Why your sleeping position matters and how to change it

When it comes to good health, sleeping well is the first place I like to start. Unless you are getting a consistently good night’s sleep, all other changes you make for your health will have limited effectiveness. There are many factors that go into a good night’s sleep, routine is a big factor and I’ve discussed that more here. Another factor is sleeping position, it not only impacts the quality of sleep we get but has a knock on effect for other factors of our health.

Many people naturally sleep on their stomach, I used to be among them. The problem with this sleeping position is it puts strain on muscles of the head, neck, jaw and spine, as well as restricting the airway. I’ve seen countless patients come through my surgery with chronic headaches and neck aches. Having experienced this pain for years and seeking countless remedies, it is often the change in sleeping position that has had the biggest impact on these patients. Of course it isn’t always as straightforward as changing positions, but it is a great place to start and ultimately leads to more restorative sleep. Similarly sleeping on your back can cause your tongue and lower jaw to drop, restricting the airway and contributing to sleep disturbances.

Getting the right sleeping position

The best position is to sleep on your side. This position will keep your head, neck, jaw, airway, spine and pelvis aligned. It will maintain your airways and reduces stress on muscles. It won’t always resolve chronic pain but it is the first step in healing soft tissue lesions. Research has also linked it to reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurological disease. The reasoning is that by sleeping on your side the brain’s waste removal system (known as the glymphatic system) functions most effectively in this position.

Listen: Dr. Ron Ehrlich interviews Dr. Carmel Harrington. Post continues after audio.

How to make the change

I suggest you use a pillow to snuggle into while you sleep on your side. This will create a similar feeling of comfort that sleeping on your stomach does, while still maintaining a good position. Bend your upper leg and place it on top of the pillow, choosing a pillow with the same thickness as your leg so you’re not twisting your lower back and pelvis. The images below help illustrate this.

Depending on your age and how long you have been sleeping this way will impact how easy the habit is to break. For some it may take up to 6 weeks to break the habit, but once you do you will be amazed at how much better you sleep and how much better your body feels.

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I explore posture and sleep in greater detail in my book A Life Less Stressed, click here to order your copy.