Maintain the natural curves of your spine while you sleep to reduce the strain on your neck, back, and knees. Do this by sleeping on your back with your head slightly raised or by curling on your side with a pillow between your knees. The latter is recommended for pregnant women and those who have sleep apnea. Ayurveda advises against sleeping on your tummy and with your head toward the north.
The importance of posture cannot be stated enough – even when you go to bed! After all, haven’t you all woken up at some point to an agonizing sore muscle or stiff neck just because you didn’t sleep right! Studies now show that sleeping position affects your quality of sleep and even your overall well-being. There is no one-position-fits-all recommendation for sleep, but there sure are adjustments you can make to get a good night’s rest.
One study on the relationship between sleep positions and quality of sleep, via self-assessment, looked into body positions of good sleepers (those who were satisfied with the quality of their sleep) and poor sleepers (those who complained about it). Compared to poor sleepers, good sleepers experienced significantly better quality of sleep, were in better shape in the morning, had less difficulty in falling asleep, felt less agitation, and had fewer awakenings at night. The same study also went on to show that poor sleepers consistently spent more time on their back with their heads straight. In stark contrast, good sleepers seldom slept on their back for long periods of immobility, suggesting sleep position might be an important factor affecting the quality of sleep.1
To get the best out of this daily miracle, it is important to sleep in the right position. So how should you sleep — like a baby, a log, or a top? Sleep experts say whatever position you choose to sleep, ensure that your body is in midline, that is, maintain the natural curves of the spine. This ensures the stress and strain on the spine and body are minimized.2 That said, some positions can be really good or terrible for you depending on various other factors.
Sleeping Position: What Is Recommended?
Sleeping on the back isn’t a very popular sleeping position and often gets a bad rap among poor sleepers. Despite this, many experts recommend this position because it rests the head, neck, spine, and internal organs in a neutral and optimal position. Using a pillow so your head is slightly elevated and your stomach is below the esophagus is ideal for warding off acid reflux. However, if you are someone who snores or suffer from sleep apnea, this position is not recommended as it severely affects the quality of sleep.3
If you like sleeping on your side, pull your knees slightly towards your chest. Keeping a pillow between your knees will reduce the stress on your back and knees and ensure your spine is aligned.4 According to the National Sleep Foundation, this is also the best position for those who snore or have sleep apnea.
Sleeping on one side, particularly on the left, is especially recommended during pregnancy. This helps increase the amount of blood and nutrients that reaches the placenta and the fetus. Pregnant women who experience discomfort at night due to back pain, heartburn, or shortness of breath are advised to sleep in this position by propping the upper body with pillows.5
Experts say that sleeping on your tummy is the worst position as it strains the neck, back muscles, and joints because the spine is not in a neutral position. If you are one of those who finds comfort in this position, slightly raising one side of your body with a pillow or keeping a pillow under your tummy or chest instead of your head will help ease the strain on the neck.6
The Eastern systems of medicine too have recommendations on how to orient yourself at night.
According to the ancient Chinese health care system Qigong, the best position to sleep is on the back with the spine straight and body unobstructed.7
Another recommended position is on the right side with both legs slightly bent. The right hand can be placed near the pillow while the left hand rests on the thigh. This position allows the heart to be in a high and unconstricted position. The liver, which is believed to store blood, is lower down and receives more blood. This position also allows the qi or the life force to circulate freely.8
Ayurvedic practitioners concur that sleeping on your right side is most relaxing while sleeping on your tummy is the worst position. Sleeping on the left side is good for the digestive system while sleeping on the back disturbs the vata in some.9
According to Ayurveda, quality of sleep also depends on which direction you place your head. Sleeping with your head towards east leads to deep meditative sleep and sleeping with the head towards south promotes physically restful sleep. Sleeping with your head towards the north is considered most harmful.10
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||De Koninck, Joseph, Pierre Gagnon, and Serge Lallier. “Sleep positions in the young adult and their relationship with the subjective quality of sleep.” Sleep 6, no. 1 (1983): 52.|
|2.||↑||Margo, Sammy. “The Good Sleep Guide” Random House. 2008.|
|3, 6.||↑||The Best Sleep Position for Your Body, National Sleep Foundation.|
|4.||↑||Good Sleeping Posture Helps Your Back, University of Rochester Medical Centre.|
|5.||↑||Sleeping Positions During Pregnancy, American Pregnancy Association.|
|7.||↑||Hicks, Angela. 88 Chinese Medicine Secrets: How the wisdom of China can help you to stay healthy and live longer. Hachette UK, 2010.|
|8.||↑||Maciocia, Giovanni. The psyche in Chinese medicine: treatment of emotional and mental disharmonies with acupuncture and Chinese herbs. Elsevier Health Sciences, 2009.|
|9.||↑||Suoboda, Robert E. “Prakriti: your ayurvedic constitution.” Lotus Press, 1988.|
|10.||↑||Shukla, A., Prasanth D., Anupama Shukla, A.S. Baghel, M. K. Vyas, and Jessica Vellela. “Relevance of Sleep for Healthy Living: An Ayurvedic Perspective.” Ayurveda Journal of Health, Vol XII, Issue 3. 2014.|