Diana Kelly Levey

Here’s How Your Sleep Position Impacts Your Health

April 25, 2016 | Categories:

Do you wake lying in the same position you were in when you fell asleep? We shift from three to 36 times during the night according to videotaped research. We usually sleep on our back, side or stomach, even though a majority of us say we sleep on our sides.

Popular thinking used to suggest sleeping on a very firm mattress to manage back pain. But over the past decade, researchers have discovered that not only is this recommendation incorrect, but people who sleep on very hard mattresses tend to have poor sleep quality. Back pain isn’t the only concern, but breathing and sleep apnea are issues your doctor is likely to bring up when discussing troubled sleep, as well as health problems that can as arise from insufficient sleep—like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and depression.

“For years the sleep position has solely focused on back pain…but recently we’re becoming more concerned about breathing issues during sleep,” says Terry Cralle, a registered nurse and certified clinical sleep educator at BetterSleep.org, the consumer-education arm of the International Sleep Products Association, devoted to educating the public about the critical relationship between sleep and quality of life. “Now we’re looking at it a little differently and saying, ‘Well, first of all, let’s make sure we’re breathing okay if we’re on our backs’,” she says.

Here are some ways your sleep position can impact your health, and how you can optimize your preferred position for a good night’s sleep.

Try this position… if you have back pain:

For those with a bad back, consider placing a pillow between your legs to alleviate pressure on your hips and lower back. “If you don’t have a mattress that is designed to be adjustable, you can augment what you have with various pillows,” says Cralle. “I always think that pillows are relieving, not just for the head of our bed…but if we have other issues that cause discomfort.” Learn more about how your mattress can help reduce back pain and help you sleep more comfortably.

Try this position… for a healthy brain:

Lateral (side) sleeping may help your body clear waste and other harmful chemicals from the brain, possibly even reducing the chances of developing Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases, according to researchers at Stony Brook University. Researchers using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in rodents to study how the body gets rid of the proteins and chemicals that negatively affect brain processes if they build up, according to the study published in Journal of Neuroscience. While more research is needed (and in humans) to determine if side-sleeping can help clear metabolic waste that accumulates in the brain while we’re awake, doctors in the study find this research promising when it comes to analyzing how your sleep position can impact your health.

Try this position… for acid reflux:

Heartburn, acid reflux and digestion issues are usually made worse by sleeping on your back. Acid reflux is the backward flow of stomach acid into the esophagus. Experiencing acid reflux may mean you taste regurgitated food or sour liquid at the back of your mouth or feel a burning sensation in your chest (heartburn), according to the Mayo Clinic. Lying on your side can help, ideally while propped up.

“A lot of people breathe better when they are propped up, and then the acid reflux is better,” says Cralle. You can use regular pillows, or a wedged pillow that really props you up, or consider investing in an adjustable bed, she says.

When it comes to sleep though, comfort should still be king. If you aren’t comfortable, you’re not going to get that quality sleep your body needs.

Read the full article on SleepNumber.com.

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