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The Very Best Sleep Position for You

How your sleeping situation can impact your well-being.

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From the best sleep positions for every health condition to why sleep divorces are trending, this week I’ll be sharing just how different sleeping situations can impact your well-being.

Let’s face it: We’ve all been a little restless lately, from the pandemic to uncertainty and everything in between. As our routines change, it’s possible our sleep habits might too.

Whether you’re questioning if your sleep position is really the best for you or trying to decide if sleeping in the same bed as your partner may be causing issues, I have some answers for you.

Back, Side or Stomach: The Best Sleep Position for You

Here’s the dirty little secret when it comes to picking the best sleep position: There is no “one size fits all” approach.

Instead, it varies from person to person based on their physical and medical attributes. Or, as Rachel Salas of Johns Hopkins University recently put it, there are “caveats” to each sleep position.

Let’s take a look at each common sleep position and see the pros and cons of everything from back pain to sleep apnea.

Back Sleep Position

If you’re a back sleeper, you’re in the minority: A mere 10 percent of us are back sleepers, according to a National Sleep Survey published on Cision.

But that doesn’t mean that sleeping on your back is a bad thing; in fact, like all sleep positions, sleeping on your back can be good for your health and have some downsides too. We know that sleep positions can say something about your personality; while a generalization, back sleepers tend to be more introverted, and more likely to prefer mornings, according to a poll of 2,000 Americans.

Pros of Sleeping on Your Back

  • Reduced Neck Pain. You’re giving your muscles more support, and less likely to strain especially neck. When you lay on your back, you’re supporting your spine.
  • Better Digestion. As a general rule, it’s good to avoid heavy meals before going to bed. But if you’re a wolf chronotype especially, you may find it harder to avoid late dinners. For those that eat later, have indigestion or heartburn, sleeping on your back is the best sleep position.
  • Youthful Skin. There is no magical cream that can smooth wrinkles overnight–but back sleepers enjoy fewer fine lines and wrinkles compared with other sleep positions

Cons of Sleeping on Your Back

  • Increased Risk of Sleep Apnea. For those prone to snoring, the back sleep position is not the best option. Snorers may suffer from sleep apnea, a common disorder that obstructs airways at night. Sleeping on your back makes the problem worse and can cause airways to collapse for those already suffering. If you snore, consider seeing a sleep specialist to discover if you suffer from sleep apnea.

Stomach Sleep Position

If you thought back sleepers were rare, the stomach sleep position is less popular, with under ten percent of us preferring it. And like sleeping on your back, the stomach position is not all bad or good.

This sleep position tends to say you have an outgoing, friendly personality. Stomach sleepers are the social butterflies, or they at least tend to like being around other people.

Pros of Stomach Sleep Position

  • Best for Sleep Apnea Sufferers. As opposed to back sleepers, stomach sleepers actually breathe easier, which makes it a better position for those with sleep apnea. Your airways are more likely to stay open.
  • Heartburn Buster. I find this really interesting: Both the back and stomach sleep positions are the best for those prone to indigestion, heartburn, and related digestive issues.

Cons of Stomach Sleep Position

  • More Restless Sleep. The biggest drawback to the stomach sleep position is it may cause more nighttime awakenings. That’s because this position tends to place more pressure on your joints, and you’re more likely to toss and turn.
  • Muscle and Neck Pain. You probably already guessed this, but if you suffer from achy joints or neck pain–so many of us do–I don’t recommend sleeping on your stomach. Again, you’re placing pressure and you’re also more likely to have your neck and spine out of alignment.
  • More Wrinkles. We’ve all heard of beauty sleep, and while it’s true that sleeping more can keep your skin looking younger for longer, some sleep positions are better than others. Stomach sleepers are more likely to have wrinkles: the pressure against your face adds friction, which can make those fine lines add up over time.

Side Sleep Position

Side sleepers, rejoice–if it matters to you, you’ve chosen the most popular sleep position. In fact, an astonishing 63 percent of us are side sleepers, according to WebMD.

Of course, keep in mind that side sleeping includes a variety of positions. But since we’re speaking generally here, it’s still undoubtedly the most popular way to catch some z’s.

Side sleepers tend to be more open-minded to people, experiences, and ideas. Left-side sleepers tend to be more creative than right-side sleepers.

Pros of Side Sleep Positions

  • It May Help You Think Better. This is fascinating: According to a 2015 Stony Brook University study, the side sleep position has been associated with clearing brain waste, which is linked to a lower risk for cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s.
  • It’s Good for Your Heart. Compared with other sleep positions, the side sleep position is best for your heart because it promotes blood flow and circulation. I especially recommend the side sleep position for anyone with high blood pressure or circulatory disorders.
  • You’ll Snore Less. If you have sleep apnea and aren’t fond of the stomach position, side sleeping can be a great alternative because it also promotes clear airways.
  • Less Back Pain. As long as you have a supportive mattress and pillow, if you’re sleeping on your side, you’re less likely to experience back and neck pain because your spine doesn’t have direct pressure on it.

Which sleep position is best for you? Only you can decide.

Sleep Well, Be Well,

Dr. Michael Breus

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