From your back to the foetal position – how your sleep position could affect your health

IF you're struggling to fall asleep at night then it could in fact be down to the position you snooze in, experts have claimed.

Most people have their favourite position and getting a good nights' sleep is beneficial for a number of reasons.

Sleep helps us feel refreshed and gives our body the rest it needs to fully recuperate.

The NHS recommends that adults get between 7 and 9 hours sleep each night – but this can differ from person to person.

Experts say that having a cosy sleep environment is key, but that how you positionyourself when you finally get into bed also matters.

Consultant osteopath, Andrew Doody at the Fleet Street Clinic explained: "Finding the best sleeping positions can help ease your back pain. Make sure you have found one or two that are comfortable for you.

"Having more than one helps so that you are not stuck in the same position for hours on end. Everyone sleeps differently.

"So, there’s not one perfect position, but a good place to start is by making sure the head, shoulders, and hips are in alignment. The best way to do this is usually by sleeping on the back or side."

Here we go through sleep positions and how they could be beneficial to you.

Back sleeping

Lying on the back is probably the best all-around sleeping position for a healthy back, Andrew said.

He explained: "It ensures good spinal alignment from the head and cervical vertebrae, through the thoracic and lumbar, all the way down to the pelvis.

"Because the back is the body’s largest area, weight is most widely distributed in this position, minimising pressure hot spots.

"However, if you have any lumbar spinal issues, you may feel more comfortable with a pillow placed under your knees.

"This is because many areas that cause backache in the lumbar spine are at the back, the facet joints and nerve roots. Placing a pillow under the knees allows the lumbar spine to gently flex and gap posteriorly, taking the pressure off these joints and nerves."

Foetal position

Andrew said that many people naturally end up slightly flexing their spine, by lying on their side with their knees towards their chest a little, the so-called foetal position.

You could try sleeping this way if your have problems with disks and Andrew says that this is the position that most people find comfortable.

He explained: "It can, however, twist the spine a little and put it out of alignment.

"To correct this, if you prefer sleeping on your side, place a firm pillow between your knees. This stops the upper leg falling forward and raises it. This will restore the alignment of the spine, hips and pelvis."

Side sleeping

One previous study found that around 60 per cent of people prefer to sleep on their side.

Dr Angus Nisbet, Consultant Neurologist and Sleep Physician said older people or people who experience various ailments are also likely to sleep on their side.

He told Live Science: "As we age we encounter more and more ailments. So if, say, one of your hips is arthritic, you will naturally tend to sleep on the side that offers relief from any pain you’re experiencing." 

He did however explain that that there are some drawbacks to sleeping on your side and said you might suffer with shoulder pain and a risk of facial wrinkles from being pressed down on one side.

If you like sleeping on your side, try and change which side you sleep on, on a regular basis.

Front sleeping

While it might feel comfortable, Andrew said you really should try and avoid sleeping on your stomach.

He explained: "This position puts a lot of strain on your back by over-extending it. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, it’s the only position they can fall asleep in, or any other position makes them snore.

"If you’re one of them, try putting a pillow under your stomach to take some of the pressure off your back. If you’re someone who falls asleep on their back or side, then rolls over in their sleep and wakes up on their stomach, try hugging a large pillow against your chest and stomach to keep you in position.

"Another reason sleeping on the front is considered bad is because the head is usually turned to one side. This twists the spine and places additional stress on the neck, shoulders, and back."

To avoid this, Andrew said you can try lying face down.

"Place a small firm pillow or tightly rolled-up towel under the forehead, or better still a face pillow, allowing room to breathe. In this position, you should still place a pillow under the stomach".

Reclined sleeping

If all else fails, you can try sleeping in a reclined position, Andrew said.

"People with spondylolisthesis, for instance, may resort to this after finding it comfortable falling asleep in a recliner chair. There are beds available that can be sat up slightly. So, this is worth investigating", he added.

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