What's Your Sleep Position: Back, Side, or Stomach?
There’s no one-size-fits-all sleep position. For example, it’s recommended that newborn babies sleep on their backs to prevent sudden infant death syndrome, but sleeping on their stomachs is OK when they can roll over on their own. Pregnant moms, on the other hand, shouldn’t sleep on their backs, because that position reduces blood flow to the uterus.
“The way a person sleeps for less pain and better health depends on what condition their body is presenting at the current time,” says Lee Albert, a neuromuscular therapist and author of “Live Pain-Free Without Drugs or Surgery.” “There is no one way that works for everybody. Of the three ways to sleep – back, side or stomach – there are advantages and disadvantages to those positions.”
Here are some pros and cons of the various sleep positions:
Sleeping On Your Back
“Sleeping on your back is going to be the best position if you suffer from TMD (temporomandibular disorders) or orofacial pain,” according to dentist Ronald C. Auvenshine, referring to any pain along the jaw, the mouth, or the face. He says lying on your back won’t put pressure on the jaw, offers proper support to the head, neck and shoulders, and provides the best alignment of the body, keeping the spine, neck and head in a neutral position. “You will be less likely to clench your jaw or grind your teeth.”
Supine sleeping is also good for spine and neck health, keeping the back straight and not contorted, says physical therapist Julie Byrt. Back sleeping, though it takes some getting used to, is also best for preventing wrinkles, according to a study in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal. Men are often stomach sleepers and develop wrinkles on their forehead. Women are usually side-sleepers and develop wrinkles on their cheeks. “Spending all night with the face out in the air – and not smooshed up against a pillow – leads to fewer facial wrinkles,” Byrt says.
However, back sleeping is not for people who snore. It’s linked to sleep apnea, a condition in which the tongue and soft tissue at the back of the throat obstruct breathing. Also, the American Chiropractic Association recommends that back sleepers keep a pillow under their knees.
Got back pain? Try sleeping on your side.
“Sleeping on your side or back is more often helpful for back pain,” according to the American Chiropractic Association. “If you sleep on your side, place a pillow between your legs.”
But not all sides are equal. If you sleep on your right side you can aggravate heartburn, according to research by the American Medical Association. “If you have any digestive issues, it’s better to sleep on your left side to promote the natural blood flow, due to the shape of the stomach, or propping up a pillow and sleeping reclined,” said Kenan Trebincevic, of Performance Physical Therapy and Wellness in the New York City area.
The main position to avoid is sleeping on your stomach.
“Lying on your stomach is typically the worst position for sleeping, followed closely by sleeping on one side with an arm under your head,” says dentist Auvenshine. “In these positions your posture is all out of alignment,” and can worsen jaw and facial pain.
Thankfully, according to WebMD, 63 percent of Americans sleep on their side, only 14 percent on their back and 16 percent on their stomach.
But our sleep positions are malleable – they change over time. It may take some practice, patience, and a bit of tossing and turning, but with some focus you can hopefully shift to a better sleeping position.
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