Over the years, I have been asked about various sleep positions and which is best, but to be honest, the answer is not that simple. You really have to weight the pros and cons of each position and how they relate to your needs.
What is the worst sleeping position? Hands down, it is sleeping on your stomach. While this position can be comfortable for some people, when you sleep on your stomach, you put your lower back in a hyperextended and often rotated position. Sleeping like this also puts your neck in an extremely rotated position. Both of these gradually cause potentially significant spinal problems.
Now that we know what is the worst, let’s take a look at better options.
One option is sleeping on your side. This is typically a fairly neutral position for your lower back but it can be fairly compressive on your shoulder and many people with shoulder problems find this difficult. You can modify a side lying sleeping position using a body pillow. While on your side, put one leg over the pillow, and have the rest of the pillow underneath you with your bottom arm underneath and behind you at your side. This ends up being kind of in-between stomach and side lying position, yet it is very supportive for your lower back and shoulder. A word of caution: This position is not necessarily the most comfortable for people who suffer from neck problems.
Another good option is sleeping on your back. This can be a very comfortable position, especially for people with neck and shoulder problems. However, it can be somewhat uncomfortable for your lower back, especially if you have tightness through the front of your hips. If this is the case for you, be aware that sleeping on your back can cause your back to be in a hyperextended position. The solution is pretty simple: stretch your hip flexors and possibly sleep with a pillow or two under your knees.
What should you do if you are one of those people who toss and turn during the night and don’t remain in one position? My best advice is to sleep with a body pillow, but get the kind that is shaped like the letter C as this will help cradle you in your desired position and reduce the likelihood of flipping around.
Bottom line: Sleeping on your back or side is better than sleeping on your stomach. If you have questions, I invite you to contact our office. We’d be happy to help you find the best solution for your needs.
-- Mike Staszak, PT