Since we spend one-third of our lives asleep, getting a good night’s rest is crucial for our long-term health. From our physical bodies to our moods, the time we spend in bed can have a significant effect on our overall well-being. While the sheer quantity of hours we get to rest is important in it of itself, the quality of that time is just as much of a priority. Although we might be encouraged to prioritize the number of hours we spend catching those ZZZ’s, it’s crucial to pay attention to how that time is spent. How our bodies are positioned while we sleep, for instance, is just one example of how the quality of our sleep impacts our health.
“Eighty percent of the population will have back problems at some point in [their] lives oftentimes caused or aggravated by the way they sleep,” explains Dr. Hooman Melamed, an orthopedic spine surgeon. According to sleep experts, these are the most harmful sleep positions for your health.
The fetal position is the most popular way to sleep: it’s preferred by more than 4 out of 10 people, especially women, who are twice more likely than men to sleep curled up on their side.
Although the fetal position is effective for snoring less, it can worsen neck and back pain, increase wrinkles and cause premature breast sagging. On top of that, if you’re curling too much throughout the night, you might be limiting your lungs and diaphragm.
But there is an unforeseen advantage to the fetal position. If you’re expecting, laying on your left side in a curved pose can be a good choice for pregnant women. The position improves circulation to the growing baby and prevents the uterus from pressing against the liver.
Like the fetal position, the side sleeper rests on one half of the body, but without curling up. The position involves resting the torso or the head on the bottom arm.
Sleeping on one side of the body can build pressure on the inner organs like the stomach and lungs, as well as the outer body parts like the arm and shoulder. Additionally, the uneven weight distribution can cause numbness in the parts of the body that must take on the burden. Muscles and nerves in the bottom arm may experience an unpleasant sensation of pins and needles due to restricted blood flow.
Research has shown that the side slept on, left or right, can have specific effects too. Note that if you are someone who suffers from heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease
(GERD), sleeping on your right side can make symptoms worse. Meanwhile, in a Sleep and Hypnosis study, left-side sleepers reported significantly more frequent nightmares than those who slept on their right side.
One major benefit of the side position is less snoring. New research on animals has shown that the position might also help ward off conditions like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. Studies show that when sleeping on your side, the brain is better at clearing waste that can lead to neurological diseases.
Unless you’re the world’s loudest snorer, there’s just about no good reason for you to sleep on your stomach. Stomach-sleeping makes it difficult to maintain a neutral position with your spine and twists your neck in awkward directions. It can also cause some not-so-good things for your skin and breasts, such as wrinkling, acne and sagging. Of all sleep positions, sleeping on the stomach is generally agreed to be the worst for your health.
And the best sleep position of all? Experts say that sleeping on your back prevents neck, back and hip pain, reduces acid reflux, minimizes wrinkles, and maintains perky breasts. The one downside is snoring, but that might just be the cost of the healthiest sleep possible.