What Your Sleeping Position Means For Your Health

Photographed by Bianca Valle.
Getting to sleep is a tough enough task on its own. But what if, after a perfect night of ZZZs, you wake up and your neck feels off? Or you don't actually feel like you got good sleep at all? There's no one perfect sleep position that will work best for everyone on every night, of course. Most of us switch it up throughout the night, anyway. But it turns out that the way you sleep can affect your body in some subtle ways. If you're already dealing with health issues, or some new ones start to crop up, it might be a good idea to pay attention to what your snoozing positions are doing to the rest of you. Here's what the research has to say if you sleep...
On your stomach:
Tummy sleepers have long been told that their position of choice isn't great. That's because they have to turn their necks while sleeping in order to, you know, keep breathing. That causes neck strain that, over time, can lead to chronic pain problems. So, if you're usually laying on your stomach, it might be worth it to train yourself to favor another position. The one potential upside to stomach sleeping? Sexier dreams. On your side:
Sleeping on your side isn't as bad for your neck, but you might end up compressing the nerves in your arms and legs, instead. That's especially likely if you're on your side with your arms overhead, possibly wrapping a cozy pillow around your head. That forces you to put extra weight on the lower shoulder. So, experts suggest keeping your arms down and sleeping with a thin pillow between your legs to keep them from putting extra strain on your back. If you do start to develop symptoms of nerve compression such as those seen in carpal tunnel, your doctor might recommend wearing a wrist brace during the night so you resist the urge to fold your hand inwards. Research has also found an association between side sleeping and acid reflux. Specifically, sleeping on your right side has been linked with an increase in acid reflux symptoms. One theory is that this relaxes the sphincter muscle that's responsible for keeping stomach acid from finding its way up your esophagus. Sleeping on your left side, then, may be a better bet if you have digestive issues because it keeps your stomach lower than your esophagus. But — fair warning — some research shows you're more likely to have nightmares on that side. On your back:
If you're someone who has neck or back pain, this is the best sleeping position for you. But it also makes snoring and sleep apnea more likely. And, if you're laying flat on your back, that can make acid reflux symptoms worse, too. So be sure to prop yourself up with multiple pillows if you're prone to heartburn.

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