Hey sleep enthusiast, did you know that many people tend to have a favourite sleeping position that they naturally gravitate towards and use consistently night after night? Do you have a reliable sleep position that you wake up in most days? And, most importantly, does that sleep position serve you…?
As a sleep coach, many people ask me about the healthiest or optimal position for sleep. I also get asked about how sleep positions can impact aches and pains, especially when it comes to the neck and back. There are always curious questions about how to retrain yourself to adopt a more supportive sleeping position for improving sleep quality. I love the interest in setting yourself up for the best possible sleep and must say, changing your sleeping position does take some serious commitment. Especially when that trusty sleep position has been the only reliable way to get by during a rough patch of sleep, but it is possible!
This article sets out to share insights on what’s known about sleep positions, as well as the different potential impacts each one can have. As always, I hope that by being able to make informed choices for your sleep and lifestyle, you can find ways to best support your Restful Sleep. Let’s dive in to see how it may be best for you to drift off.
Sleeping on your back
This position is great if you may have back or shoulder pain. With a mattress that provides adequate support, the position can help to improve spinal alignment. An aesthetic side effect of sleeping on your back is that this position has less impact on the skin on your face, so it doesn’t create fine lines like the others can.
Sleeping on your stomach
This position can be helpful if you may be prone to snoring or sleep apnea as it clears airways, however there is a risk of spinal misalignment as your stomach sinks into the mattress. This can also bring a risk of back, neck and shoulder pains.
Sleeping on your side can also be useful for people who snore, as it brings clearer airways. A study that got people to change from stomach or back sleeping to side sleeping suggests that adopting side sleeping has the potential to contribute to the reduction of blood pressure.
Left side sleeping
When wondering which side to sleep on, it’s worth noting that for those who may suffer from digestive issues, a way to support your gut is by sleeping on the left. That’s because it allows a clearer pathway for food to move through your system (as the digestive system isn’t spread across both sides of the body evenly).
For people who suffer from acid reflux, this position works best when you can arrange pillows to heighten your head to a position that is above your stomach.
How to retrain yourself to sleep in a different position
Changing your default sleeping position can be achieved gradually over time. It may be one of the hardest habits to change, however it can be worth the effort if you are looking to attain some of the benefits listed above. Here are three methods you can try:
The "tennis ball technique"
Sew a tennis ball onto your pyjama top to discourage back or stomach sleeping (and reduce snoring). Studies show that it can work, but you may need to repeat the process occasionally to reinforce your new habit.
Some electronic devices, worn like heart-rate monitors, vibrate when you roll into the wrong position. These devices learn your sleep habits and provide gentle feedback, resulting in better sleep. They can be beneficial for addressing sleep apnea. Some devices can be obtained without a prescription, while others are sleep aids that require a doctor's recommendation. You can speak to your doctor to see what they may be able to offer.
Optimise your bedding
Choose a mattress and pillow that support your desired sleep position. Firmer mattresses are suitable for back-sleepers, while side-sleepers need more cushioning for pressure relief. Memory foam pillows and mattresses can align your head, neck, and back. Using a pillow to encourage your body to maintain your desired sleep position can be beneficial. By strategically positioning firm pillows, additional blankets, or a long pillow on both sides of your body, you can create a barrier that makes it more difficult for you to unintentionally shift.
Other practical considerations for sleep quality
Whilst you are getting into the details of how to set yourself up for the best possible night's sleep, you may also want to check off the best practice recommendations when it comes to sleep hygiene and the CBTI sleep rules.
These are often places that I start out with clients on their sleep coaching journey, to cover off the basics of creating the most supportive conditions for sleep possible.