Is there a superior sleeping position? Some might argue that whatever is the most comfortable for them individually is the best. Others, like medical professionals, might tell you that where health is concerned, the position that aligns your neck and spine is optimal.
Believe it or not, your sleeping position can have a major impact on your health over the long-term. Unfortunately for stomach sleepers, they have chosen the most unnatural position. Because of the pressure placed on your spine in this position, you can risk years of debilitating pain by sleeping on your stomach.
Although it’s not one of the most popular sleep positions, about 16% of the people in the US sleep on their stomachs. There are still benefits from sleeping in this position, so we’ll give you the pros and cons.
Sleeping on your stomach puts pressure on your neck and back. Most of your weight is in the middle, so you end up with your spine in an unnatural position. This can cut off blood flow to other parts of your body.
See: Sleep and Back Pain
Since you need to breathe, you will have to sleep with your head turned, which moves your neck to the side. That results in neck pain and also puts strain on your spine. Additionally, since the spine’s nerves are the conduit to the rest of the body, you can end up with pain throughout your whole body.
When you’re sleeping, you might not realize that you are in pain. That won’t keep it from affecting your sleep, though. You may toss and turn and sleep poorly. This can contribute to sleep deprivation, which can have significant effects on your health – increasing your susceptibility to obesity, diabetes, depression, heart disease, and even cancer.
This pain can carry over into the day, too. You may feel numbness in your extremities. In the worst-case scenario, you could get a herniated disc in your neck, which is a severely painful condition. See our full Pain & Sleep Guide for more info.
While it is pretty obvious that women late in pregnancy should not be sleeping on their stomachs, this is also the case for women early in their pregnancy. The pregnancy adds weight to the middle of their bodies, making it even more likely that their spine will be damaged. See: Best Mattresses for Pregnant Women
This position can put extra pressure on the baby as well, which could cause developmental issues. The ideal way for a pregnant woman to sleep is on her left side –, especially in a fetal position. This increases healthy blood flow, which results in optimal levels of oxygen for the woman and her baby.
Sleeping on your back is much better for the alignment of your spine, but many people develop backaches over time. One way to avoid this is to put a pillow under your knees. If you find that you’re still in pain from sleeping on your back and choose to sleep on your side, you should keep your head in a neutral position.
Sleeping on your side is safer for people with sleep apnea. Sleeping on your back makes it easier for your tongue to fall back in your throat and block your breathing.
There are some things you can do to help you get a good night’s sleep when you are on your stomach. One of them is to put a pillow under your pelvis. This can help to even out the angle of your spine.
Consider getting rid of the pillow for your head, or else choosing a very thin one. A firm mattress can also help your body to be less affected by sleeping on your stomach. Stretching when you get up helps to put your body in alignment and strengthen your muscles.
See: Best Firm Mattresses
There are some benefits from sleeping on your stomach, especially if you suffer from sleep apnea. Stomach sleeping can improve your condition and provide you with deeper sleep.
In addition, acid reflux and heartburn sufferers will suffer less from sleeping this way. You are also much less likely to snore if you are on your stomach. (That can tie into sleep apnea since deep snoring is a frequent symptom of this sleep disorder.) See our guide for tips on how to properly sleep on your stomach if you feel switching positions would be too difficult.