Consider this: you spend about one-third of your life asleep. It makes sense that all this time spent in just a few of your most comfortable or habitual sleep postures would greatly influence health and wellbeing. Our sleep positions affect not only our spines, but digestion, breathing, how we age, and even pregnancy.
If your legs and torso stay relatively straight to elongate your spine, side sleeping can be good for reducing neck and back pain. And because it helps to keep airways open, you're less likely to snore, particularly if your head is gently cradled by a supportive pillow, in line with your spine. This makes it a good sleep position for people who live with sleep apnoea – a condition where breathing repeatedly stops and starts during the night. The left side can also be better if you suffer from acid reflux. That’s because gravity is on your side, as your stomach now sits below your oesophagus, which stops acid escaping, or helps it return to your stomach more easily than if you sleep on your right side.
A relaxed side sleeping position particularly on your left side, can be good for pregnancy, as it supports circulation for both you and your baby, as well as preventing your growing womb from pressing on your liver.
But there’s one real downside to sleeping on your side: It can cause facial wrinkles, because your face is pushed into the pillow night after night. It may also create ‘v neck’ creases in the décolletage if you tend to sleep curled up on your side or in the foetal position.
Foetal position sleeping
If you like to sleep curled up in a cosy little ball like a hibernating animal, you’re not alone. But being curled up too tightly can restrict breathing by squashing up your diaphragm under your lungs. And it can leave you feeling achy in the morning, especially if you live with arthritis in your joints or back. Before falling asleep, try to straighten out your body, instead of lowering your chin to your chest and hugging your knees. You can also alleviate hip strain by putting a soft, supportive pillow that’s not too thick between your knees.
While stomach sleeping may be good at easing snoring, it’s less healthy for most other aspects of sleep. This position makes it difficult to keep your spine neutrally aligned, which can create or exacerbate back and neck pain or injury. If you’re a regular stomach sleeper you may also find that you wake up feeling numb, achy, or tingling, due to the strain on your muscles. Sleep experts will generally recommend sleeping on the side or back, but if you have a real stomach sleeping habit, try lying face down, with your forehead on a pillow to leave room to breathe, rather than with your face turned to one side.
Although this sleep position is rarer than side sleeping, for many people it could in fact be the best. Back sleeping puts your spine, head and neck in a neutral position. This relieves pressure and tension in those areas, letting your muscles, bones and joints fully rest. Like side sleeping, back sleeping may also help you with acid reflux. Try making sure that your head is elevated and supported – this will position your oesophagus just above your stomach, to keep food and acid where they’re meant to be.
Back sleeping is also the best position to slow the outward signs of ageing. Side or stomach sleeping can create ‘sleep wrinkles’. these static lines form over time, not from our facial expressions, but from being pressed into the pillow night after night. While a silk pillowcase may help side sleepers by reducing friction, back sleeping is the best way to ensure the delicate skin on your face, neck and eye area is not being constantly pressed into tiny folds. If you’d like to see the benefits of back sleeping, but find it hard to change your sleeping position, the Back Sleep Pillow is specially designed to gently support you to build a new back sleeping habit.
While it has many benefits for wellbeing, sleep and appearance, back sleeping is not for everyone. If you suffer from sleep apnoea, it can cause the tongue to fall across your airway, and make breathing more difficult, and snoring more severe. If you’re pregnant, sleeping on the back can reduce circulation, create back pain, and make breathing problems and heartburn worse, while reducing the flow of blood and nutrients to the placenta. If you’re a back sleeper and become pregnant, it may help to switch to side sleeping as your baby grows.
Ultimately, the best sleeping position is the one that works best for you. So try checking in with yourself each morning, and note how you feel. The difference to your wellbeing and mood will make persevering with good sleep habits and the right sleep position absolutely worth it. Sweet dreams!