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What is the best sleep position to sleep in?

05-02-2015

What is the best sleep position to sleep in?

Ok, so there are a bunch of different ways of sleeping, right? You may be flat out on your back, curled up on your side or even snuggled into your partner. Do these have any impacts on you or are they all the same in the end? As it turns out, sleeping in different positions can have a range of different impacts on you, they are not all equal but rather all have different potential physiological outcomes.

There have been a number of discussions about what your sleep positions may say about your personality, but in the end these do not seem as important as what physical impacts these positions might have on you. Sure it is cute to learn that if you sleep in a foetal position then you appear to be sturdy and strong on first impressions but then when people come to know you they find that you are introverted and sensitive at heart but these are all quite vague and do not give us anything concrete. We want to know how sleep position actually effects us, in a physiological sense, so here goes.

On your stomach

Around 15% of us sleep on our stomachs, making it a fairly common sleep position. Sleeping on your stomach causes the spine to flatten out somewhat and this can mean that you suffer pain or stiffness during the day and over time you may end up developing back problems. The other issue with sleeping on your back is that you need to turn your head to the side to breath and this can put stress on your neck. Because of these strains not many people are able to maintain this sleeping position throughout the night either, meaning that they will end up tossing and turning. Sleep experts recommend that anyone who sleeps on their stomach tries a new method of sleeping as it is not optimal. They suggest that you should try to curl up on your non-dominant side (if you are left handed this means your right side, and vice versa). This will take the pressure off the lower back and means that you are putting pressure on the side of your body that is less sensitive (as it does less work during the day). Sleeping like this will mean you are comfortable enough to stay that way all night.

On your back

Now sleeping on your back is also very common. Sleeping on your back is also not great for the spine. It also flattens it out and your spine is not meant to be straight. There are three natural curves in the back and when you sleep like this you will flatten several of these out, this can have the same outcomes as sleeping on your front. The only saving grace here is that you do not need to turn your neck, though depending on how many pillows you use and how thick they are you may also experience some neck issues. The other thing with sleeping on your back is that it is the most common position for snoring. If you sleep on your back you should try to sleep on your non-dominant side, curled up.   If you really need to sleep on your back, then you should put a pillow under your knees as this will help to keep  the normal curve of your lower back and it reduces the pressure placed on your sciatic nerve in your lower back. A small rolled towel under the small of the back would do good as additional support.

Sleeping on your side

As already indicated in the above statements, sleeping on your side is the position that is recommended by all sleep experts. There are a number of reasons for this, it is better for your spine, it places less strain on all the parts of your body and means that you can sleep in the same position all night without having to move. If you want to make yourself even more comfortable in this already comfortable position then you should place a pillow between your knees to naturally support your hips and lower back. You should also try to sleep on your non-dominant side as well as this will make you even more comfortable and less likely to wake up.

Snuggled up with your partner

This is an interesting sleep position as it requires both people to be in the same sleep zone. If you and your partner are able to both fall asleep at the same time at night and wake up at around the same time each morning without moving then you may find that you sleep snuggled up. They call it spooning, and it means both lying on your sides (yes already the best position) and lying together like two spoons in a draw. It has actually been shown that when people sleep close together their bodies actually release a bunch of different hormones that make them more relaxed, more empathetic and more romantically inclined. It is not surprising then that a number of studies have found that couples who sleep in this position are generally more happy, more relaxed and more in love with each other than couples who don’t. In fact, one particular study even measured the distance between couples and found that it was inversely related to their happiness. They even measured distance to the metres (when they were sleeping in different beds and even different bedrooms) and this relationship between sleep distance and relationship satisfaction held true.

Conclusion

The consensus is that you should sleep lying on your side, and if you really want to magnify the benefits of this sleep position then you should do this lying next to your partner ‘spooning’. Then you get the musculoskeletal benefits and the hormonal ones as well!


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