Everyone knows a good sleep can boost your health and a bad one can harm it just as much. But it’s not just the quantity and quality of shut-eye we get that matters – how you lie down can be just as important.
“The wrong sleep position can cause muscle cramping, impair circulation and leave you hurt,” explains Professor Chris Idzikowski Director of the Sleep Assessment and Advisory Service.
And for the millions of us with pre-existing aches, a bad sleep position can spark pain and sleepless nights.
With an estimated 95% of us sleeping the same way every night, here are some positions to try to improve your health…
If you have…
Lie on your right side
“Eating a heavy meal two to three hours before going to bed can cause heartburn,” says Dr John de Caestecker, consultant gastro-enterologist from University Hospitals Leicester.
“The gullet joins the stomach on the left side so by lying on the right, food can move more effectively through the digestive tract,” he says.
“If you do have to eat late, research shows raising the head of the bed a few inches can alleviate symptoms. It’s a much better option than adding more pillows, which you’re likely to roll off and can crease you up in the middle and hinder digestion.”
Lie on your right side with your arms resting comfortably in front of you. Bend your knees and curl your legs slightly toward your upper body.
…a bad back
Lie on your side with your legs supported
Some 40% of us suffer spinal issues and many of those originate – or get worse – between the sheets. The key is to keep your spine in a neutral, naturally curved position.
Lie on either side with a slight bend in your knees, keeping your hips vertical. Place a firm pillow or two in-between your knees so your legs are propped about hip width apart. Your arms can relax in front of you. If this feels funny, don’t give up.
Lie on your side, propped up
Any time you’re congested – be it from allergies, a sinus infection, or a plain old cold – avoid snoozing on your back. Instead, lie on your side with an extra pillow under your head and let gravity help with drainage. Don’t forget that when your head is up high, your arms will need extra support, so hug a pillow. Arrange legs in a comfy, slightly bent pose.
Lie on your side in a hug pose
Shoulder pain has many culprits, but chief is a side-sleeping position. Yes, sleeping on your side can both cause and alleviate shoulder pain. It’s all in the detail, says Chris.
Many make the mistake of tucking their bottom arm under their head, which strains the network of nerves that controls the shoulder, arm, and hand.
Lie on your pain-free side with your legs slightly bent. Extend your bottom arm in front of you, then bring it in, using both arms to hug a pillow to your chest.
Avoid flopping your top leg forward (to help alignment, place a pillow between your thighs). If both shoulders ache, switch to a back pose and keep arms relaxed at your sides.
Lie on your back
Weird but true: When you’re moody, bloated and suffering with cramps, avoid curling up in a ball in bed or on your stomach.
Lying on your side lets gravity tug on already tender breast ligaments, and lying face down puts weight and pressure on your uterus, causing irritation and more cramping, says chartered physio Sammy Margo, author of The Good Sleep Guide.
Get your best PMS shut-eye on your back. Place a pillow under your knees to keep your lower spine from arching too much. Keep your arms neutral at your sides.
If you’re still sore, try putting another pillow under your knees for even more lower body support.
Lie on your back
Around 15% of adults have bursitis, also known as runner’s hip, a painful condition that stems from inflammation of the hip joint.
Sammy says: “Side-lying puts pressure on your hips. Dozing on your back gives your hips a break from the stress of walking and sitting all day. If it feels good, prop a pillow under your knees for added support.”
…a sore jaw
Lie on your back, face up
Night-time teeth-grinding affects about 8% of adults. It has been linked to stress, anxiety and sleep disorders and it also does a painful number on your teeth and jaw – it can even change the shape of your face!
Lie on your back. This allows the lower jaw to fall into a natural position and facial muscles to relax, Chris says.
“Sleep on your back with your lips closed, but teeth open,” he says. To stop turning your head, keep your arms straight at your sides – people subconsciously turn toward a bent arm.
…a stiff neck
Lie on your back
A pillow that puts your head on an upward or downward slope can compress the cervical spine, strain neck muscles and cause soreness, says Sammy. Most people with neck pain benefit from sleeping on their back with their neck straight.
Lie on your front
This will help prevent snoring as the throat muscles won’t sag backwards, says ENT consultant Myles Black.
But if you’re a tooth-grinder it can make the condition even worse.
This position can also lead to nerve problems in the upper body. “When lying on the front, too many or too few pillows will affect the neck position and put it out of alignment with the spine. This ups the likelihood of nerve compression, especially in older people,” says Sammy.