What's the Best Sleep Position for You?

Public Domain. Henry Meynell Rheam (Sleeping Beauty, 1899)

Only 8 percent of people sleep in the healthiest position for slumber.

In which position do you sleep? Chances are you sleep like a baby – as in the fetal position, not the idiom – as that is the most popular of the four main positions. But is that the best one for you?

Too many people don't get enough sleep – and while there are a lot of more urgent-sounding diseases out there, there is also an epidemic of sleep deprivation that deserves attention. As the Independent points out, "a 'catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic' is causing a host of potentially fatal diseases." Sleep not only improves thinking, focus and reflexes, but according to the National Institutes of Health, a lack of sleep increases the risk for obesity, heart disease and infections. “Sleep affects almost every tissue in our bodies,” says Dr. Michael Twery, a sleep expert at NIH. “It affects growth and stress hormones, our immune system, appetite, breathing, blood pressure and cardiovascular health.”

The cost of and resources used in treating the ill effects of sleep deprivation are astronomical; add in the annual $63.2 billion in lost productivity due to insomnia in the United States, and it becomes clear that this is a much bigger issue that a few people feeling tired.

And all of that is a long way of getting to the point (sorry), which is, maybe trying a new sleep position will help you sleep better!

The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) writes about the importance of a good sleeping position, noting that poor p.m. posture could "potentially cause back and neck pain, fatigue, sleep apnea, muscle cramping, impaired circulation, headaches, heartburn, tummy troubles, and even premature wrinkles." Which can all lead to a poor night's sleep. Here are the pros and cons of each.

In the fetal position

On your side, loosely curled, is the most popular sleeping posture – 41 percent of adults opt to sleep in this position. This is a great way to sleep if you are pregnant, notes the NSF, "because it improves circulation in your body and in the fetus, and it prevents your uterus from pressing against your liver, which is on your right side." It is also good for snorers.

• Curled up too tightly can restrict breathing in your diaphragm.
• Curled up too tightly can also make you feel sore in the morning, especially if you have arthritis. Try to loosen up your curl; likewise, placing a pillow between your knees can help reduce pressure on your hip joints.

On your side

On the side, but not curled up, is how 15 percent of us sleep. This position has some advantages, including a reduction of acid reflux. It also elongates the spine and helps ease back and neck pain. Since it keeps the airways open, it is good for reducing snoring and sleep apnea.

• With one side of the face pressed against the pillow, it can lead to wrinkles. (Though I'm guessing that a good night's sleep helps to decease wrinkles.)

On your stomach

Seven percent of people sleep on their tummies. It is good for reducing snoring; it is not good for most everything else.

• It can lead to back and neck pain, since it’s hard to keep your spine in a neutral position.
• Pressure on the muscles and joints can lead to numbness, tingling, aches, and irritated nerves.

If this is really the only way you can sleep, try it facedown, rather than with your face turned to the side, with your forehead propped up on a pillow so you can, you know, breathe.

On your back

Only eight percent of people sleep on their backs, even though NSF says that it is the best way to sleep. They write: "By far the healthiest option for most people, sleeping on your back allows your head, neck, and spine to rest in a neutral position. This means that there’s no extra pressure on those areas, so you’re less likely to experience pain. Sleeping facing the ceiling is also ideal for warding off acid reflux."

• If you don't use a pillow, food or acid from may find their way up your digestive tract if your stomach isn't lower than your esophagus.
• If you have sleep apnea, sleeping on the back may cause the tongue to block the breathing tube, which isn't a good idea.
• If you want to reduce snoring, this might not be the best position since it can make it more severe.

Unfortunately, this doesn't cover my sleep position: the ol' side-fetal-stomach combo. Maybe I will scrap them all and try sleeping on my back. If it worked for Sleeping Beauty, it can't be all that bad.