- Whatever suits you or your particular situation, your sleeping position can change.
- No matter what position you choose, alignment is key for a good night's sleep, say experts.
What’s your favourite sleeping position? Do you sleep on your back, side, or belly?
Whatever suits you or your particular situation, your sleeping position can change. Specific situations — pregnancy or health problems — can also affect the way people sleep.
Often, the way you feel when you wake up, is a function of sleeping with the right posture.
Alignment is key
Dr. Mazen Fayad, Consultant Orthopedic Surgeon at Clemenceau Medical Center Dubai, offers a rather simple rule: “No matter what position you choose, or the best sleeping position for your situation, alignment is key.”
More to it, keeping a proper alignment of your spine is the most important thing to remember before you doze off. Dr Fayyad explains some clear benefits to proper sleeping position:
- Sleeping in the right way can help ease neck or back pain; doing it wrong causes or aggravates the condition.
- A wrong sleeping position may also obstruct the airways to your lungs, leading to problems like obstructive sleep apnoea.
Research suggests that the wrong sleeping position may cause toxins to filter out of your brain more slowly.
In January 2022, the US National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute cited research suggesting that if left untreated, sleep apnoea can trigger “severe health consequences”. Among others, it raises the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, glaucoma, and even a higher risk of accidents.
Why sleeping positions matter
Rebecca Robins, an instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and associate scientist at Brigham Women’s Hospital, has been conducting research and designing interventions to give individuals the tools to improve their sleep and their health.
She echoes what Dr Fayyad says.
“Sleeping positions absolutely do matter,” Robins said in video instruction for Science Insider. “We all, believe it or not, spend most of our time one of three positions — most people are side sleepers, the next most common is sleeping on your back, and the least commons sleeping on your stomach.”
> Positional obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) occurs when the majority of apnoeic episodes can be attributed to sleep position.
> When you are in a supine sleep position (lying flat on your back, the second-most common sleeping position), the shape and size of your upper airway are altered.
> However, sleep experts say lying flat on your back elevates snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea. The reason: as the tongue and soft tissues in the throat relax, gravity will pull them down into the airway.
NOTE: If you have this sleep disorder, talk to your doctor.
'Fill in the gaps'
Dr Fayyad’s advice: focus specifically on aligning your ears, shoulders, and hips.
“You may notice gaps between your body and the bed. This may strain your muscles and spine. Reduce this stress by using pillows to fill the gaps,” Dr Fayad explained to Gulf News.
SLEEPING ON YOUR BACK
Dr Fayyad suggests that for back sleepers, you can sleep on your back with a pillow under your knees. How does this position help? When you sleep on your back, your weight is evenly distributed and spread across the widest area of your body.
Sleeping with your back helps the spine stay in a more “natural” position. This prevents some of the neck, shoulder and back pain experienced with other postures. By elevating the head with a pillow, it can also be helpful in reducing problems associated with acid reflux.
However, he suggest that if you prefer to sleep on your back but notice that it leads to lower back pain, you should try moving to another position. One simple technique: use a low pillow or "cervical cushion" to support the neck; then use a medium-sized pillow for propping up the knees. This will help reduce discomfort and strain on the lower back.
Tips for back sleepers:
> You may do best with thinner pillows and those that have extra padding in the bottom to support the neck.
> Memory foam is a good material that moulds specifically to your own neck.
> A water pillow is another option that gives firm, all-over support.
⦿ If you sleep on your back, your pillow should fill the space between your neck and the mattress.
⦿ If you sleep on your side, try using a thicker pillow to keep your head in line with the rest of your body in this position.
⦿ Whatever you do, don’t place your pillow under your shoulders.
SLEEPING ON YOUR SIDE
This is the most common sleeping position. If you sleep on your side all the time, that alone won’t make you feel better. Whether you use one pillow or opt for two, resist the urge to always sleep on the same side.
Doing so many cause issues like muscle imbalance and even scoliosis, said Dr Fayad.
Tips for side sleepers:
> When sleeping on your side, use the pillow between your knees, as it helps to align your body while sleeping.
> The pillow will keep your hips, pelvis, and spine in better alignment.
> You may want to look for a firm pillow.
> Try to find one that has an extra-wide gusset that will help with the space between your ear and shoulder.
> Don’t forget to place a firm pillow (or rolled towel) between your knees.
SLEEPING ON YOUR BELLY
When you sleep on your belly, the weight of your torso (the main trunk of your body, without the head and limbs) makes it sink deeper into the mattress. This could stretch your spine out of “neutral” alignment and back arches down.
This mis-alignment during your rest/sleep period triggers stress and strain on your spine, leading to aches and pains you will notice only upon waking.
Tips for belly sleepers:
> Aim to use the thinnest pillow possible — or no pillow at all.
> In fact, you may try sleeping on your side while holding a body pillow.
> The body pillow will give you the feeling of something against your stomach while helping to align the rest of your body.
Whatever sleeping position works for you, knowing the basics, as outlined by experts, help in sleep continuity (in contrast to disrupted sleep cycles), which is important to thinking, memory, decision-making and overall health.
> People who have interrupted sleep end up not getting enough overall sleep. Among people with insomnia, interrupted sleep is a frequent complaint.
Known effects of insufficient sleep:
> Daytime sleepiness, which detracts from school | work performance.
> Heightened risk of accidents while driving or operating machinery.
> Downgraded “memory consolidation”.
> Disrupted sleep cycles, or constant sleep restrictions do affect brain function, physical health, and emotional well-being.
> Insufficient sleep is also known to be independently associated with a higher risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even early mortality.