How Sleeping Position Affects Sleep Quality

If you’re like most people, you probably don’t pay that much attention to the position you end up in when you fall asleep.

You probably move around a little – maybe tossing and turning a bit if you’re having a rough night – before you finally end up in a position that works.

However, although most people might not realize it, not all sleeping positions are created equal.

The wrong kind of sleeping position can have a major impact on the quality of your sleep – meaning that, even if you budget a healthy amount of time to sleep, you might still find yourself waking up sluggish and lethargic come morning.

Here’s everything you need to know about what your sleeping position means.

Image: kitten asleep in tiny hammockThe Three Main Sleeping Positions

Although there is, of course, a pretty much infinite number of ways you can position your body at night to sleep, as a whole we typically talk about three main kinds of sleepers: side sleepers, stomach sleepers, and back sleepers.

Each of these positions comes with its share of pros and cons.

Side Sleeping: Fetal or Log?

Side sleepers is by far the most common of the sleeper types, making up about 56 percent of America.

There are two main ways to go about side sleeping, however: the fetal position, and the log position.

The Fetal Position

The fetal position is the more common of these two.

Fetal sleepers draw their knees up to their chest while they sleep, thus compressing themselves into a very tight, compact space.

While this typically tends to go alright, you might start to run into some problems if you tend to curl yourself too tightly while you sleep.

If you’re pulling in your stomach, for instance, you’re likely compressing your diaphragm, thus making it harder to breathe.

The Log Position

The log position, meanwhile, is a much more expanded version of side sleeping.

Instead of curling their knees up towards their chest, log sleepers conk out like planks of wood – straight and flat.

The advantage to this is that you don’t have to deal with any of the breathing issues that can come from ultra-tight fetal sleeping.

However, if you’re on the wrong kind of mattress, you might find yourself developing pressure points around your hips.

(This is especially common in women.)

If this happens, consider placing something like a pillow or blanket in between your legs.

Right Side vs Left Side Sleeping

Another decision side sleepers are faced with is that of direction: Are you a right side sleeper, or a left side sleeper?

Although the difference might seem trivial, it can actually make a big difference when it comes to sleep quality.

In general, lying on your left side is really the way to go.

Because of the way your stomach falls into place when you sleep on your left, left side sleepers experience far lower rates of acid reflux (heartburn) than right side sleepers do.

Left side sleeping may also improve things like circulation and digestion.

All in all, it’s just the better option when it comes to side sleeping.

Image: young girl asleep in bedWhat Mattress Is Best for Side Sleepers?

Despite how common side sleeping is, however, side sleepers actually face a number of unique challenges when bedtime rolls around.

First of all, most people’s sides aren’t really the ideal shape for sleeping.

Unlike stomachs and backs, which are relatively flat, simple surfaces, the side of your body has all kinds of dips and ridges that make it difficult to evenly distribute weight across your body.

In the ideal sleep experience, every inch of skin in contact with your mattress should be bearing about the same amount of weight.

This prevents any uncomfortable pinching or crushing during the night, allowing you to wake up chipper and refreshed.

To get a comfortable side sleep, however, you need a much more responsive material than the plain old polyfoam or low-grade memory foam you might be used to.

Instead, supportive, compressible, and above all high-quality memory foam is really the way to go.

Side sleepers also tend to need somewhat softer mattresses than their stomach- and back-sleeping neighbors, so keep that in mind the next time you’re on the prowl for a new mattress!

The Problem With Stomach Sleeping

Stomach sleeping, meanwhile, comes with a completely different set of challenges.

Surprisingly few people – around 7 percent of all Americans – actually sleep on their stomachs.

And as it turns out, there’s probably a good reason for that – because the thing is, in general, stomach sleeping is not very good for a person’s body.

For starters, there’s the whole back issue.

Stomach sleeping tends to leave your belly sagging into the mattress, forcing your lower back to stretch and tense up unnaturally in response.

If you’re sleeping on the wrong kind of mattress, this means that your lower back muscles never really have time to relax at night the way they need to.

This can leave many stomach sleepers waking up with pain in the mornings that can last for anywhere from a few minutes to several hours.

Additionally, stomach sleeping may leave your head tilted at an uncomfortable angle, which can have you waking up with some major neck pain.

Moreover, pregnant stomach sleepers will likely need to find themselves a new sleeping position, since the further your pregnancy progresses, the less comfortable stomach sleeping will be.

What Kind of Mattress Do Stomach Sleepers Need?

Stomach sleepers do best with fairly firm mattresses that provide their stomachs with the support they need.

There’s a pretty delicate balance to this firmness, however, since excessively firm mattresses will leave your stomach feeling crushed and sore when you get up in the morning.

One of the advantages of stomach sleeping, however, is that you probably don’t have much need for a pillow.

Either go for a pillow with an extremely low loft, of just forego pillows altogether – thanks to stomach sleeping, your body doesn’t really need them.

Image: a horse is lying on its back. It's as weird-looking as you thinkBack Sleeping: The Ideal Position?

Finally, we come to back sleeping.

Unlike side and stomach sleeping, back sleepers tend to be comfortable on a much wider range of mattresses.

The back distributes weight much more evenly than the side, but it also doesn’t have any of the delicate organs you have to deal with when you sleep on your front.

Because of this, back sleepers are often best suited to deal with firm mattresses.

That said, they’re obviously not invincible.

If your mattress is too soft, your back will end up sinking in far too much, placing excessive weight on your shoulders or hips.

If your mattress is too firm, on the other hand, your shoulders and hips might end up supporting almost all of your weight, which can be uncomfortable.

Back sleepers should look for pillows with mid-range loft, or possible even seek out pillows designed for this kind of sleeping position.

Back Sleeping and Sleep Apnea

However, although back sleeping does tend to make for overall better sleep than either of its counterpart positions, it might be a bit of a stretch to call it the “ideal” position.

This is mostly an issue for individuals with severe snoring or sleep apnea.

You see, sleeping on your back can do annoying things to your tongue and soft palate.

It pushes these backwards, into your throat, where they can obstruct your breathing.

In minor cases, you’ll just annoy your partner with irritating snores.

In more serious cases, however, breathing obstructions can make it all but impossible for you to get a good night’s sleep.

Individuals suffering from sleep apnea are woken up numerous times throughout the night due to lack of oxygen.

These periods of wakefulness are typically too short for you to come fully awake or even remember them when you get up in the morning.

However, they make it impossible for your brain to progress into the deeper, restorative stages of sleep, leaving you feeling exhausted not matter how many hours of sleep you got last night.

Sleep apnea can also cause various heart-related problems, since your heart has trouble with that kind of regular blockage of oxygen flow.

What If You’re Sleeping With a Partner?

So far, we’ve mostly been talking about sleeping positions as if you’re the only person in your bed.

If you’re sleeping with a partner, however, all bets are off.

There isn’t much advice we can really give you on the most comfortable sleeping positions, here.

However, important thing to look for in your mattress when sleeping with a partner is something called motion isolation.

This is basically a mattress’s ability to absorb movement – so if you or your partner likes to move around a lot or get up in the middle of the night, it’s less likely to disturb the other person.

Conclusion

Although sleeping position can do a lot to improve the quality of your sleep, it’s not really possible to get around a bad mattress.

If your mattress is a little past its prime, we would strongly advise you to invest in a new one.

Getting a new mattress is easier and cheaper than you think.

Never forget just how important your sleep is, and how much of a difference a good night’s sleep can make.