When you are awake, your body uses energy to fuel your movements throughout the day. During sleep, your body adjusts and shifts to maintenance mode, doing the important work of repairing and healing itself. However, the quality of a night’s sleep can vary, meaning not all sleep is equal in healing value. Did you know that the position in which you sleep may be one of the factors impacting the quality of your sleep and thus your health?
UNDERSTANDING SLEEP POSITION & HEALTH
The most common health problems associated with sleep position include:
- Joint pain
- Digestion, reflux, and heartburn
- Snoring and sleep apnea
For example, your sleep position may be impacting how your joints line up with each other, known as your body’s alignment. Having poor alignment may increase pressure on your joints or internal organs. Repeatedly sleeping in the same position may create repetition that compromises or aggravates existing medical conditions or physical injuries. Your sleep position may even be causing new problems that can impact your health in the future, such as unsupported breast tissue or compressed skin.
HOW MUCH TIME ARE YOU IN BED?
If you are one of the lucky people getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night, you will be spending about one-third of your life sleeping. Because you spend so much time sleeping, your sleep position has a great deal of influence on your life. It may be impacting the quality of your sleep and enhancing or reducing the potential health benefits of your sleep.
THE INFLUENCE OF TIME IN ONE POSITION
Before we dig into the impact of your body position during sleep, it may be helpful to first think of another area in your life that you spend a significant amount of time—your job. A great deal of research has been done on body position, repetitive actions, and how they impact your health. For example, in the workplace, there is research weighing the negative impacts versus health benefits of:
- Using a seated desk versus a standing desk
- Elevating your computer screen versus looking down at a laptop
- Engaging in physically demanding, but changing tasks versus stationary, small repetitive movement positions
In fact, the Occupational Safety & Health Association (OSHA) provides guidelines to help protect your health in the workplace so as to minimize your risk and improve working conditions. Their recommendations are based on ergonomics, which basically means fitting the way a job is performed to the person doing the job. The OSHA ergonomic guidelines are intended to reduce muscle fatigue, increase productivity, and reduce the frequency and intensity of work-related musculoskeletal disorders, which translates to reducing the risk for injury. When someone does an ergonomic assessment of your job or workstation, they find the best position for you to do your job that will have the lowest health risk for your body. This may mean adjusting how you do your job or the position of components of your job, like raising a chair or computer screen height, or putting a pad on the surface where you stand. Essentially, they are trying to create a “best fit” for your body and that job.
DO WE NEED AN ERGONOMIC ASSESSMENT OF OUR OTHER JOB… SLEEP?
Closely following the amount of time you spend at work is the amount of time you spend sleeping—likely the next largest chunk of your day. Your body position while sleeping, and the support your body receives from your pillow and mattress, may each be impacting your health.
For example, you likely do not spend the entire time you are sleeping in one single sleep position, even though you still likely have a primary or preferred sleep position. People tend to move throughout the night. The question is whether or not your sleeping positions are negatively impacting your quality of sleep and/or your overall health. Like the ergonomics of a job, your ideal sleep position is likely dependent on many factors and likely not the same as your spouse’s or sibling’s ergonomically ideal or “best fit” sleep position.
HOW DO YOU DETERMINE YOUR “BEST FIT” SLEEP POSITION?
In order to find your “best fit” sleep position, you must first understand the pros and cons of each sleep position. The four primary sleep positions are: