Does Sleep Position Matter?

Does Sleep Position Matter?

October 27, 2017

The answer to this question is absolutely.  Though most people do not realize they sleep in multiple positions during the night, the favored position, and the one they start out the evening, can be critical to good sleep health.  And it can also be critical to long term heath, as well as the sleep quality of bed partners.

The best sleep position generally accepted by an overall preponderance of evidence is the side position, whether it is with legs straight or curled in the semi fetal position.  And though there is some evidence that sleeping on the right side is preferable to the left, as the left can restrict certain organs, generally side sleeping is better IF you can sleep on you side without exaggerated curvature of the spine and without exaggerated pressure to the vital pressure points of the body like the shoulders and hips,  Sleeping on one’s side requires a mattress designed to conform to the body to allow the shoulders and hips to sink into the bed while supporting the mid section, head and legs.  This combination will allow the spine to rest in its most natural position, promoting long-term spinal health.  Sleeping in the side position also reduces acid reflux and heartburn, though for these specific symptoms it appears the left side is preferable to the right.  Left is also recommended for pregnant women.

In contrast sleeping on the back makes snoring and the potential for sleep apnea much worse as it restricts the airways that can result in poor sleep and potential long-term heath problems.  And because of the increased snoring, can lead to long term concerns for the sleep partner.

The stomach sleeper is putting much undue pressure on the spine as well as the neck, as both are put in an unnatural state during sleep.  Stomach sleepers often develop lower back pain which can last a lifetime.

In most studies many more women report sleeping on their side compared to their male counterparts.  The reason for this phenomenon appears to be obvious that the female frame is generally lighter than the male frame allowing it to be more comfortable on a too firm bed, whereas the heavier male will quickly develop pain in the hip and shoulder on a firm mattress.  This can cause him to migrate to his back, thereby increasing snoring and the potential development of sleep apnea.  Is it coincidental that overweight men have a high rate of apnea?

If sleeping on the side is that much better, then why do people sleep in other positions?  In my experience the culprit appears to be a too firm mattress.  As I said in a previous article, the mattress industry has been the bad guy relative to firm mattresses.  They learned some 40 years or so ago that making a firm bed was significantly cheaper than making a good, comfortable and conforming mattress.  They used some of the extra profits to convince the buying public, through advertising and other means, that sleeping on a firm bed was better for your heath.  Then they pocked the rest.

The main answer to improved sleep health is to purchase a conforming mattress that allows for the shoulders and hips to sink into the bed so that the preferred side position can be achieved.  Please note that, as with many other things relative to a healthy lifestyle, sleep position is a habit, so some retraining may be required.  But with he right bed we can develop the proper sleep habits, like sleep position, which will promote a healthier and happier life.


Authored by: Eric Hinshaw 

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