What kind of sleeper are you?
We all know we need around 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night so our bodies can function optimally. Ok, so late night sessions at work, hours spent at the gym and even Netflix marathons sometimes means we don't get the sleep we need, but on the whole we try! Too little sleep (or too much) is linked to a whole range of health problems, both short-term and long-term, including dementia, diabetes and obesity.
The position you sleep in probably isn't something you've ever really put much thought into. But did you know this can have a significant impact on the quality of your sleep and how you feel the next day? It could even help to reduce heartburn or give you wrinkles! If you're really unlucky, your sleeping position could lead to snoring (or you may just be unlucky enough to share a bed with a snorer). We thought we'd find out more about the most common sleeping positions and see which ones are the best for your health and happiness. So, what kind of sleeper are you?
Are you a side sleeper?
The cosy, comforting foetal position or the relaxed, sprawled on one side sleeper – whichever of these you are, you should know you're most definitely not alone! Most people would class themselves as side sleepers, although we move around when we're unconscious, so it's hard to really say for sure. GP's recommend pregnant women sleep on their left sides, as this can improve circulation to the heart and also alleviates pressure on the lower back. We bet you didn't know that sleeping on your left side can also help to ease symptoms of acid reflux and heartburn (1)!
If you've ever woken up with arm numbness or pain, you'll know this is an uncomfortable side-effect of being a side sleeper. Resting your head or body weight on your arm may be super-comfy and help you drift off, but it can press on your nerves, restricting blood flow and causing pins and needles. You may also find that you wake up with shoulder pain (2) as your shoulder is supporting your body weight.
Side sleeping may be the most popular position, and it's not going to harm your health (it may even be helpful if you're pregnant or suffering from heartburn or acid reflux), but it's not the best position for sleeping!
Are you a back sleeper?
Did you know that medical professionals regard sleeping on your back as the healthiest position for sleep? (3) If you're a back sleeper, you'll look younger for longer, as sleeping in this position can help to prevent wrinkles – after all, your face isn't crushed into a pillow all night long! Snoozing on your back is also great news for your spine, and it can help to relieve back and neck pain, as your back is kept straight. Doctors recommend sleeping without a pillow – surprisingly comfortable once you get used to it – as this means your neck is also kept in a straight position. If you suffer from back, neck or shoulder pain, it's definitely worth training yourself to sleep on your back with no pillow or a very flat pillow for support.
However, if you have ever lived with a back sleeper, you might have been unlucky enough to be kept awake by their snoring. Trying to sleep when the person next to you is creating a noise that makes the walls vibrate, whilst slumbering peacefully, is enough to leave anyone feeling tired and moody! Sleep apnea and snoring are much more common amongst back sleepers, and doctors actually prescribe sleeping on your side if you suffer from sleep apnea (4). Sleeping on your back can cause your tongue to obstruct your airway, making breathing more laboured and causing those loud snoring noises.
Just because sleeping on your back is your preferred position, doesn't necessarily mean you'll sleep well. In fact, a study carried out in 1983 revealed that those who spent more time sleeping on their back reported poorer quality sleep (5).
Back sleeping is the healthiest position you can sleep in, so it's worth trying to train yourself to sleep like this, unless you're a snorer or have sleep apnea! If you suffer from back pain or neck pain, sleeping on your back can be really beneficial.
Are you a stomach sleeper?
Mm, there's something so relaxing about flumping on your bed, belly-down, and drifting off to sleep after your yoga class. Sleeping on your stomach can actually help to ease snoring and sleep apnea but did you know that stomach sleeping is widely regarded to be the worst position to sleep in (6)? It can lead to pain in the lower back due to strain on your spine and can also cause neck strain. You could try using pillows to encourage your body to sleep on one side, or provide additional support for your lower back by sleeping with a pillow under your hips – it's comfier than it sounds (7)!
Stomach sleeping may be the worst position in terms of health, but it's just so comfy! It's best to try and not get into the habit of sleeping on your stomach, but every now and again it shouldn't harm you. For those with neck or lower back pain, training yourself to sleep on your back is a far healthier option.
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