We spend roughly one third of our time sleeping, which is spread relatively evenly throughout our lives. Although some experts recommend that children and teenagers sleep about ten hours a night, most also agree that adults should sleep for roughly 7 to 9 hours. Given that most of us sleep around 8 hours every night, it should come as no surprise that the position in which we sleep can have long-term effects on our bodies. Incorrect sleeping posture can positively or negatively impact on a wide-range of health problems, from back pain to heart burn, so while there is no single “best” position for sleeping, you may find that making a conscious effort to adjust your sleeping posture could improve your comfort levels while both asleep and awake. Below are the 6 most common sleeping positions, each listed with pros & cons.
The Foetal Position
According to a study done by Professor Chris Idzikowski, director of the Sleep Assessment and Advisory Service, 41% of people sleep in the foetal position. It is especially common for people to sleep on their right side in this position, as sleeping on the left side can cause the internal organs to shift in uncomfortable ways. Although sleeping on the right side in this position may be better than sleeping on the left side for most people, sleeping on the left side can help with circulation, heartburn, and acid reflux. For these reasons, this is the best position for pregnant women. It also keeps the weight of the child from pressing down on the mother’s organs for extended periods of time.
For most people, while this may not be the worst position to sleep in, it is far from the best, as it completely distorts the shape of your spine and neck. This position could result in back pain over long periods of time.
The second most common sleeping position is the log, with 15% of 1,000 respondents reporting sleeping in this posture. This is characterised by sleeping on your side, with your arms down along your sides also, with your legs and back lined up straight. It is essentially the same as sleeping in the Foetal Position, but better for the back and neck. It may also help those who suffer from sleep apnea (irregular breathing while asleep).
The next most common sleeping position is the yearner, where a person sleeps on their side, with their arms outstretched. This can restrict bloodflow to the arms, especially if they are placed under your head or pillow. This in turn can negatively affect your muscles and nerves, so if you frequently wake up with your arm still “asleep”, you should consider changing your posture. 13% of people reported sleeping in this position.
8% of people reported sleeping in this position, which is sleeping on your back with your arms at your side. It is generally regarded as the best position to sleep in if you have no other pre-existing conditions or discomforts. It is the best position for your back and neck, and evenly spreads out the weight of your organs, alleviating a lot of pressure. However, it can exacerbate snoring and lead to sleep apnea.
The freefall is when a person sleeps on their front with their hands up and their head tilted. Although it may help with digestion and snoring, it can also lead to sleep apnea and acid reflux. This is generally regarded as the worst position in which a person can sleep, as it goes completely against the natural shape of the spine, and forces the sleeper to strain their neck all night. Only about 7% of people sleep in this position.
At 5%, this is the least common sleeping position. The starfish is similar to the soldier, and is defined as sleeping on your back with your arms up. It has all the same positives and negatives, but with the added negative that it can lead to pain in the arms & shoulders, so there is no reason to choose this position over the soldier unless advised by a professional.
It is also worth noting that using too many pillows can lead not only to neck and back pain, but also to poor circulation, unless you are using them to achieve a more upright sleeping position, which may help pregnant women sleep. Sleeping with three pillows is too many for the average person. A single pillow is the best option, although using two is also acceptable.