Which sleeping position is best?
Ever wondered if some sleep positions are better?
All of them are “better” than just one, says Dr. Margaret Park, a neurologist and sleep medicine specialist at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. While each sleep position may have certain benefits, switching through a variety of positions during the night is healthiest for most people.
“Most people spend nearly equal amounts of time in each sleep position,” says Dr. Park. “This allows for improvement in blood circulation, decreases muscle aches and pains and helps reduce the work of breathing. However, you shouldn’t necessarily be aware that you are changing positions. You may start out sleeping in one position and possibly even wake up in that position and be unaware that you switched during the night.”
If you frequently notice yourself changing positions, you may have an underlying condition that is preventing deeper and more natural sleep.
“Examples may include painful conditions including neuropathy, orthopedic issues including arthritis and hip issues, pregnancy, thyroid disorders and sleep disorders like sleep apnea,” says Dr. Park. “I would suggest a thorough medical evaluation to see what is hindering the change in body positions, which should be a natural and subconscious event during sleep.”
On the flip side, remaining in one position may cause or exacerbate certain problems.
“Generally speaking, sleeping in only one position can hurt the neck, spine and back. Orthopedic issues, stomach issues, pregnancy and sleep disorders can also be affected by sleep position,” says Dr. Park.
“Many times, people report sleeping preferentially on one side or another, but sometimes it’s an underlying medical condition that enforces this preference,” says Dr. Park. “For example, we know sleep apnea is traditionally worse while sleeping on your back. Your brain may drive the preference for sleeping in other positions to avoid battling the breathing condition. Or if you hurt your right arm, you will likely avoid sleeping on the right side. Both the pain factor as well as the limitation of freedom to switch positions adversely affect sleep.”
Dr. Park recommends several steps to avoid these sleep position pitfalls.
“First, make sure medical conditions including sleep disorders are not interfering with your sleep patterns,” she says. “At night, avoid foods and liquids that may lead to stomach upset and cause you to avoid certain positions. Allow for proper stretching of the body to help ease muscle tension during sleep. Finally, make sure you have the right bed and pillow. An overly hard or soft bed, too many pillows, pillows with inappropriate support or lack of space can interfere with a comfortable night of sleep.”
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