As one of the senior writers at Sleeping Resources, Leigh Ann. Morgan discusses sleep related issues like how later school start times affect students, various sleep disorders, and tips on good sleep hygiene.
Finding a comfortable position is one of the most important keys to getting a great night of sleep. When you can’t get comfortable, you may toss and turn for hours before finally falling asleep. Discomfort can even wake you from a deep sleep and make it impossible to get the rest you need. Unfortunately, the way you sleep may also be putting your health at risk. If you frequently wake up with back pain, neck pain, headaches, or other problems, talk to your doctor about what you can do to ease your discomfort.
Curling up into the fetal position is one of the easiest ways to get comfortable and settle in for a good night’s sleep. Sleeping on your left side, however, puts stress on the lungs, stomach, and liver. If you absolutely must sleep in the fetal position, sleep on your right side instead. The exception is if you are pregnant, as sleeping on the left side improves circulation to the uterus. This helps ensure that the developing baby receives enough oxygen and nutrients.
Although this position feels comfortable when falling asleep, those who stay in the fetal position all night long may wake up with sore backs and necks. Sleeping like this puts stress on the muscles in the lower back. In some cases, it also puts extra strain on the trapezius muscle, which is the large muscle that extends from the neck to the lower thoracic area. This muscle provides support for the arms and helps move the shoulder blades. Because the trapezius muscle starts right below the skull, too much strain on the muscle can also cause muscle tension headaches.
Lying on Your Back
Some people choose to sleep on their backs with their arms at their sides. While this can be a comfortable way to fall asleep, it can lead to troubling health problems. Those who sleep on their backs tend to snore more than those who sleep on their sides or stomachs. This sleep position can also make it difficult to breathe properly. Pregnant women should avoid sleeping on their backs whenever possible. Sleeping on your back puts a lot of weight on the vein that moves blood from the lower extremities to the heart. This forces the heart to work harder, which is not good for the expectant mother or the growing baby. Dr. Steven Dowshen says that sleeping on the left side also prevents the uterus from putting pressure on the liver.
Some people develop a condition known as positional sleep-disordered breathing. This means that their sleep position makes it difficult for them to breathe during sleep. Scientists from the Institute of Human Genomic Study in Korea designed a study to determine the optimal sleep position for people with this problem. They determined that switching to a lateral sleep position instead of sleeping on the back reduced snoring by as much as 80 percent.
Some people sleep on their stomachs with their arms straight down at their sides. Others sleep with their arms under their pillows. In most cases, sleeping on the stomach is actually good for digestion. However, there are some people who should avoid sleeping in this position. Sleeping on the stomach is not dangerous for pregnant women, but after the first few months of pregnancy, it becomes too uncomfortable to sleep this way. Those who have had abdominal or pelvic surgery may find it uncomfortable to sleep on their stomachs for several months or even years after surgery. You may also have to avoid sleeping on your stomach if you use a CPAP machine or any other equipment designed to help you breathe more easily.
If you wake up feeling sore, groggy, and cranky, your sleep position may be to blame. Try sleeping in a different position to determine if your current sleep position is at the root of your problem. If this does not improve your symptoms, talk to a medical professional about what might be causing the problem.