Side sleeping by far the most prevalent way of sleeping and although it is quite hard to truly know how people sleep since we move around so much and are unconscious of our movements, 63% of people surveyed reported that it is their preferred sleeping position.
Side sleeping has a lot of advantages. It is recommended that pregnant women sleep on their left side during pregnancy because it improves their circulation since the heart is located on the left side of the body. This benefits both the mother and the baby. Furthermore; side sleeping is much better for pregnant women than sleeping on one’s back because to do the latter puts extra pressure on the lower back, which can cause all kind of problems. It also wins over sleeping on one’s front because, well, there’s a huge baby-bump in the way!
Side sleeping is also good for those suffering from acid reflux or heartburn. Because of the location of the stomach and the effects of gravity it is again recommended that people suffering from this condition sleep on their left side. This stops the acid making its way back up the oesophagus during the night thereby making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.
However, there are also downsides. Side sleeping can cause a condition known as Chondrodermatitis nodularis chronica helicis, or CNH, which is when one’s ear rubs against the pillow too often and results in a very sensitive lesion which is very painful to the touch and makes sleeping also impossible. That is why doctors recommend a special side sleeper pillow with ear hole in order to free one’s ear from the pressure of a conventional pillow. For more information on what is CNH.
Another disadvantage is the dreaded ‘dead arm’ that can result from sleeping with your bodyweight against your arm. This restricts the blood flow and can lead to pins and needles. Also the shoulder is supporting a lot of the body’s weight which can exacerbate existing shoulder problems and also cause neck ache.
Finally; it is harder to comfortably wear earplugs while side because the earplugs push against the pillow and into your ear, causing pain and discomfort. This again can be alleviated by buying a special earplug pillow. For more information on sleeping with earplugs visit this blog post.
While 63% of people are self-reporting side sleepers, only 13% of people say they sleep on their backs. This is strange considering that many doctors agree that this is the best way to sleep. It is great for the spine and neck because the back is kept in line and not bent and contorted in some weird fetal-like position. If you have a good mattress it should nicely support the curvature of the spine and if one doesn’t use a pillow then the neck is left in a neutral position with nice, open airways. Converse to this is using too many pillows which can make breathing more difficult.
There are other benefits to sleeping on one’s back too. If you face isn’t mushed up against your pillow then you are less likely to develop wrinkles! A boon for all image conscious women out there.
Yet, as with side sleeping, there are down sides to back sleeping.
First, people are much more prone to snoring and sleep apnea when they sleep on their backs. In fact; there is such a link between the two that doctors actually recommend side sleeping as a treatment for sleep apnea. The problem is especially acute for people that are overweight.
Additionally an important caveat must be made with regards to back sleeping. Just because it is better for the spine doesn’t mean that it is better for your overall health. Sleep quality is one of the most important determinants of health and back sleepers do report lower sleep quality than side sleepers.
So there you have it. Which is better? I’m a side sleeper and I can’t see myself changing any time soon!