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Best sleeping positions for your health

 Ever wondered which is the best sleep position for overall health? It is a topic that experts seem to disagree. Some argue that back sleeping is the ideal position for maintaining spinal alignment and preventing neck and back pain, while others believe that side sleeping is the most beneficial to reduce snoring and alleviate symptoms of sleep apnoea, acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). According to the Sleep Foundation, we spend around a third of our lives in bed. So it is vital that we find a comfy position that supports any health problems we may have and promotes optimal physical recovery through the night.

Is there a ‘best’ sleeping position?

The reason experts cannot seem to agree on the ideal sleep position is because there is no sleep posture that is perfect for everyone. Everyone’s bodies are unique and may have different needs and health conditions. Therefore, the best sleep position for your health is one that helps you get the most restful sleep and does not actively add to (or reduces) any pain you may be experiencing in your body.

The pros and cons of different sleep positions

Each sleep position offers unique benefits and drawbacks. Certain sleep positions will be better at promoting spinal alignment to prevent neck pain or back pain while others will help to reduce snoring and prevent airway collapse. It is important to understand the benefits and drawbacks of each position in order to make an informed decision about the best sleep position for your health. Read on to learn the pros and cons of each position and which might be the best position for your individual body and health.

Sleeping in the fetal position

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The fetal position is a common sleep position in which a person curls up into a ball with their knees bent and close to their chest – similar to the position of a baby in the womb. This position can help to reduce snoring and can be beneficial for those with back pain, as it provides support for the spine. However, it can also lead to neck pain and can exacerbate breathing difficulties in some people. If you like to sleep in the fetal position, try popping a pillow between your knees to keep your hips aligned. You may also benefit from hugging a pillow between your arms and ensuring you have the right pillow to protect your neck.

What is good about this sleeping position?

  • Reduces snoring by preventing airway collapse
  • Less pressure on the spine

What are the drawbacks of this sleeping position?

  • Can cause neck pain by compromosing neck alignment

Who is this sleeping position suitable for?

  • Those with obstructive sleep apnea
  • Anyone with back pain

Sleeping on your back

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Sleeping on your back, also known as the supine position, is considered one of the best positions for maintaining spinal alignment and preventing neck and back pain. This is because a supine position allows for even distribution of weight, reducing pressure on joints. It also helps to prevent wrinkles by not putting pressure on the face. However, it can exacerbate snoring and sleep apnea. If you prefer to sleep on your back and you do suffer from obstructive sleep apnea or snoring, you may find elevating your upper body slightly – either with pillows or an adjustable bed base – to be beneficial. It is recommended that pregnant women avoid sleeping on their back through the second and third trimester (from around 20 weeks). This is because the weight of your uterus can put pressure on your interior vena cava, which is the big blood vessel that brings blood flow back to your heart.

What is good about this sleeping position?

  • Optimises spine alignment and natural curve of the spine
  • Helps to relieve pressure on the joints
  • Encourages good blood flow

What are the drawbacks of this sleeping position?

  • Can exacerbate snoring and sleep apnea symptoms
  • Can contribute to low back pain in some circumstances (a pillow under the knees can prevent this)
  • For pregnant women, can reduce healthy blood flow to mother and baby

Who is this sleeping position suitable for?

  • Those who experience back and/or neck pain
  • Anyone who does not snore or experience sleep apnea

Sleeping on your side

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 Side sleeping is a great option for those who suffer from sleep apnea or snoring, as it helps to open up the airway, reducing the likelihood of these issues. This position is also helpful for reducing acid reflux, as gravity helps to keep stomach acid from flowing back into the oesophagus. On the other hand, side sleeping can put pressure on the shoulders and hips, leading to discomfort and joint pain. Sleeping on the left side is thought to be more beneficial than the right, particularly for pregnant women and those who suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease or heartburn, as it keeps pressure off internal organs.

What is good about this sleeping position?

  • Opens up airways
  • Prevents acid reflux

What are the drawbacks of this sleeping position?

