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Your sleeping position may have an impact on your sleep quality and contribute towards certain health problems. Here our resident Sleep Expert, Christabel Majendie, explores how the position you sleep in could be affecting you.
Lying on your back
This increases your chances of snoring, and may worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea, a sleep disorder characterised by pauses in breathing caused by obstruction of the upper airway. Sleep apnea leads to frequent waking and hence poor sleep quality, and less time in deep sleep. The disorder also increases the risk of heart problems later in life. If you have sleep apnea or are a snorer then lying on the side is the best position.
Traditionally thought to ease reflux, research has found that this sleeping position can actually worsen this condition. The good news is that this position helps to prevent neck, back and shoulder pain, is said to minimise wrinkles and supports the weight of your breasts so reduces sagginess. It also can ease the discomfort of PMS.
Lying on your stomach
Sleeping on your stomach may lead to neck and back pain as your spine is not in a neutral position. Sleeping in this position, your head is turned to one side for a long period of time and there is pressure on your joints and muscles. Having your face squashed into the pillow is also not good for wrinkles and pressure on your breasts may contribute to sagginess. Crucially, several studies have linked this sleeping position in newborn babies with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), also known as cot death.
However, some people find this position comfortable to sleep in and experience no problems so it may be a case of personal preference.
Lying on your side
As well as being best for reducing snoring and the problems of sleep apnea, sleeping on your side may be the preferred position if you suffer from Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), a disorder of the nervous system characterised by an overwhelming urge to move your legs because of uncomfortable sensations. Lying on your side may also help with Periodic Leg Movement Disorder characterised by repetitive muscle twitches or jerking in the legs. Both these sleeping disorders affect the quality of your sleep. Sleeping on your side holding your legs may reduce the problematic symptoms of these disorders.
A recent study has found that waste removal from the brain during sleep is most efficient in rodents lying on their side. During deep sleep, this process occurs at a faster rate than during wakefulness and it seems that lying on your side increases the efficiency of this waste removal. This may have important implications because some of these waste products are thought to contribute to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Although testing is yet to be carried out in humans, the research suggests this may be the reason why lying on the side has evolved to be the preferred sleeping position in both humans and animals in the wild.
Other advantages are that this position can help with back pain, particularly if you place a pillow between your knees, and can ease congestion especially if you are propped up. It is also a good position to reduce reflex if you lie on the right side. If you’re pregnant sleeping on the left side is the preferred position as this maximises blood flow for both the baby and the mother.
The downside is that this position may cause discomfort in the hips and shoulders in some people. Sleeping on the side also may contribute towards wrinkles and breast sag.
Should you change your sleeping position?
Taken together, sleeping on your side is probably the best position for overall health. Having said that, there is no need to change your sleeping position unless it is problematic, such as if you have sleep apnea or are a heavy snorer and you sleep on your back. Naturally you will choose the position that you sleep best in.
Your sleeping position may also be influenced by your mattress. If it is old or lumpy, you may find that sleeping on your side is more difficult or uncomfortable so it’s worth purchasing a new one to improve sleep quality and to maximize health. Shop our range of luxury handcrafted mattresses to help you get a natural night’s sleep.