What Is The Healthiest Way To Sleep At Night?
A good, healthy and refreshing night’s sleep is essential for everyone. Yet, with every part of your routine and environment impacting your sleep, this is sometimes harder than it seems.
And when I say everything, I mean literally everything. It can be the temperature of your room, the type of mattress and even what position you sleep in. Weirdly enough, the position you sleep can also reveal information about your personality.
For example, if you sleep in the fetus position (curled up on one side like a fetus in the womb), you are likely to be “tough on the outside but sensitive at heart. They may be shy when they first meet somebody, but soon relax”.
As interesting as personality traits are, sleep positions are a relatively easy way to improve your sleep at night. If you change your position to a better one, you can potentially get more rest and wake up feeling ready to tackle the day.
- 69% of the population sleep on their side
- 13% of the population sleep on their back
- 5% of the population sleep on their front
So does this mean that sleeping on your side is the healthiest way to sleep?
It’s a little more complex than that. Each sleep position has their benefits and shortfalls. It’s all about finding the best way for you to sleep. And without any further ado, let’s dive into the best and worst sleep positions.
1. On your back
Sleeping on your back is, arguably, one of the best sleep positions out there.
When people talk about sleeping on your back, they are more than likely talking about you being on your back, with your arms and legs straight down beside you. This is also called the soldier position.
But sleeping on your back can also include everyone who’s a fan of starfishing, which is where your legs are spread apart and your arms are raised either side of your head.
Out of these variations, the best sleeping position for posture is the soldier. But it doesn’t really matter where your arms and legs are.
The real benefit of sleeping on your back is that you give your head, neck, and spine a chance to rest and recover in a neutral position. You’ve not bent over awkwardly, which will help elevate any muscle aches or pains you might be experiencing.
However, we’ve already pointed out, only 13% of UK residents actually sleep on their back. That’s because even though sleeping on your back is good for your muscles, there’s one key area where it fails.
This is due to a pesky thing called gravity. When you’re on your back, your tongue will naturally drop to the back of your throat and your muscles will push on your airways, causing them to narrow.
By extension, sleeping on your back is also a bad call for anyone that suffers from sleep apnea. This is where your breathing stops during sleep, causing you to jolt awake to breathe again.
Thinking of sleeping on your back but worried about snoring?
You might want to consider investing in anti-snoring pillows. These are designed to raise your head above the rest of your body, forcing your tongue and jaw forward. In this position, your airways will remain open reducing your chance of snoring and sleep apnea.
Top tip: Make sure your mattress is in tip-top condition and is able to correctly support your body. Without proper support, sleeping in this position will just put extra pressure on your neck and spine, making the pain worse.
2. On your side
Sleep with your legs and torso straight, but on your side? Welcome to the most popular sleeping position in the UK.
The reason why this is so popular is that side-sleeping provides a number of night-time benefits, including:
- Decreased levels of acid reflux from keeping you awake.
- A lower chance of snoring and sleep apnea relief from more open airways.
- Lower chances of back and neck ache from an elongated spine.
Even though sleeping on your side can be good for your muscles, it’s not the best position for your posture. Sleeping on your back offers more support and is better suited to those with poor muscles or pains.
For those who really are fans of your beauty sleep, there’s some bad news here. Sleeping on your side increases your chance of wrinkles because half of your face is pushed into a pillow for hours at a time.
Now when it comes to side sleeping, there is a common question that comes up:
Which side is best to sleep on, left or right?
And surprisingly, there is an answer. The left side is the best one to sleep on. Although it’s not 100% clear why this is, studies have shown that the left-side sleepers get better sleep because this position further helps decrease acid reflux.
Top tip: Use a soft pillow or a thin, folded blanket between your knees as you sleep. This will help ease any pressure on your hips, giving you added support in the night.
3. In the fetal position
The fetal position is one of the most popular side positions to sleep in. In fact, in a recent survey, 41% of participants adopted this position. And perhaps being curled up like a baby is the key to sleeping like one.
If you’re pregnant, this is hands-down the best position for you to sleep in.
This is because it improves circulation and prevents your uterus from pressing against your liver. Plus, there’s just something rather nice about mother and child sleeping in the same position before they’re born.
The downsides to this position happen if you’re curled up too tightly. If your position is more ball than fetal, you can restrict your breathing by putting too much pressure on your diaphragm. In addition, holding yourself in a ball will tire your muscles out. You’re supposed to relax in your sleep, not put your muscles through more work.
Top tip: Stretch out as much as you can in this position to avoid going into a tight ball. This will give your muscles a better chance to relax and help improve your breathing.
4. On your stomach
Sleeping on your stomach is arguably the worst sleeping position to be in. Now, this isn’t because it’s inherently bad to sleep on your stomach. It’s more that it offers very little benefits compared to other sleeping positions.
