We’re becoming more aware of just how important sleep is to our health. New studies often examine the health benefits of sleep, and the negative effects that a lack of sleep has on our bodies. You, of course, need your recommended hours of sleep each night, but could the way you sleep affect your health as well? Does sleeping sleeping serenely on your back in a big comfortable bed benefit your health more than sleeping on your stomach with one arm awkwardly tucked beneath your torso and the other dangling over the side of the couch? Are some sleep positions better for you than others?
How much sleep do I need each night?
Before examining how sleep positions affect your health, you need to know if you’re getting enough sleep to begin with. While the exact amount of sleep you need caries form person to person, here’s what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.
- Newborns need between 16 and 18 hours of sleep each day.
- Children under 5 need between 11 and 12 hours of sleep each day.
- Children older than 5 need a minimum of 10 hours of sleep each day.
- Teenagers need between 9 and 10 hours of sleep each day.
- Adults need at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep each day.
Are some sleep positions better for you?
Some people prefer to sleep on their stomachs, others opt for a side position, and some are most comfortable sleeping on their backs. But which sleep position is best?
It depends more on how your neck, spine, and limbs are positioned rather than just whether you’re sleeping on your stomach, side, or back. Of course, whether you sleep on your side, stomach, or back can greatly affect the position of your neck, spine, and limbs while you sleep.
For example, sleeping on your stomach requires you to turn your head. Stomach sleepers typically turn their heads the same way every night, which can cause neck pain, or more severe issues, over time.
Most sleep specialists recommend that you do not sleep on your stomach, but that doesn’t mean that side and back sleepers are in the clear.
Sleeping on your side or on your back is typically viewed as better than sleeping on your stomach. However, the real issues are curvature of the spine, the positioning of limbs and joints, and the amount of pressure applied to certain parts of the body. For example, sleeping on your side can cause pain in some people’s shoulders and hips, and sleeping on your back causes back pain.
So our sleep position can affect the comfort and health of our back and neck, but don’t stop there. One of the things sleep does for us is to clear waste from the brain. You want a nice clean glympathic path, right? You might not have even known you had a glympathic path, but a recent study reported in the Journal of Neuroscience found that sleeping on your side allows better clearance of waste products from the brain.
Things you can do to get better sleep.
- Whichever sleep position you call your own, you should support your neck and spine. What’s on your bed is in many ways just as important as how you lie on your bed. Getting a good pillow and mattress can increase comfort as well as support while you sleep. Sleeping with a pillow between your legs can alleviate pressure on your hips.
- Change how you sleep. This is easier said that done for some people, and many will revert to whatever position is most comfortable during sleep. However, making a conscious effort to change your sleep position occasionally can help prevent strains and injuries.
- Consider using pillows to help alleviate pressure and add support while you sleep. Here’s an article from the Mayo Clinic that shows how you can reduce back pain while sleeping using pillows.
- Your sleeping environment is important too. Turn off the lights, turn off electronic devices, and sleep in a cool, quiet, and comfortable environment.
- Sleep on an empty stomach. If your stomach is busy digesting, it may demand more blood flow and interfere with the rest you need.
- Stick to a regular bedtime and waking time. This isn’t always easy to do, whether it’s your social life, your work schedule, and a new baby in the house that keeps you awake, but it’s worth the effort to try.
- Sometimes your sleep problems aren’t just a matter of sleep position. If you are having difficulties getting appropriate sleep, and suspect you could have a sleep disorder, reach out to a sleep specialist.
- Chiropractic care can also help you get better sleep. Not only can chiropractors help alleviate pain, they can also provide guidance for ways to prevent pain form developing in the future.