How Your Sleep Posture Impacts Your Health

In light of the fact that you spend a third of your life in bed, you probably want to spend some time making sure that your sleep is fully optimized. You have probably organized your bedroom so that it is as comfortable as possible including window shades, suitable mattress and luxurious pillows, but you may not have given as much attention to your sleep position.

It may surprise you that your sleep posture can have a serious impact on your health. For example, if you sleep in a fetal position like much of the world, you are less likely to have back problems; what is more surprising, however, is that fetal position sleepers are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. So, pay attention to how you sleep—it could make your waking life considerably better.

How Important Is Sleep?

Almost everyone understands that sleep is fundamental to a good day, but it is less well known how critical it is to good health. You may lead a life that is so hectic that you sacrifice sleep, but that is an enormously bad decision. Lack of sleep over an extended period of time has been linked to the following health risks:

  • Elevated risk of stroke
  • Elevated risk of heart disease
  • Overeating and obesity
  • Reduced insulin sensitivity and elevated risk of Type 2 diabetes
  • Prone to injury or accidents
  • Loss of cognitive acuity
  • Elevated risk of high blood pressure
  • Loss of libido
  • Weakened immune system
  • Mood changes

Long term sleep deprivation is so harmful that some studies have found it can shorten your life. One study found that people who sleep less than 5 hours a night reduced their life expectancy by 15 percent.

Pros and Cons of Various Sleep Positions

If you can get a good eight hours of sleep, you probably want to make sure that you are getting the most out of it. There have been many studies that examine the long-term effects of various sleep postures, and there are some that are better than others.

  • Fetal position—if you sleep on your side with your legs pulled up, you are like 40 percent of all human beings. This position is fairly good for you because it keeps your spine in alignment. Scientists have determined that sleeping in this position helps flush out toxins from the brain, which is why people who sleep in this position have a lower risk of neurological conditions like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease.  However, because you are sleeping on part of your face, you are more susceptible to facial wrinkles. Arthritis sufferers may also experience more joint pain because joints are hinged rather than straight.
  • Log position—almost 15 percent of all people sleep on their side with their legs extended and in line with their torso while their arms are fully straightened out to in front of their hips. This log position is also healthy because the back is almost straight, preventing unnecessary torque on the spine.
  • Freefall—if you sleep on your stomach with your head pointed out to the left or right, then you putting yourself in a position to hurt your neck or back.  Although this sleeping position eliminates snoring and sleep apnea, it puts immense pressure on your neck and spine due to negative curvature. Additionally, this position contributes to less restful sleep because you are more likely to toss and turn.
  • Starfish—almost 8 percent of people sleep on their backs with limbs splayed out in various angles. Although this position isn’t quite as bad for your spine as sleeping on your stomach, it can lead to lower back pain because it tends to flatten the lumbar region. You are also more prone to snoring and sleep apnea on your back.

How to Change Your Sleep Posture

You may believe, like most people, that your sleep posture is just inherent to you and that it can’t be changed. This is not strictly true, but it can be an involved process to train yourself to sleep in a different position. It may take some effort, but if you can achieve a healthier sleep posture that causes you less neck, back or joint pain, it is probably worth it.

However, before you go to all of the pain and trouble of changing your sleep position, you should consider if it is right for you. Yes, some sleep positions have advantages over others, but you should also keep in mind that your sleep quality is a priority.  If you sleep longer and feel more rested while sleeping on your back, do you really need to change to a fetal position? You may find that any long-term health benefits you derive from a different sleep posture are outweighed by poorer sleep quality.

You might want to try one or more of the following strategies to alter your sleep position:

  • Pillows—what kind of pillows and how they are positioned can make a big difference in how you sleep. If you want to sleep on your back, put a pillow under your knees, so that your legs are bent up. Then position two pillows on both sides of you, locking your arms into position. This should prevent you from turning onto your stomach because it would bend your back into an extremely uncomfortable position.
  • Mattress—if you have an adjustable mattress that elevates your lower limbs, then this should put you into a natural position to sleep on your back. If you have a normal mattress, make sure it is firm enough to support your lower back.
  • Tennis ball—another proven method for changing your sleep position is to sew a tennis ball into the front or sides of your shirt. If you try to adjust your position, the tennis ball will make it so uncomfortable that you will have to return to a back-down position.
  • Make yourself comfortable—one of the most difficult aspects of changing your sleep posture is getting comfortable. That is why you should do everything possible to feel good in your new sleep position including luxurious night wear, plush blankets and sleep-inducing aromas.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.  The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship.  Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA and you should not post any of your private health information.