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The other night I elbowed my husband in the ribs, on purpose. As usual, he’d fallen asleep within seconds of hitting the pillow, a trait I’ve always envied. He was sleeping soundly on his back, in what he claims to be the best sleep position. Sweet, right? So why did he deserve the shove?
Imagine the sound a freight train would make while colliding with a downed 767 and crashing into a nitroglycerine plant. That’s one fifth of the noise that emerges from my husband when he snores. Once I elbow him, he often turns onto his side (my self-proclaimed best sleep position) which tends to stop the auricular assault. At last I can doze—as long as I fall asleep before he changes position.
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By the age of seven, Australian researchers say we have already determined our best sleep position. Those of us who preferred to doze on our tummies, however, will likely change things up as we age. The older we get, the more likely we are to sleep on our side versus back, they say. Plus, while we will probably change position upwards of 11 times a night, older adults are more likely to stay in one spot for between 45 and 100 minutes, giving them a better chance to reach deep, REM sleep. What is the best sleep position to maintain for these essential minutes?
According to both Terry Cralle, a registered nurse and certified clinical sleep educator, and Karen Block, a respiratory therapist and owner of Endeavor Therapy & Sleep Center, the best sleep position is the one in which you feel most comfortable. This posture will vary depending on various factors, including your age, body, BMI, weight, height, orthopedic health and other conditions. Some may feel less pain when sleeping on their fronts, for instance, while others doze comfortably on their backs. “As long as you’re not in pain and you feel good and refreshed in the morning…then keep with it,” says Cralle. “We just want people to get good quality sleep consistently, not just on the weekends.”
IT’S OK TO SLEEP WITH SOCKS ON
The warmer your feet, the faster you’ll fall asleep, say Swiss Researchers. Sleeping in socks (or with a hot water bottle in the bed) will trigger your blood vessels to dilate, which helps cool you down. This, in turn, tells your body it’s time for sleep. “Interestingly, while a cool room and a lower core temperature may help you sleep better, cold hands and feet will result in sleeplessness,” says Cralle. Pop on a wooly pair tonight. (For more tips on how to sleep better, read our post Finally! A Sleep Routine That Works: 11 Steps to Better Shut-Eye.)
Why Can’t I Sleep?
Pain is one of sleep’s worst adversaries. Not only can it keep you from staying asleep, but pain can often prevent you from nodding off in the first place. “If you’re having pain spikes, it can move you out of those deeper stages of sleep and move you into lighter stages, so you never shut down to get that deep stage that you need,” Block says.
Is it Better to Sleep on Your Side?
If she had to pick one “best” sleep position, Cralle would choose side-lying. “Sleeping on your side promotes good oxygenation…you’re probably going to breathe a little bit better,” she says. Choose a pillow that fits your neck comfortably and add another between your knees to relieve lower back pain and force your spine into a straighter position.
Lying on your side could also help remove brain waste and reduce your chances of developing Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and other neurological diseases, found researchers from Stony Brook University. While more research is needed in this area (this study was conducted on rats), their findings are promising.
Best Sleep Position to Avoid Wrinkles
This time, your back is the winner. Sleeping on your side and stomach can increase compression, tension and shear forces, leading to facial distortion and “sleep wrinkles,” found researchers from the University of California, Irvine. Factors such as age, hormone levels, genetics and environmental exposure will determine how much and how quickly we form facial wrinkles. That said, “sleep wrinkle pattern will be additionally influenced by how much time is spent in various positions, how much force is applied to each area of the face, and surface area of contact,” say the researchers.
IT’S NOT EASY TO CHANGE YOUR SLEEP POSITION
Bad habits are hard to break, especially if they’ve been going on for 40 plus years. As long as you’re sleeping through the night and waking up refreshed, don’t worry too much about which position you’re in. If you’re struggling to breathe, being awakened by pain, or have other serious health issues, however, talk to a doctor or sleep specialist to learn how to best adapt your posture.
Best Sleep Position for Lower Back Pain
Sleeping on your stomach worsens back pain. “You’ve got more weight in the front of you and you’re straining your back when you sleep on your stomach,” Block explains. “Especially if you have a quarter barrel ab instead of a six-pack.” Instead, roll onto your side and place a small pillow between your knees.
Best Sleep Position for Neck Pain
“Stomach sleeping is not recommended if you are experiencing neck pain,” says Cralle. Try sleeping on your side in the fetal position, Block adds. “Find a really good memory foam pillow that will give the position of your neck.” Or, try a soft, medium or firm pillow—whatever feels good to you, relieves the pain and helps you stay asleep. Experiment until you find one that works with your best sleep position.
Sleep on Your Side to Relieve Sleep Apnea
Sleeping on your back is guaranteed to worsen sleep apnea symptoms. In fact, according to Australian researchers, “more than half of all obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) patients can be classified as supine [a.k.a. on your back] related OSA.” The reason: gravity. Once you’re relaxed, your soft palate and the base of your tongue will become slack and fall into the back of your throat, blocking the airway. Back sleepers experience “reduced lung volume, and an inability of airway dilator muscles to adequately compensate as the airway collapses,” the researchers say.
In a study of 100 adults with OSN, Israeli researchers found that “sleeping in the supine posture significantly increases not only the frequency but also the severity of the abnormal breathing events.” Moving onto the side, or lateral posture, on the other hand, was found to decrease the number of apneas, improve sleep quality and reduce daytime sleepiness. Another study published in the Journal of Human Hypertension found that sleeping in positions other than your back (i.e. on your side) can lower blood pressure and possibly reduce hypertension for up to 24 hours in patients with obstructive sleep apnea.
What Side Should You Sleep on if You Feel Sick?
Fighting a cold? Sleep on your back with the head of your bed elevated to between 35° and 40°, recommends Block. If you’re congested and coughing, elevating the head of the bed will help improve respiration and provide some relief from clogged sinuses.
BUY THE RIGHT MATTRESS
Another key to a good night’s sleep? A comfy and supportive mattress. To learn how to find the best one, especially if you suffer from back pain, read our post: What’s the Best Mattress for Back Pain? Here’s How to Find Your Answer.
For related reading, visit these posts:
What’s the Best Mattress for Back Pain? Here’s How to Find Your Answer
How to Cure Sleep Apnea: 4 Non-CPAP Remedies
How to Sleep Better at Night – Naturally
Why Can’t I Sleep? Remedies for Sleep Disorder
Address Sleep Disorders to Feel Better and Improve Your Health