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Sleeping Positions: The good, the bad & the ugly!

Posted on 25th June, 2016


How did you sleep last night? Did you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to go or did you feel uncomfortable and sore? It is perhaps strange to think that not many of us actually take the time to assess our posture when sleeping but if done correctly, it can have a hugely positive impact on day-time health. And for something as simple as sleeping (we all do it to some extent) it can be a rather difficult thing to master. Too much or too little and sometimes not in the right position? Take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to sleeping positions.

Sleeping on your back:

Sleeping on our back ensures that our spine, neck and head are all in alignment to maintain a natural position. Whilst sleeping on your back makes individuals more prone to snoring, it is the ideal for back health because of the neutral position that you’re maintaining. Additionally, you can also place a small pillow underneath your knees if you find this more preferable. This will ensure that your core position is held.

In addition to this, the back is prompted to be straight and not forced into any contortions. Back sleeping also helps the mattress to do its job in as much as it is able to support the spine. Using only one pillow is also great as it leaves optimum breathing. Any more than one pillow and you’re narrowing the oesophagus which leads to a reduced amount of oxygen. Finally, as a by-product of improving posture, sleeping on your back will also ensure that you will have fewer wrinkles because by default you won’t have your face screwed up against a pillow.

Sleeping on your side:

The majority of people adopt a side sleeping position, so it is perhaps encouraging news to hear that it is a relatively healthy overall sleeping position. It is the happy medium for those that find it difficult to sleep on their back but at the same time trying to avoid sleeping on their front. When you sleep on your side, your spine will be elongated and it is a good position to sport if you suffer from conditions such as sleep apnea which make you snore heavily.

However, it will never be the most ideal position because your body will often twist and this can in turn, lead to straining your pelvis and lower back resulting in lumbar pain. By placing a pillow between your legs you will be able to nullify the threat of this leg twisting from happening. Shoulder pain can also incur from sleeping on your side but this will be a more obvious pain and unconsciously you will most likely change position to your other side.

Doctors actually encourage sleeping on your left side in pregnancy as it will improve circulation to the heart which will benefit both mum and baby. However, if you’re not pregnant then sleeping on the left side can put unnecessary pressure on internal organs such as the liver, lungs and stomach but also reducing acid reflux. Similarly, sleeping on your right can increase your chance of acid reflux and worsen the effects of heartburn.

Sleeping on your stomach:

Sleeping on your stomach is the least favourable position because it is almost impossible to keep your spine in a neutral position. This often results in pain in the back, neck, joints and muscles. You should always endeavour to sleep on your back or your side but if you find this impossible, then try placing a pillow under your pelvis and lower abdomen if sleeping on your front. However, this is a worst case scenario and it is important to adapt quickly to a back or side position if you can.

More than this, it forces your neck to adopt a rotated, closed pack and tight position which also comprises your breathing and circulation. This position could also mean that the neck is out of alignment from the rest of the body which could again cause further aches and pains.


Ways to promote good sleeping posture:


Work on posture during the day:

It seems quite straightforward to think that just as your sleeping position affects your day time posture, your day time posture will affect the quality of your sleep. To achieve good posture when sitting it is important to follow a few simple steps as shown below:

  • Keep your knees at a right angle
  • Shuffle your bum to the back of your chair
  • Ensure that your feet are flat on the floor
  • Your arms should also be at a right angle when leaning on the arm rests
  • Make sure your neck and head are supported to achieve spinal alignment

If you find it particularly hard to maintain good posture in the day then you could consider investing in a high back chair or a comfort chair which shapes around the natural contours of the back. These type of chairs will ensure that you have the necessary support to achieve good posture and can actually help to alleviate conditions such as arthritis and muscle pain.

Upgrade your mattress:

It doesn’t matter if you’re achieving the greatest night time posture in the world, this will only take you so far. The truth is that you could still be damaging your back if you don’t have the support of a good mattress. It is thought that most mattresses have a lifecycle of around five years. After this, they begin to turn either soft or lumpy.

By investing in either a memory foam, pocket sprung or NHS graded mattress you will improve the support that you are receiving and increase your chances of the maximum possible comfort. An electrically adjustable bed is also a great way for improving your night time posture. This is because you’re able to adjust the position of the mattress to accommodate a position that is favourable to you.

Use the correct Pillow:

It’s not surprising that one of the best things you can do for night time comfort and a good sleeping posture is to invest in a great pillow. For example, the human neck bends ever so slightly forward in order to maintain the weight of the head when upright but it is also very important to keep this slight curve when in a sleeping position. Therefore, if your pillow is placed either too high or too low, this means that the natural curve of the neck will be out of position causing neck and muscle strain. This can even lead to awakening with headaches.

Loosen Muscles:

It may sound very simple but try and walk around the house gently before you got to sleep. More than likely, you will have been sat for a prolonged period of time during the day which means that your pelvis will be pressed forward. Unfortunately, this makes it difficult to achieve the best posture when falling asleep. Similarly, in the morning try and do some light stretching of the back and rotation of the shoulders. This will help to maintain proper posture during the day.

Having discussed the best sleeping positions and tips to try and achieve good night time posture, it is important to remember that we will most likely sleep in the position in which we find comfiest. Placing a pillow below the knees and only having one cushion under your neck are great ways to try and keep a good sleeping position but this will inevitably change during the night. In fact, most people tend to wake up in the position that their bodies find natural. So whilst night time posture is incredibly important, it is better to get some sleep that none at all, so continue to do what feels right.