Why your sleeping position matters
How you sleep can affect how well you sleep – and how good you feel during waking hours.
There are three basic sleeping positions: on your back, on your front, and on your side. The one you choose can ease pain and discomfort – or aggravate them.
On your back
Sleeping on your back can be good for your spine alignment. And because it provides more support, it can also ease or prevent back and neck pain.
But if you use the wrong pillow, sleeping on your back can be literally a pain in the neck. “If you are on your back and you have a 10-centimeter [four-inch]-thick pillow, it tends to kind of flex your neck forward,” notes Mayo Clinic Center for Sleep Medicine co-director Timothy Mergenthaler, “and that may put undue stress on parts of the cervical spine and discs and muscles.” So you may want to try a thinner, less fluffy pillow.
You might also want to try sleeping with a second pillow or a rolled-up towel under your knees, propping them up. This can relieve some pressure on your lower back.
But sleeping on your back can make snoring or obstructive sleep apnea worse. According to Professor Rafael Palayo at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, “The biggest thing about snoring is the tongue, and so the tongue will slip back when you sleep on your back,” blocking the airway.
If you want to break the habit of sleeping on your back, you can wear a belt or vest designed to make it uncomfortable – or wearable technology that can sense when you’re on your back and start vibrating to signal you to turn over.
On your front
Sleeping on your stomach can be good for people who snore or have apnea, because it helps keep the airway open. But because you have your head turned to one side and your arms in unusual positions or pinned under your pillow, it can put lots of pressure on joints and muscles. Avoiding thick pillows helps reduce the added stress on your cervical spine, shoulders, and lower back.
On your side
Sleeping on your side with your upper body slightly raised keeps most of your stomach below your esophagus. So it can reduce pain and increase comfort for people with heartburn, reflux, and heart failure. If you have chronic hip or shoulder pain, sleeping on the other side can remove the pressure that triggers it. And if you have chronic back or neck pain, sleeping on either side can take the pressure off where it hurts.
Perhaps more so than on your back or front, pillows are very important for side-sleepers. If your pillow’s too thin, your head and neck are flexed on one side and extended on the other; this can cause neck pain. Using a pillow three to four inches thick can help avoid that.
Speaking of pillows, if you have osteoarthritis in a knee or hip, keeping a second pillow between your knees can help ease discomfort – particularly if you sleep with your knees tucked up in the fetal position.
Which is the best sleeping position?
Spoiler: That’s the wrong question. The right question is, which sleeping position is best for you?
Even sleeping is another area where everyone’s different, and what’s best for someone can be worse for someone else.
That’s a principle we’ve always lived and worked by at Senior Insights. Instead of starting with a list of standard services and providing them for clients, we work the other way around – with clients and their families coming first.
Specifically, we start with a thorough, three-part needs assessment that goes beyond superficial physical health to also look at mental health, functional and social abilities, cognitive health, and even a safety evaluation, to uncover important information that neither our clients nor their families may have known. To keep that information current, we monitor each client’s care weekly. Our monthly registered nurse assessments go way beyond just taking vital signs and are more like mini-needs assessments.
Using that information, we coordinate each client’s individual care plan not only with their health needs, but also with their needs, their schedule, their hobbies, interests, activities, and social lives.
So if senior care worries are causing you sleepless nights, please call or contact us.