Do you go to bed after a long day, only to wake up later with pain or discomfort? If so, you may wonder if there’s a sleep position that ensures a good night’s rest. That’s a question Luisa Bazan, M.D., a sleep specialist at Henry Ford Health, hears frequently.
“There is no one sleep position that is best for everyone. It depends on your personal preference. Choose a position that keeps your spine aligned, from your head to your hips,” says Dr. Bazan. “For people with certain health conditions, sleep position plays a bigger role. By selecting the right sleep position, you can reduce or prevent symptoms and get a better night’s rest.”
Finding ways to improve your sleep – whether it’s your sleep position or other strategies – can impact your long-term health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that adults get at least seven hours of sleep each night. Studies have shown that inadequate sleep over time increases your risk for many conditions, such as heart and respiratory diseases and dementia. It also affects your metabolism and concentration.
Are Certain Sleep Positions Better Than Others?
It’s up to you to pick your favorite sleep position. But certain ways of sleeping are best if you have one of these health conditions:
- Arthritis: Find a comfortable position that doesn’t put pressure on swollen joints. Dr. Bazan suggests sleeping on either your side or back, depending on the affected joints. You can also use pillows to support painful joints while you sleep.
- Back and neck pain: For some people with neck and back pain, sleeping on the side with a pillow between the knees may be most comfortable. If you choose this option, place a longer pillow or a body pillow behind your back to help you stay in position. If you have lower back pain, you may be more comfortable sleeping on your back with a pillow under your knees for additional support.
- Acid reflux: If you have acid reflux, stomach acid travels back up your esophagus, the tube that connects your stomach and mouth. Sleeping on your back can worsen acid reflux symptoms like heartburn. Try sleeping on your left side to eliminate or slow acid reflux. You might also want to try sleeping in a more upright position: Raise the head of your bed or place pillows under your head and back.
- Pregnancy: Many women find it more difficult to find a comfortable sleep position as pregnancy progresses. Dr. Bazan advises pregnant women to sleep on their left side with their knees bent. This position reduces back pain and supports the growing fetus. It also ensures that the heart can pump blood throughout the body.
- Sleep apnea or snoring: If you’re affected by sleep apnea, your breathing may stop and start throughout the night. This condition is caused by the tissue at the back of your throat relaxing and narrowing your airway. Snoring can also occur for this reason, along with nasal congestion or the anatomy of your mouth. If you snore or have sleep apnea, Dr. Bazan suggests not sleeping on your back, which may worsen symptoms and can cause more serious breathing problems. She recommends sleeping on your side to keep your airway open.
“If you do change your sleep position due to a health condition, give yourself time to adjust. Use pillows to hold your body in place while you adapt to the new routine.” says Dr. Bazan.
What Else Can I Do To Improve My Sleep?
Dr. Bazan points out that sleep position is only one part of a healthy sleep habit. “It’s also important to manage your sleep environment and establish a regular sleep schedule,” she says.
Follow these tips for creating a healthy sleep routine:
- Create a restful space: For the best night’s rest, sleep in a dark room. Keep pillows and bedding clean. Turn down the temperature in your bedroom to stay cool as you sleep.
- Relax and unwind before bedtime: Turn off the television, computer and other electronics at least one hour before bedtime. While exercise can help you sleep, complete any workouts three or more hours before bedtime. Before going to sleep, choose calming activities, such as taking a bath or shower, reading a book or listening to music.
- Stick to a sleep schedule: Dr. Bazan recommends creating a schedule to help you get at least the seven hours of recommended sleep. When possible, keep the same sleep schedule throughout the week and weekend.
- Try using a sleep app: There are many sleep apps available to help you set a schedule and evaluate the quality of your sleep. Use this information to help shape your sleep routine.
Implementing healthy sleep strategies along with finding the right sleep position can help you get the restorative sleep you need to recharge your mind and body.
When Should I See A Doctor About Sleep Difficulty?
“If you’ve tried changing your sleep position and environment and are still having trouble sleeping, see your doctor or a sleep specialist,” says Dr. Bazan.
Contact a physician if you’re experiencing:
- Drowsiness or difficulty staying awake during the day
- Frequent acid reflux or heartburn throughout the night
- Ongoing pain that interrupts sleep
- Shortness of breath when laying down
“With a full evaluation, your doctor can identify whether you have a sleep disorder or other underlying health condition affecting your sleep,” says Dr. Bazan. “There are many treatment options available to help you get the rest you need.”
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Dr. Luisa Bazan is a sleep medicine specialist who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center - New Center One.