  • Can promote back and neck pain if not properly supported
  • Can add pressure to shoulders and hips

Who is this sleeping position suitable for?

  • Anyone who experiences GERD or heartburn (left side sleeping in particular)
  • Pregnant women (preferably left side)
  • Those with obstructive sleep apnea

Sleeping on your stomach

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Also known as the supine position, sleeping on your stomach is generally not recommended for a good night’s sleep. This is due to the pressure that this sleep position puts on your back and neck. As it can also be difficult to breathe properly in the supine position, it is not conducive to good sleep hygiene. Stomach sleeping is sometimes recommended for those who suffer from sleep apnea and those who have disc related back injuries as gravity is thought to help bring the disc to its ideal position in the spinal column. That said, stomach sleeping does add to the pressure on your spinal tissues so other positions that also offer the same benefits are usually recommended over sleeping on your stomach.

What is good about this sleeping position?

  • Can be beneficial for some with disc-related lower back pain
  • Can alleviate sleep apnea symptoms

What are the drawbacks of this sleeping position?

  • Can lead to back and neck pain
  • Can reduce breathing capacity
  • Puts pressure on the face, potentially leading to wrinkles

Who is this sleeping position suitable for?

  • People who have no back or neck pain
  • People who have difficulty sleeping in any other position
  • Those who have no issures with breathing
  • Those who alternate positions throughout the night and only sleep on their stomach for short periods of time

What is the best sleeping position for you?

Whether you are a back sleeper, side sleeper, stomach sleeper, or a fetal position sleeper, it is essential to find a sleep position that promotes good sleep hygiene and reduces any discomfort or pain. Listen to your body and pay attention to whether you are feeling rested when you wake or are perhaps instead waking tired or in pain. As a quick reference point, here are the positions considered best for different health conditions:

Neck pain

Sleeping on your back

Shoulder pain

Sleeping on your back

Back pain

Sleeping on your back or sleeping on your side

Sleep apnea

Sleeping on your side

Acid reflux

Sleeping on your side

Pregnancy

Supported side sleeping, ideally on the left side

Hip pain

Sleeping on your back or supported side sleeping with a pillow between your knees

Knee pain

Sleeping on the side or in the prone position, depending on whether your knees feel better slightly bent or straight

What is the unhealthiest sleeping position?

Out of all the sleep positions, stomach sleeping is considered to be the worst sleeping position as it puts pressure on the face, neck, and spine. This can lead to neck and back pain, breathing difficulties and wrinkles. Sleeping on your stomach can also make it harder to maintain good sleep hygiene, as it can be more difficult to breathe in this position. People who sleep on their stomach are more likely to toss and turn throughout the night, leading to disrupted sleep and decreased quality of rest. For these reasons, experts recommend avoiding stomach sleeping whenever possible. If you prefer sleeping on your stomach, try placing a pillow lengthways from your shoulders to your thigh and sleeping over it. It may give you the same sensation as sleeping on your stomach without the additional pressure that the position places on your body.

Is it better to sleep on your back or side?

Whether it is better to sleep on your back or your side will depend on your unique health picture. If you are wanting to optimise spinal alignment and reduce pressure on the shoulder and hip joints, back sleeping is most likely going to be best. If you have sleep apnea, snore or experience acid reflux, side sleeping might be the better option for you.

Overall, while some sleep positions may be more beneficial for certain health conditions or individual needs, there is no one sleep position that is considered the best for overall health. It is recommended that people experiment with different positions and listen to their bodies to determine what works best for them. If you have any ongoing health issues or are experiencing pain or discomfort while sleeping, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional for personalised advice. Remember too that nocturnal body movements mean that we often do not stay in one position through the entire night. So if your favourite position is not the best sleeping position for your health picture yet you do not wake up fatigued or in pain, chances are your nighttime movements are preventing the position from being a problem for you.

 In general, what most experts do agree on is that the most important factor for good sleep hygiene is maintaining a supportive sleep environment. This includes ensuring you have a comfortable and supportive mattress and pillow and practice good sleep habits.

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