You probably don’t give much thought to your sleeping position, but how you sleep — whether flat on your back, curled up on your side, or even on your stomach — has a profound effect on your entire life. This shouldn’t come as a surprise though. If you’re getting the prescribed eight hours of sleep every night this equates to exactly a third of every day (and your life) spent with your eyes closed.
First off, while the debate between sleeping on your back versus sleeping on your side supports positive outcomes on both sides, research more or less agrees that sleeping on your stomach should be thrown out of the equation. Stomach sleeping forces your spine into an unnatural position and compresses your cervical joints. This adds up to neck and back pain and problems, which is exactly why stomach sleeping should be avoided.
With that said, it’s important to understand that the other options — back sleeping and side sleeping — have independent effects on everything from digestion to brain function. How about observing the pros and cons of each and you can decide for yourself which is the healthiest option for you?
Back Sleeping Pros and Cons:
Back sleeping is the best way to keep your spine and neck in alignment through the night, therefore decreasing the chances of waking up in pain the next morning. It also distributes pressure evenly across your body and eliminates the possibility of waking up with one tight or stiff shoulder, hip, and so on.
Meanwhile, back sleeping also impacts the way you breathe throughout the night. The lower jaw can sink and change the shape of your air pathways. For some people, this equates to snoring and even sleep apnea, a potentially serious disorder in which breathing stops and starts uncontrollably during sleep. This can also really impact the overall quality of sleep, which is enough for some to consider abandoning this position altogether.
But maybe the most surprising thing about back sleeping is that it has been found to speed up brain aging. Research once found that rats who slept on their back cleared significantly less brain waste than rats that slept on their side. Specifically, amyloid beta, the protein fragment that’s a hallmark of Alzheimer’s Disease can be left in the brain, and this same effect can take place in humans who sleep on their back as well.
Side sleeping pros and cons:
Side sleeping helps you avoid the breathing and potential brain problems that can be presented by back sleeping. Doing so all the time can cause spine alignment problems, however. It can also cause acid reflux and push stomach acid up through your esophagus.
But the major difference between the cons of back sleeping and the cons of side sleeping is that there are hacks and fixes to minimize the negative impacts of side sleeping. For example, favoring your left side automatically eliminates the possibility of stomach acid being pushed up through your esophagus because of the way your esophagus loops and connects to your stomach. In the instance of tackling spine and neck alignment issues, simply adding another pillow under your head can bring your neck back into a neutral alignment. At the same time, this also alleviates some of the pressure on your right shoulder. And while you’re at it with pillows, you can even put another one between your legs to prevent your top hip from collapsing onto your bottom hip.