What's The Best Sleeping Position
Best sleeping position
The Best Sleeping Position To Minimize Pain and Optimal Sleep
Not sleeping well??
Many American adults suffer from chronic pain on a daily basis, with an estimated 50 million individuals affected, according to a 2018 analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sleep habits play a significant role in managing this pain, although the sources and experiences of pain vary from person to person.
Even within my own family, this statistic hits close to home. I personally have tried numerous pillows in search of one that supports my chronically aching neck and shoulder pain. I have experimented with supportive mattresses, pliable pillows, and a healthy lifestyle, yet some days I wake up feeling sore and stiff in the morning. According to experts, it may be time to reconsider my sleeping position.
Are you a side sleeper?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, most Americans sleep on their sides, despite the fact that this is not the most ideal position. Side sleeping can lead to shoulder and hip pain, and studies have shown that sleeping on the right side can worsen heartburn. It is believed that lying on the left side helps keep the lower esophageal sphincter tight, preventing acid reflux. Therefore, left-side sleepers are less likely to experience heartburn.
Sleep medicine expert Shelby Harris, a professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, suggests that side sleepers should use pillows that adequately support their heads, relieving pressure on the shoulders. For those with acid reflux or heartburn, sleeping on the left side is recommended. Additionally, placing a pillow under the knees can provide better support for the lower back.
Are you a stomach sleeper?
Stomach sleeping, although less common, poses its own set of problems. The pressure exerted on the entire body can lead to numbness and tingling, while turning the head to breathe increases the risk of muscle and joint pain.
For stomach sleepers, Harris advises using a flatter pillow to reduce strain on the neck. Some doctors also recommend placing a pillow beneath the forehead to elevate the mouth and nose, allowing for a face-down position without straining the neck.
Is sleeping on your back the best?
Back sleeping is considered the best option for pain management, as it allows the body to rest in a neutral position, relieving aches. It also reduces the likelihood of heartburn by keeping the head elevated above the chest. However, back sleeping may worsen sleep apnea or trigger it in individuals who are prone to the condition.
For back sleepers, Harris suggests using a pillow that maintains the head level with the body, whether it's thicker or thinner. However, she advises against this position for individuals with snoring issues or those experiencing new symptoms while lying on their backs.
How to train yourself for the best sleep position
In cases where side or stomach sleepers continue to wake up with discomfort even after trying these adjustments, Harris recommends a last resort: training oneself to sleep on the back. This can be achieved by positioning pillows on both sides of the body and placing one under the knees to prevent turning to the side or stomach.
For those who find it challenging to stay on their back, Harris suggests a more advanced method: sewing a tennis ball into the shirt on the side to be avoided. The discomfort experienced when turning to the side or stomach will prompt a return to the back, even while deeply asleep. Yes, I know this is pretty extreme.
Changing one's sleep position may seem daunting since sleep is an unconscious state. However, as a side-sleeper plagued by aches, I took on the challenge myself, using knee and side pillows in an attempt to train myself to sleep on my back. It took me longer to fall asleep, but once I did, I remained in place throughout the night, waking up to find myself staring at the ceiling.
Sleeping on my back significantly reduced my neck and shoulder pain, but it was difficult to commit to this position entirely. The natural inclination to curl up in a fetal position felt more comforting. According to Harris, while it is commonly advised that sleeping on your back is the optimal position, comfort should be the primary consideration. She emphasizes that if your sleep position causes pain or discomfort, it can negatively impact the quality of your sleep. In other words, if changing your sleep position brings you relief and improves your comfort, that's excellent. However, Harris highlights the importance of still achieving restful sleep to maintain overall health, memory, mood, and energy levels. If attempting to sleep differently begins to disrupt your natural circadian rhythms, then it may not be worth pursuing.
Personally, it took me time to transition to sleeping on my back at the start of the night, since I was a stomach sleeper for years. Adjusting my sleep position and sleep routine has helped me to experience more mornings where I wake up refreshed and ready to conquer the day!