How different sleeping positions affect your physical health


woman sleeping

Related Articles

If you're lucky to get a full eight hours sleep, you'll spend around a third of your life in bed — that's a lot of lying around. In theory at least, you spend as much time sleeping as you do working. So it's a good idea to take it seriously. Even if you may not be aware of it, it's as important to consider your posture when you're unconscious as it is when you're awake. There are several basic sleep positions. How does each one affect your physical health?




Depending on who you are — and who you listen to — sleeping on your side can be a good or a bad thing; either aiding circulation or causing stress to vital organs. Health.com, however, advises pregnant women to adopt this position. "If you’re pregnant," they say, "sleep on your left side. It’s ideal for blood flow." MayoClinic recommends side sleeping for reducing strain on the back. "By making simple changes in your sleeping position, you can take strain off your back. If you sleep on your side, draw your legs up slightly toward your chest and put a pillow between your legs. Use a full-length body pillow if you prefer." Sleeping on your side can also help to combat snoring by elongating the spine, to prevent stiffness in the neck and to reduce acid reflux. There is some suggestion that, because of a lack of proper support, sleeping on your side can cause breasts to sag and cause wrinkles. If you are a side sleeper, use a thick pillow to support your head and neck.




If you're a stomach sleeper, you may be putting unnecessary strain on your back. Although this position can reduce snoring and reduce the risks associated with sleep apnea, regular lower back strain can result in long-term problems — ones that will cause you to lose a whole lot more sleep in the future. By placing a pillow under your lower abdomen, you can take away some of that pressure on your spine. Some sources suggest stomach sleeping aids digestion. Most qualified sources recommend you avoid meals just before bedtime. "A light snack is fine," says MayoClinic, "but eating too much food late in the evening can interfere with sleep." Needless to say, sleeping on the abdomen is also to be avoided when pregnant.




The most common sleep position — with a reported 41 percent of people favoring it — is the fetal position, preferred by twice as many women as men. In fact, it is recommended during pregnancy. However, although this seems like a natural position — and though it can help stop snoring — a curved back coupled with poor neck support may result in short- or long-term problems with pain or aggravate pre-existing conditions like arthritis and sciatica. Rather than tuck your chin into your chest with your knees pulled up, try to keep your back straight. You can also prevent strain to your hips by sleeping with a pillow between your knees. As mentioned before, some argue that sleeping on your side causes prematurely sagging breasts and wrinkles.




Sleeping on your back seems — to us, at least — like a guarantee that you will snore. If you have obstructive sleep apnea — a condition which causes throat muscles to loosen and block the passage of air — it's certainly a position to avoid. Health.com suggest that back sleeping is good for preventing acid reflux and relieving neck and back pain. Lying on your back puts the least amount of strain on your back and so will limit stiffness and pain in the morning. It's still advisable to support your neck by pulling your pillow down not quite to your shoulders to fill the space beneath your head and neck. AmericanPregnancy offers some good advice to expectant women about avoiding the position in the later weeks:

"When you're sleeping on your back, the weight of your uterus lies on the spine, back muscles, intestines and major blood vessels. This can lead to muscle aches and pains, hemorrhoids and impaired circulation, which is uncomfortable for you and can reduce circulation to your baby. Back sleeping can make blood pressure drop, causing some expectant moms to experience dizziness. On the other hand, in some moms-to-be it can make blood pressure go up."

"If you sleep on your back," MayoClinic says, "place a pillow under your knees to help maintain the normal curve of your lower back. You might try a small, rolled towel under the small of your back for additional support. Support your neck with a pillow."


Sleep on it

Chances are you don't stay in one position all night. Even if you're not actually sleepwalking, most people change their sleep position more than a few times each night. But, as you spend a decent proportion of your life in bed, it's a good idea to try to adopt some healthy habits. The Cleveland Clinic offers some sound advice for sound sleep and good health:

  • Keep your spine in a neutral position — you should be as relaxed and comfortable as possible
  • Sleep on your back or side — keep the strain off your back and aid blood flow and breathing.
  • Alternate sides if you’re a side sleeper — keep your circulatory system happy.
  • Use a pillow — your neck will thank you in the morning.
  • Your body type dictates the type of support you need — ignore the advertisers — get what's right for you.

Most important of all is having a comfortable pillow and mattress that are suitable for your (and your partner's) needs. What that will mean for you is very much down to personal taste and physical requirements. Whether you like a soft or a firm mattress, make sure you get plenty of support for your back and your neck. Take your time when choosing a bed. Shop around to find one that's right for you. You'll spend more time in it than you do in your car so take it for a test drive. Within reason, of course.