explains, ‘People simply don’t know how much their sleeping position affects their life and the pain they feel throughout the day.’ We tend to stick with what we’re used to because it’s comfortable, often blaming pain or discomfort on a strenuous activity, instead of considering this could have been impacted by your sleep. This affect becomes particularly clear in athletes – James highlights having spoken to over 650 professional athletes, ‘not a single one had considered the impact of their sleeping position prior, not realising the surface they lie on can impact their rest and recovery.’ We spend a third of every day asleep, so really focusing on how you can get the most from that could make all the difference, not just for athletes, but for all of us.
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The Best Sleeping Positions
Different sleeping positions have different benefits. If you’re experiencing pain or other health conditions, you might need to switch your position, to help manage the issue. While this may not be something you can do in one night, changing your default sleep position can definitely be worth trying out.
Taking the time to gradually train yourself to sleep in a new position could be the secret to improving your sleep quality. If you are not comfortable with this, you could also try to modify your favourite sleeping position to make sure you’re getting the most out of it.
This position involves sleeping on your side with bent legs curled in toward your body. It is the most popular sleeping position. Not only is it great for lower back pain or pregnancy, but sleeping in the fetal position can help reduce snoring. If you have any issues with joint pain or stiffness, sleeping in a tight fetal position might leave you sore in the morning, so best to try a different position.
*SLEEPING TIP* Make sure your posture is relatively loose, otherwise your comfortable position could limit deep breathing while you sleep. Keep your legs somewhat extended or try sleeping with a pillow between your knees.
Sleeping On Your Side
Sleeping on your side is similar to the fetal position, but your legs are not pulled in toward your body. In addition to reducing snoring, it is great for digestion and may even reduce heartburn.
Depending on your health, there may be some benefit to sleeping on your left side over your right. Left-side sleeping has the most science-backed health benefits. It can be useful for encouraging regular bowel movements. Your small intestine moves waste to your large intestine through something called the ileocecal valve, found in the lower right abdomen. Sleeping on your left side could potentially allow gravity to help with the process of moving waste through your ileocecal valve.
*SLEEPING TIP* Start out on your left side at night to prevent heartburn and allow gravity to move waste through your colon. Putting a pillow between your lower legs will help better align your hips to avoid lower back pain. Sleep on whichever side feels most comfortable, but don’t be afraid to switch to a different position if it’s not working for you.
Lying On Your Stomach
The stomach sleeping position can help relieve snoring, by opening up your airway. However, this position is not recommended for most people. Pregnant women, and people with neck or back pain should avoid sleeping on their stomachs. The stomach position provides the least back support of all sleeping positions and increases pressure on the spine, sometimes causing pain upon waking up.
*SLEEPING TIP* Try sleeping with a thin head pillow – or no pillow – to reduce added stress on your neck. You can also try slipping a pillow under your pelvis to reduce lower back pain.
Flat On Your Back
Sleeping on your back offers the most health benefits. It protects your spine, and it can also help relieve hip and knee pain. Sleeping on your back uses gravity to keep your body in an even alignment over your spine. This can help reduce any unnecessary pressure on your back or joints. Another plus is that your back protects the skin on your face from wrinkling.
*SLEEPING TIP* A pillow behind your knees may help support the natural curve of the back. If you’re congested, you can also prop yourself up with an extra pillow to make breathing easier.
Your sleeping position matters more than you might think. Try keeping a sleep diary for a week or two to help you figure out the best sleep scenario for your needs. You can keep track of any patterns in your sleep habits, so you can get a better look at what’s working versus what isn’t.
Remember, you don’t have to change your sleeping position if you aren’t having any issues. Do what feels best for you. The most important thing is to make sure you’re waking up feeling rested and ready to go.