For example, it’s harder in this position to keep your spine neutral as people often face one side or another. This increases your chances of developing neck and back pain than if you keep your head facing the mattress.
In addition, laying on your stomach also adds extra pressure to your joints and muscles. If you’ve ever woken up with numbness or tingling, this is the reason why.
One benefit? It can ease snoring for those who are suffering.
Just remember to sleep facing the mattress to keep your airways open and put your body into a more comfortable and supported position.
Top tip: if you’re going to sleep on your stomach, don’t use a firm pillow. This will prevent your neck from being in an uncomfortable angle and lower your chances of becoming painful.
What happens if you move in your sleep?
Everybody moves in their sleep.
Well, to be more accurate, people don’t move in their sleep. What happens is a little more complex than that.
At night, the body goes through 5 stages of the sleep cycle. But this isn’t something that happens as smoothly as you might hope. When you go in-between stages of this cycle, or if the body senses that you’re putting too much pressure on a certain muscle, you’ll temporarily wake up.
This only lasts for a few moments. It’s just enough to move you into a new position, and you’re straight back to sleep. It seems like this happens in your sleep because you simply don’t remember it. It’s the same reason why you can’t remember what happened moments before you fall asleep at night.
If you think you don’t move, you might be mistaken. On average, people move as much as 10 and 12 times per hour. What’s more, over half of these movements involve a major sleep position change.
But don’t be fooled here. The position you go to sleep in matters. It’s muscle memory.
If you’re used to falling asleep a certain way, when you unconsciously move in the night your body will naturally return to this position.
Let’s say you’re used to sleeping on your stomach, but are experiencing a lot of muscle pain from this position. By training your body to fall asleep on your back, you’ll spend more time at night in this position and naturally return back to it in your sleep. This means more support for your posture, easing your pain in the morning.
That’s why if you’re not in the right position, you need to get comfortable in your new one.
Does clothing impact your sleep?
What you wear at night has a big impact on your sleep.
For example, if you’re wearing clothing that’s too tight or binding, you risk impacting your circulation. This can lead to a number of dangers, including numbness or pain in your muscles. Tight clothing can also irritate your skin, making it uncomfortable, itchy and more prone to skin conditions.
But that’s not all. Tight clothing can also inhibit melatonin production, which is the hormone that regulates your sleep cycles. Without proper levels of melatonin, you’ll struggle to fall asleep and wake up at the right times, keeping you tossing and turning through the night.
If you’re going to wear clothing, make sure that it’s loose. Don’t fall asleep in what you’ve worn that day. It’s not only unhygienic but will cause you more problems in the long run.
Now, onto a more debated topic: socks.
Generally, wearing socks in bed is a good thing. This is because having warm feet can help you fall asleep faster – meaning you’ll get more sleep. In addition, socks can also prevent your feet from getting cracked or dry. Win-win. For those of you who aren’t fans of pyjamas, there’s some good news. It might actually be healthier to sleep naked.
This is because it offers a range of benefits including:
- Keeping your body cool. When you fall asleep, your core temperature drops. By not wearing any clothing, you give yourself a headstart into falling asleep and getting a good night’s rest.
- Helping you lose weight. By keeping yourself cool, you’re not just improving your chances of sleep. A study has shown that cold temperatures help burn off more energy, helping to lose weight while you sleep.
- Helping you heal. Exposure to air is key to letting some wounds and cuts heal themselves naturally, rather than being kept under wraps all night.
- Keeping infections at bay. Bacteria likes growing in warm and damp places, which can be caused by wearing clothing. Sleeping naked keeps these infections at bay, which is particularly useful for preventing conditions like vaginal yeast infections.
- Improving male fertility. Because tight-fitting or sweaty underwear can be linked to a lower sperm count, sleeping naked can also help improve fertility for those who are trying to start a family.
- Boost self-esteem. Spending time naked has been shown to help improve self-esteem and make people feel better about themselves, which is great news for your overall mood and mental health.
- Help your relationships. Get your mind out of the gutter for this one. Studies have shown that skin-to-skin contact between adults releases oxytocin (which makes you feel great!) and helps strengthen relationships. So, if you sleep with a partner, you might want to get some naked cuddles in.
These benefits are great, but they’re not the be-all and end-all. If you’re not comfortable sleeping naked, wear clothing. It’s all about getting yourself as comfortable as possible for the best night’s sleep.
Get comfortable whatever your position
If you want a good night’s sleep, you need to find a position that you’re comfortable with and helps your muscles and body rest.
If you’re trying out a new sleep position, be warned that it takes time. Your body is used to sleeping another way and it will try and put yourself back in that position at any given opportunity.
Sleeping this new way will feel off and not right. But if you persevere, it will become second nature.
Your comfort is the most important thing though. If you’re really struggling with a certain position, it might not be right for you. But don’t worry – you can get more helpful tips and tricks to try in our guide on how to improve your sleep here.