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Sleep Positions Matter

Sleep Positions Matter — Are You a Back, Side or Stomach Sleeper?

There are three main sleep positions: back, side, and stomach. Although back and side sleeping positions are recommended by most sleep experts, doctors also stress that sleep position should be an individual decision based on each person’s specific needs and comfort preferences.

Here are the benefits and potential issues associated with each sleep position:

Back Sleeper

Sleeping on the back evenly distributes weight and pressure on the spine, neck and joints. Back sleeping is thus a very comfortable position for many people and may allow for better circulation and optimal rest. According to Dr. Sol Cogan, the chiropractor for the Detroit Lions from 2002 to 2015, “Sleeping on your back reduces pressure on the discs so it’s better for the back and neck.”

Still, back sleeping, like all sleep positions, can have potential pitfalls. Dr. Jason Levy, chiropractor to the New York Jets points out, “If you are a back sleeper, you want to make sure your neck is supported nicely and your head does not get pressed up too high or fall back too low.” The ultimate goal is for the neck to be in alignment with the spine, which can be achieved through proper pillow support or mattress position if you have an adjustable bed frame. The right mattress makes a difference.”

Back sleeping has also been correlated with higher rates of snoring, which can keep your partner awake, and sleep apnea. A study conducted by the National Institute of Health found that the incidence of sleep apnea was twice as high during the time patients slept on their back versus their sides. If you suffer from either of these, including finding out how to stop snoring, you may want to discuss sleep position with your doctor.

Side Sleeper

According to the Better Sleep Council, 69 percent of people sleep on their sides. Dr. Lou Bisogni, a leading New York chiropractor, notes that for most people, “The best sleep position is a side posture fetal pose, with legs curled and pillow between your knees, which keeps the pelvis level and reduces the chances of lower back irritation, stiffness or pain.”

Side sleepers are less prone to snoring but are more likely to experience nerve compression that can cause neck and back pain, even sciatic nerve pain.

For the side sleeper, the pillow should be firm enough to support the head and high enough so that the head is in a neutral or even position. This reduces stress and pressure placed on the neck, which will cut down on neck pain, muscle aches and stiffness. The proper pillow supports the head and neck and never the shoulders.

Of course, there are two sides to the body and research shows there are different advantages and disadvantages depending on the side you sleep on. For example, sleeping on your left side can help reduce acid reflux. Dr. Bisogni notes this is because left side sleeping keeps the stomach below the esophagus and gravity helps keep the reflux at bay.

Sleeping primarily on the left side is not without its limitations. It can put a strain on internal organs like the liver, lungs and stomach. Perhaps because of this, The Cleveland Clinic recommends that side sleepers alternate sides during the night.

Sleep Positions Matter

Stomach Sleeper

Experts agree that the sleep position associated with the most potential disadvantages is resting on the stomach. Sleeping on the stomach can have negative impacts on digestion and circulation and can create pressure on the back and neck. In order to breathe, stomach sleeping requires the neck to be bent in one direction or the other. This twisting of the neck causes strain and pressure. Even if an individual gets a restful sleep on the stomach, they may feel sore, develop a stiff neck or have neck pain during waking hours due to the craning of the neck that stomach sleeping requires.
If you are a stomach sleeper and want to try to change positions, Dr. Levy suggests you may ease the transition to a side sleeping position by wedging a pillow between your stomach and the mattress. This may feel more comfortable than side sleeping alone and may prevent people used to stomach sleeping from rolling onto their bellies while asleep.

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