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The Different Kinds of Sleeping Positions And Why They Matter

Recent studies have shown that our default sleeping positions affect our physical health

 

Getting the Rest You Deserve

When we hear the term ‘quality sleep’, the first thing that comes to mind is how many hours of sleep we get. Despite this, studies from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard have shown a lot of factors contribute to a night of real restful sleep.


The most recent addition to this list? Our sleeping positions. 


According to WebMD, as we spend a third of our lives asleep, there’s no question that sleeping positions affect our physical health. So if you feel like you’ve ‘woken up on the wrong side of the bed’, you aren’t entirely wrong. Here’s what your default sleeping position means and why it matters.

Back sleepers enjoy even body weight distribution and healthy spinal alignment Alt Text: Woman in bed with arms outstretched, covered in a navy blanket and surrounded by pillows

 

The Back Sleeper

Alternatively known as ‘soldiers’ or ‘starfishes’ based on where they place their hands, back sleepers rest flat on their backs and are the least likely to shift positions during the night.


This sleeping position is good for health, helping you keep your spine in proper alignment and evenly distributing body weight to prevent neck pains or backaches. Sleeping in this position whilst keeping your upper body elevated can also relieve symptoms from allergies or nose congestions. As back sleepers have their faces turned upwards, there’s little risk of developing facial wrinkles in this position.


However, back sleepers might suffer from obstructed airways, a common cause of snoring tendencies or sleep apnea. Pregnant women are often also advised against sleeping in this position due to hindered blood flow to their extremities. Those with acid reflux conditions might also experience more frequent attacks when sleeping on their backs.


To help promote healthier circulation and ensure the spine’s natural curvature, back sleepers are advised to place a pillow just beneath the back of their knees for more optimal rest.



Side Sleepers

The older you get, the greater the preference for side sleeping. From yearners – who sleep with hands outstretched – to log sleepers, who sleep with arms down by their sides, this is the best sleeping position for older individuals due to the decreasing flexibility of our spines.


As the position least likely to cause back pain, side sleeping promotes healthy spinal alignment and the best blood circulation. Notably, side sleepers enjoy reduced symptoms of sleep apnea, snoring, and heartburn. This is because there’s less airway compression and natural closing of the esophageal sphincter.


However, since side sleepers spend their nights pressed on one side, common aftereffects include sore shoulders and quick development of facial wrinkles. The uneven weight distribution also causes pressure on one hip, resulting in stiff joints.


To counter this, side sleepers can place additional layers – such as extra pillows or blankets – underneath their hip bones, or practice some light stretches for joint mobility before sleeping and after waking up.

A woman sleeping on her stomach, with her hands underneath her pillow.

Stomach Sleepers

True to their name, the free-fallers (or front sleepers) look like they’ve fallen asleep just after freefalling onto their mattresses.


While this sleeping position opens up your airways and is the best way to relieve snoring, it’s the least common position as your body weight is forced to work against gravity.


This position offers the least back support, increasing the pressure on your spine and causing it to stretch out of alignment. Having your head forced to face one side also twists it out of alignment with the rest of your spine, causing pain or discomfort when waking up.


As your face is pressed firmly to the pillow or mattress for the night, stomach sleepers also develop facial wrinkles easily.


For better spinal health, stomach sleepers should try alternating positions or shift into more natural side positions. Moreover, keeping your mattress or pillows clean can prevent the premature wrinkling of your skin.



The Fetal Position

Curling up under the covers feels just as comforting as it sounds, and as the most common sleeping position, there’s little argument against it.


Aside from improving circulation in your body, it carries all the benefits side sleeping has – particularly through allowing healthy spinal alignment and blood flow. It’s also the recommended sleeping position for pregnant women, as it prevents the uterus from pressing against the liver.


However, the dangers of curling up too tightly come with some drawbacks. Excessive hunching over often results in lower back discomfort, pain in the shoulders, or difficulty breathing due to impeded diaphragm activity.


To avoid these problems, body pillows – more widely known as bolsters – can help ensure fetal position sleepers avoid coiling themselves into tight balls while asleep for a cosier, more restful night.



So which is the best sleeping position? It really depends on what best fits your physical needs and comfort. Whether you choose to adjust your sleeping posture or invest in good quality comfort, your ultimate goal should always be to give your body the rest it deserves.