If you live somewhere that was impacted by the recent heatwaves, you could have spent your evenings tossing and turning and attempting various sleeping positions in an effort to find a position that was comfortable for you. But what does the research have to say about the ideal sleeping positions?
Although it is surprising that so few extensive studies have been carried out given how crucial sleep is to humans, studies on everyone from seamen on container ships to welders in Nigeria may be able to aid us.
First, you need a method for determining the sleeping position each person is in. Of course, you can ask them, but the only positions we really recall are the ones we were in when we were attempting to go asleep and the ones we were in when we woke up. Researchers have experimented with a variety of methods to learn more, such as photographing subjects while they sleep or asking them to wear devices that track their movements.
People with less neck pain reported sleeping on their straighter, more supported side.
Researchers in Hong Kong are working on a system known as the “Blanket Accommodative Sleep Posture Classification System” that makes use of infrared depth cameras to detect a person’s sleep position even while they are covered in a heavy blanket.
We only start to develop this preference for sleeping on our sides as adults; toddlers under the age of three typically alternate between sleeping on their backs, sides, and fronts.
Babies, on the other hand, typically sleep on their backs because this is how they are placed in their cots for safety.
It would be worthwhile to try sleeping more on your left side in the future if you do experience heartburn.
Consequently, sleeping on your side is the most typical posture, and we could rely on the wisdom of the masses to determine which position is optimal for each individual. But what about the data? Those who slept on their right side slept slightly better than those on their left, followed by those who slept on their backs, according to a very small observational research in which participants were free to choose how they wished to fall asleep.
It’s generally ideal for anyone else attempting to fall asleep nearby if you can easily sleep on your side. The submariners once showed me their sleeping accommodations while I was touring the vessel for a radio programme I was producing. The bunks were packed so closely together that it was difficult to roll over. They told me it was a race to fall asleep before the entire cabin was filled with snoring males because they tended to sleep on their backs.
Although many people find it simpler to fall asleep on their backs, this doesn’t imply that it’s the optimal position.
Another short study that focused on seafarers who worked on container ships discovered that snoring was more prevalent while they were resting on their backs.
Some cases of severe obstructive sleep apnea, which causes breathing to stop and start while the patient is asleep, are the source of snoring. It has been discovered that those who regularly sleep on their backs are more likely to experience this.
On the other hand, laying on your side reduces snoring by opening up the upper airway, preventing the uvula and tongue from obstructing the throat, and clearing the upper airway. In certain instances, switching to a side sleeper’s primary position has been demonstrated to completely resolve the issue of sleep apnea.
The most typical position when sleeping is on one side, which also reduces your risk of snoring.
Other advantages to sleeping on your side may also exist. In contrast to those who slept on their sides, welders aboard container ships in Nigeria were found to sleep on their backs more frequently, according to studies on their sleep habits.
But this does not imply that sleeping on your side is a universal solution to all aches and pains or that it works for everyone. It depends on your condition and the precise sleeping position you choose.
Using automated cameras, Western Australian researchers observed volunteers’ bedrooms for 12 hours each night and discovered that individuals who reported frequently waking up with a stiff neck spent more time in what they describe to as “provocative side sleeping positions.”
This statement may conjure up all kinds of images in your head, but in this case, it refers to lying on your side in a twisted position, such as when your upper leg crosses your other thigh and twists your spine. In contrast, those who slept on their side in a straighter, better supported position claimed to experience less neck pain.
Of course, the design of this study made it impossible to determine whether neck pain was brought on by sleeping in the “provocative” position or whether participants chose this posture as the only way to feel comfortable while experiencing neck pain.
What if you had folks try out a different sleeping position and then monitored them to see if their pain levels changed as a result?
In a study done on senior citizens in Portugal who were participating in a fitness programme, those with back discomfort were told to try sleeping on their sides, and those with neck pain were told to try sleeping on their backs. 90% of the subjects said that their separate pains had diminished four weeks later.
Although the outcome appears to be great, there is a catch. Since only 20 participants—a tiny sample—participated in the study, it is not possible to draw the conclusion that everyone who experiences back or neck pain will benefit from this straightforward modification in sleeping position. Like always in science, additional investigation is required.
For one medical condition, it’s more important which side you lie on than whether you should be on your back or side. Gastric juices leak from the stomach and cause acid reflux, which results in a severe burning in the chest. In an effort to alleviate this particularly terrible type of pain, doctors occasionally suggest that patients try sleeping on pillows raised up.
The condition is known as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease and can have catastrophic repercussions if the discomfort occurs frequently. It is unclear why this should have occurred, but one theory is because sleeping on the left side keeps the stomach-oesophagus junction above the level of stomach acid. The lower oesophageal sphincter becomes more relaxed while sleeping on the right, allowing the acid to escape.
Whatever the solution, it might be worthwhile to try sleeping more on your left side in the future if you do experience heartburn.
Because the majority of people do so, I have thus far focused on sleeping on your side or your back. What about the fraction of people who sleep on their fronts, though?
To begin with, one study says that it’s not a good idea if you have jaw pain, which is maybe not all that surprising.
How about wrinkling? Surely cramming your face into your pillow when you sleep exacerbates wrinkles?
The skin on your face is best kept, according to a group of cosmetic surgeons who propose it be handled like “seaweed that sways while tethered to a stalk” in their poetic article in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal.
The goal is to put as little stress as possible on your face as you sleep, therefore sleeping face down is out.
What can we infer from all of this, then? First, assuming all else is equal, sleeping on your side appears to provide a number of benefits. However, your specific posture might affect neck and back pain, and the side you sleep on can either cause or prevent acid reflux. Although we all differ, sleeping on your back can still be the most snore-free position for you.
If your present position isn’t allowing you to get a decent night’s sleep, it’s worthwhile to test out other sleeping positions and keep a sleep journal. However, keep in mind that if you think about different positions too much, you might stress yourself to sleep.