We all know that we need to get a good night’s sleep in order to stay healthy, happy and capable of meeting our daily demands and responsibilities. This is around eight hours of uninterrupted sleep that allows you to wake up feeling energized. When most people think of healthy sleep patterns, they think of a good sleep schedule or good sleep hygiene. Of course these are true and have a big impact on being able to actually fall asleep, but there are other aspects of sleep that impact health. Most notably, the position that you lie in while you sleep seems to be neglected. Even if you are getting your recommended eight hours of sleep a night, if you are lying in a position that is unhealthy, then you could be doing longer-lasting damage to your body and overall sleep quality than you think.
How Your Sleeping Position Impacts Your Overall Health
Good sleep posture
We naturally gravitate to a sleeping position that feels comfortable to us, but one of the most important aspects of good sleep posture is to maintain the natural curvature of your back. Our spines curve in a distinct way to maintain functions best in our bodies, not just movement. When everything is in good alignment, blood circulation improves, breathing improves, digestion improves, muscle healing and relaxation improves, and quality of sleep in general improves. Of course this means then that incorrect positions negatively impact all of these areas, and then some.
Lying on your back doesn’t always allow for this, as it creates strain and pressure points in the lower back and hips. When the head is elevated on pillows, the neck curve is unnatural, as is the lower back curve. Lying on your back also reduces the openness of the airway, which impacts breathing quality and can lead to unrestful sleep. Those who sleep on their backs also tend to experience more problems with Sleep Apnea and snoring, which leave you feeling exhausted even after a full night’s sleep.
When it comes to combating snoring and sleep apnea associated with back sleeping, side sleeping is the solution. When sleeping on your side, your airway is more open than on your back, allowing you to breathe optimally. However, sleeping on the left-side is recommended, as right-side sleeping has been associated with Acid Reflux. Sleeping on the left-side also increases blood circulation to your heart and to the uterus as well, which is why it is also the recommended position for pregnant women.
When sleeping on your side, however, it is best to avoid sleeping with your legs pulled up to your chest in the fetal position, as this decreases blood circulation and negatively impacts digestion. Sleeping, rather, with your legs slightly bent with a pillow between your knees helps you to achieve the best spinal curvature and to relieve excess pressure on your hips. It should also be noted that the quality of your mattress plays a large role in all positions, but especially side-sleeping positions where there is more pressure on smaller pressure points. A firm mattress that supports your body well, and even a memory foam model like what is offered by Eve Mattress is recommended. These models should give way at exactly the points where you need it to.
Although many sleep on their stomachs because they find it most comfortable in order to initially fall asleep, this position is heavily associated with neck and shoulder pain, since it encourages very unnatural spinal posture. Stomach sleepers also often sleep with their arms up, under or even over the pillow. This causes the muscles in both neck and shoulders to remain in a tense state, creating chronic neck and shoulder pain. Some benefits of stomach sleeping are being able to breathe better and it aids in digestion. This position should only be used, however, when you sleep directly on the mattress (don’t elevate your head with a pillow) and your arms should be kept down to the sides instead of raised above your head.
Changing sleeping positions
If you are experiencing restless nights or pain and other problems during the day, your solution could be as simple as changing the position in which you sleep. Simple is perhaps not the best word to use, since training yourself to change a sleep position can be quite difficult. We are creatures of habit after all, and we tend to gravitate towards positions that are comfortable, regardless of whether they are good for us or not. If you are hoping to switch to a healthy side-sleeping option, often sleeping with a pillow in front of and behind you can be helpful to keep you on your side. Hugging a pillow close to your body is especially advised for stomach sleepers, as the pressure of the pillow will mimic the pressure of sleeping on your stomach and you can trick your body into thinking that it is in this favored position. If you want to remain on your back, your position can be easily changed into a healthier option by placing a pillow under your knees, which keeps the legs slightly bent and the arch in your lower back less extended. Adjusting to this position will likely come easier and more quickly than changing your sleeping position altogether.