Just like diet and exercise, a good night’s sleep is also crucial to holistic well-being. However, many people struggle to get a restful slumber with sleep deprivation becoming common, especially after the pandemic. While your lifestyle plays a significant role in determining your sleep quality, how you sleep matters, too.
Many people fall asleep without paying attention to their position, disregarding the possible health impacts. “Sleeping on your stomach, back, or side can make a difference in snoring, sleep apnea symptoms, neck and back pain, and other medical concerns,” Dr VA Senthil Kumar, Head and Senior Consultant – Orthopaedics, Arthroscopy and Spine Surgery, Dharamshila Narayana Superspeciality Hospital, Delhi said.
Agreeing, Dr Yogesh Kumar, Senior Consultant, Orthopedic Department, Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute added that sleeping in an improper position can result in interrupted sleep, increased tension, and poor circulation. “Not getting enough sleep impacts our immunity, attentiveness, and metabolism.”
As such, which is the best position for you to sleep in? The ideal sleeping position is one that encourages proper spinal alignment from the hips to the top of the head, experts say.
According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, children sleep equally on the side, back, and front, with a progressive preference for the side position when approaching adulthood. Among these, sleeping on your side or on your back should be preferred, Dr Senthil said.
Sleeping on the side: Various studies have pointed out that the predominant sleep position in adults is on the side. According to Dr Senthil, this is because it is the most comfortable position and in this, “the spine can remain extended and reasonably neutral with the correct mattress. This helps to avoid unnecessary neck, back, and shoulder pain.”
Sleeping on back: “Sleeping on your back is the second most common sleeping position,” he said, adding that this position keeps your spine in a more natural position. “This helps to alleviate some of the neck, shoulder, and back pain that comes with other positions. It might also be beneficial to lessen issues related to acid reflux by elevating the head with a pillow.”
Worst sleeping position
Experts believe that sleeping on your stomach/chest can be harmful as it “puts a lot of pressure on your lungs and chest cavity, which disrupts your breathing function,” Dr Senthil said.
“It will raise your head on your pillow, preventing your spine from resting in a neutral position. It may also indicate that there is additional strain on your back and neck as a result of this overhanging of the spine. Due to decreased blood flow associated with sleeping on your stomach, you may wake up with numb extremities.”
Dr Kumar added that sleeping on your stomach also strains your lower back and may cause neck pain. “People who sleep on their stomachs report increased restlessness as a result of tossing and turning in an attempt to find a comfortable position,” he said.
Another sleeping position that you must avoid is the foetal position. Dr Senthil explained that this position is “terrible” for your spine and can lead to various back problems and consequences.
Best and worst sleeping positions for pregnant women
According to orthopedists, sleeping on the side is the most preferred position during pregnancy. On the contrary, pregnant women must avoid sleeping on their backs or stomachs.
“If you are pregnant, sleep on your side, ideally on your left. Sleeping on your left side increases the amount of blood and nutrients reaching the placenta and your baby. If you have back problems, this position will be beneficial,” Dr Senthil said. This position also puts the least strain on other organs of your body, Dr Kumar added.
Avoid sleeping on your stomach as “your abdomen changes physically, making it uncomfortable to lie down on your stomach.”
Explaining why sleeping on your back could be the worst position during pregnancy, Dr Senthil said that lying on your back can cause dizziness and lightheadedness, as well as disrupt the transport of blood and nutrients to the placenta and your growing baby. “Furthermore, it can cause back pain, breathing difficulties, digestive issues, low blood pressure, and poor circulation in both you and the baby,” he added.
(Next in the series: Does sleep aid eye health? )