Chances are that if you have come to see me that you and I have discussed this topic, but I wanted to outline the different positions that I recommend, the one I don’t, and the reasons why. Let’s jump in with the absolute worst way to sleep.
The one position that has pretty much been universally panned is stomach sleeping. Not only does it cause strain on the neck and lower back, but it also contributes to organ compression and the development of wrinkles!
Through some cursory research on the topic, I came across what is known as the “Falcon Position” — which is a variation of stomach sleeping which is supposedly less detrimental. In this position, you use a long pillow to slightly prop up the left side of your torso. Click here to see a picture.
As you can see the neck still has to be turned to one side to allow for breathing, which is the main reason I do not recommend this position at all. If you are going to sleep face-down, you’re going to want a very thin or no pillow whatsoever to reduce neck strain.
If you are a heavy snorer, this position may reduce the severity of your snoring, but the extra stress it puts on our back hardly seems worth it to me.
This is one of my favorite positions to be in myself. While not bullet-proof, this position seems to offer the most health benefits, as some sleep experts suggest that when lying on the right side that stress on the organs is reduced and optimal blood flow is attained. Side sleeping can also help with acid reflux symptoms and back and neck pain.
The problem with side sleeping is that it is harder to maintain natural spine curves without having the right mattress/pillow combination for your body type.
Ideally, a properly supportive mattress with allow you to lay on your side and have your spine be straight. Too hard and you well end up kinked up because of your shoulder width. Too soft and you will end up with a slight C curvature which can contribute to back pain. Old or extremely firm mattresses can also create pressure points on the hips and shoulders which can cause pain in those joints or sometimes even arm or leg numbness and tingling.
To keep your neck in alignment, side sleepers are going to need a fairly thick pillow. You’re going to want one that fills the space between the point of our shoulder and the side of our head fully.
It is also a good idea to keep a pillow between your knees to keep you from twisting your back as you sleep.
If you aren’t prone to sleep apnea or snoring, than sleeping on your back is probably the best all-around option. It is the easiest position to get into to maintain neutral spinal curves, puts little to no stress on the cardiovascular and other organ systems, and has been thought to be the best position to reduce wrinkles since your face isn’t pressed into a pillow all night.
Back sleeping is also probably the best position for those who suffer from acid reflux, but you are going to want to make sure to have your torso slightly elevated by using bolsters or by elevating the head of your bed slightly to achieve this benefit.
I would also recommend keeping a pillow behind your knees if you sleep in this position, particularly if you suffer from chronic low back pain, especially if it is related to intervertebral disc issues.
There you have it! I know it is easier said than done to change a habit like sleeping, but my advice to you would be that if you wake up in a strange position (especially laying face down) to just move into a better one, or use pillows to prevent you from being able to roll that way.
With colder evenings starting to become the norm, you may want to avoid sleeping next to open windows as well. The cold air at night can cause tightening of the muscles in your neck and a few days of unrelenting pain and stiffness. So stay tucked in and warm!