We send a significant portion of our lives sleeping, and most of us have a favourite position when doing so. Personally, I never put much thought into this until a few years ago, when I looked into the various differences between sleeping positions. With this post, I’d like to share some of the knowledge I’ve picked up on the subject. Different sleep positions all have different advantages and disadvantages, and can even tell us a little bit about the sleeper.
There are three main classifications of sleep positions - back, side and stomach. All three can be broken down into further variations. Let’s look at the main classifications one by one.
PROS: In general, doctors consider this to be the best sleeping position. It is highly beneficial to the neck and spine because the back remains straight without any forced contortions. Furthermore, sleeping on the back supplements the mattress in providing the sleeper with adequate support. To top it off, sleeping on the back can even keep your face wrinkle free for longer, as it is not compressed against the pillow.
CONS: Snoring, with sleep apnea as a worst case scenario. That’s pretty much it. For people who sleep alone, the back is hands down the best position, but for those who share a bed, the snoring might be too much. Doctors even prescribe side sleeping as a cure for sleep apnea.
PROS: This is widely viewed as the most comfortable position. Whether lying straight on one of the sides or curled up into a fetal position, side sleeping is frequently the preferred option. Doctors recommend pregnant women sleep on their left side to improve blood circulation. Even for those not carrying a child, sleeping on the left side can also help with easing acid reflux and heartburn.
CONS: Pressure is applied to the stomach and lungs when lying on one side for extended periods of time. Alternating sides can help alleviate this organ strain. Another minor downside is the possibility to numb the arm if it is squished under the body.
PROS: Sleeping on the stomach greatly reduces the possibility of snoring, but other than that the benefits are minimal, or even nonexistent.
CONS: The consensus opinion of sleep experts in Hong Kong and the world over is that this is the least ideal sleeping position. The spine’s natural curve becomes flattened, which can lead to back pain. Sleeping with one’s head buried in the mattress can also lead to neck stiffness. Overall, this is a position best avoided, as the one tangible benefit (no snoring!) can be obtained from side sleeping as well.
From the three main positions, we can then branch out to more defined subsections. Let’s take a look at some of the more common variations:
FETAL POSITION: The fetal position is when a person curls up on one of their sides. This position can stress the organs on your left side so it’s best to sleep to the right or to alternate sides.
LOG POSITION: Another incarnation of side sleeping, this position consists of lying on the side with your arms resting on the sides of your body. If the spine is kept straight, this position can be beneficial to people who suffer from back pain.
YEARNER POSITION: This position is identical to the log position, except the hands and arms are resting in front of the body. This is a great position to lower the risk of snoring.
SOLDIER POSITION: This position consists of lying on the back with the arms at the sides. It is a good position for back and spine health, but runs a risk of excessive snoring and may not be comfortable.
FREEFALL POSITION: This position involves laying on the stomach with hands placed around the pillow. As mentioned above, stomach sleeping is not ideal, but this position can in fact help with digestion.
STARFISH POSITION: This is the opposite of the freefall position – the hands remain around the pillow, but the sleeper is on their back. This position runs a high risk of snoring.
As you can see, there is no shortage of sleeping positions. Knowing that we spend roughly a third of our lives sleeping, it is important to find a position that is both comfortable and beneficial to our health.
Do you have a favourite sleeping position? Let us know in the comments!