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How Sleep Positions Affect Your Rest

November 7, 2017 | Sleep Better

“Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone.” – Anthony Burgess

It is a fact that you will spend one-third of your life in one (or more) of three sleep positions. Whether you spend your resting hours on your back, your side or your stomach can have a profound impact on your long-term health. Factors such as quality of breathing, heart rate, posture, circulation and mental clarity are affected by how you sleep. Thanks to advancements in wearable tech, the once-complicated task of monitoring sleep has been greatly simplified. It is now incredibly easy for you to understand what is happening while you’re asleep, how it is affecting your health and the best sleeping positions for improving your nighttime rest.

The effect of your sleeping positions on your overall health relies on specific conditions and characteristics. Circumstances such as back problems, weight issues and pregnancy all come into play. The best sleeping positions must be determined on an individual basis by counterbalancing your personal preferences with your physical attributes.

Previously, a polysomnographic study (PSG) conducted in a clinical environment was necessary to document your heart rate fluctuations, body positions and breathing patterns throughout the night. Now, you can conveniently monitor the many characteristics of your slumber through sensor-enhanced garments that interface with your laptop, smartphone or tablet.


Back to Basics

Posture that promotes a straight spine is essential to neck and back health. Sleeping in the supine position (on your back) achieves just that, provided that your head is not acutely elevated. Using just one pillow to brace the curve of your neck aligns your spine, while the mattress provides the necessary support for the length of your back. Additionally, sleeping in this position does not subject your face to hours of pressure from being mashed into a pillow, reducing premature wrinkles. This is one of the best sleeping positions for lower back pain, especially if you bend your knees and prop them into place with bedding or pillows.


Evaluate Your Breathing

If you are prone to snoring, sleeping on your back should be avoided as it can exacerbate the problem — in some cases leading to obstructive sleep apnea. Resting in this position can cause the base of the tongue and the soft palate to slide backwards — partially blocking the esophagus. This slows down breathing and causes fitful sleep as you struggle for air throughout the night. This results in lack of deep sleep for you (as well as your partner) — causing you both to suffer from exhaustion the following day. In severe cases, sleep apnea causes life-threatening episodes of suffocation and can also be linked heart disease, hypertension, osteoporosis, depression and stroke. Specific features in wearable tech allow you to determine if you are experiencing difficulty breathing while you sleep.


Take a Side

The majority of people prefer side sleep positions, and experts at The Better Sleep Council agree that this choice provides the best overall rest. Lateral sleeping positions are ideal solutions for those who snore or suffer from sleep apnea.

Recent studies reveal that sleeping on your side also helps remove waste chemicals from your brain such as tau proteins and amyloid beta in a more efficient manner than when you sleep on your back or stomach. Lateral resting postures are the best sleeping positions for pregnant women — especially with a pillow propped between the legs to alleviates tension in the hips and stress on the lower back.

Sleeping on your left side is ideal if you are prone to acid reflux. In this position, the gastric sphincter located at the top of your stomach (which is positioned on your left side) sits below your body’s centerline, making it unlikely for a gastric juice to make its way towards your esophagus as you sleep.


Side Sleeping Considerations

If you suffer from shoulder pain, sleeping on your side is obviously not the best choice. This position can also cause arm numbness, as the arm resting beneath your body can experience decreased circulation.

Lateral rest should be accompanied by plenty of pillows strategically placed to support your head, neck and torso. Sleeping on your left side is one of the best sleep positions during pregnancy as it promotes optimal circulation. This is true because the right side of your heart pumps oxygen-depleted blood from the body to the lungs, and operates best when working on the upper lateral side — free from the pressure of your body’s weight.


Avoid a Problematic Sleep Position

The primary benefit of sleeping in the prone position is that it can alleviate snoring. In some cases, this can be a good sleeping position for lower back pain but only when the hips are supported by pillows. Sleeping on your stomach presents problems due to the stress it places on your spine, primarily in the neck region. In order to breath in this position, you have to turn your head to one side or the other, and keeping it in such a position for hours on end can irritate nerves and cause unnecessary aches and pains.


Take Control of Your Slumber

You can optimize the sleep positions that are best for you by taking an objective look at your sleep patterns over a given period of time. You can do this through wearable tech that provides crucial biometric data on what occurs during your sleep.

Measuring your breathing patterns can alert you if you are prone to sleep apnea, while discovering your resting heart rate lets you know what sort of stress levels you are under as well as your general state of physical fitness.

Knowing your waking heart rate also informs you as to whether or not you are ready for intense exercise first thing in the morning. Sleep tracking also alerts you when you are going to bed dehydrated, avoiding this means improved quality of sleep.

Monitoring your biological data as you sleep in different positions will allow you to determine the best position for good sleep. You can also link your wearable tech and accompanying software into the internet-of-things (IoT), so that your sleeping environment can be controlled to optimum conditions that promote your most satisfying slumber. This empowering approach lets you plan for optimal sleep every night, and allows you to enjoy the benefits of the best sleep positions each following day.

This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.