What is the best sleeping position?

A good sleeping position is an important factor for a healthy night’s sleep, as an incorrect sleeping position may cause back pain, neck problems and even headaches. This article provides information about the various sleeping positions and the impact on the body. The best sleeping position for everyone? This does not exist because sleeping remains a personal matter.

The best sleeping position with back pain

“The best sleeping position” does not exist. If the spinal column has adequate ergonomic support, both lying on your side and on your back are good sleeping positions. It is important to know that the curve of the back in the side and back positions is very different. As every person will lie on his/her side and back during sleep, it is important that the slatted base and mattress will adjust automatically.

When the lumbar spine is adequately supported in its natural form, pain stimuli from this spinal column (in particular the joint capsules, muscles and nerves) will be reduced to a minimum and possibly will be eliminated totally. People who are sensitive to pressure points, may benefit from lying on their back more because this increases the support of the muscles and tissues. When lying sideways it may be beneficial to sleep with slightly raised knees and with the legs on top of each other. In this way, you prevent torsion in the lower back.

As there is no technology up to now in which a mattress only ensures adequate support of the spinal column when you are lying on your side or back, it is necessary that the base can adjust dynamically to the change in sleeping position.

Below are some pros and cons of the various sleeping positions.

Sleeping on your back

In this position, the sleeper lies on his or her back with his or her legs stretched out and the arms next to the body. People also call this the soldier’s position. People who lay their arms above their heads, are lying in a baby position.

Sleeping on your back is a good sleeping position for people with joint problems and muscle problems, because the weight is evenly divided across the mattress. The maximum pressure on muscles and surrounding tissue is smaller than when you sleep on your side. However, the natural shape or curve (s-shape) of the back must be supported. If this is not the case, very soon lower back pain develops because the lower back muscles are tensed.

People who sleep on their back have more chance of snoring, as in this position, the tongue is lying further backwards, so that the tongue can partially block the airway. You can buy products to reduce snoring. The best thing for the partner is using ear plugs or sleeping in another room of course.

For people with reflux this is also the ideal sleeping position. You can incline the bed at the head without your position becoming less ergonomic.

If you tend to sleep on your back, it is best to use a lower ergonomic pillow.

Sleeping on your side

This is the most popular sleeping position: approximately 75% of people lie on their side, often with slightly raised legs. If the legs are raised more than 90° people are lying in the foetal position. This sleeping position is not so good because the upper back will be too rounded.

The pressure on the muscles and tissue is greater on the side because the weight is divided across a smaller surface than when lying on your back. Therefore it is important to have a sleep system or ergonomic mattress that offers the body adequate support all over and divides the pressure across the entire body, ensuring that you lie comfortable during the night with a beneficial deep sleep as a pleasant result.

An ergonomic pillow at the correct height is important so that the cervical vertebrae align with the back and the spinal column is in a straight line. Choose an adjustable pillow that you can lower or rise yourself at home.

Why is it better to sleep on your left side?

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology advises not to sleep or sleep as little as possible on the right side. The gastroenterologists showed in this study that our sleeping position may have negative or positive effects on our health. The study showed that it is healthier to sleep on the left side. And that has a logical explanation.

The 5 most important reasons to sleep on your left side

  • The main reason: the heart. By sleeping on your left side your heart has to pump less vigorously and can transport the blood through the body more easily. This is because the aorta is bent to the left. This aorta departs from the heart and provides our body with blood.
  • The abdomen and pancreas are located in the left side of the body. If we sleep on the right side, these organs have to work extra hard, i.e. against gravity. By sleeping on your right side, more pressure is put on the abdomen, which hinders the function of the abdomen.
  • The spleen is also located on the left. This organ purifies our blood. The waste substances that are transferred through the lymph vessels will reach the spleen easier if we sleep on our left side.
  • Sleeping on our left side has a positive effect on the moisture balance of the body and stimulates the lymph vessels. They are responsible for transporting various nutrients, but they also remove waste substances. Sleeping on the left side helps to better remove the waste substances, because they are also being transported to this side of the body.
  • Reflux. If we sleep on our right side, stomach acid can return easier to the oesophagus.

Sleeping on your stomach

People who sleep on their stomach are also called sun-worshippers. This position causes extra pressure on the neck and is not recommended. People with neck problems should stop lying on their stomach. Moreover, the lower back is a sensitive spot when your sleeping position renders it hollow. More information about sleeping on your stomach?

Lying on your stomach is beneficial for people who snore, because this position prevents snoring. Stomach sleepers should give consideration to the type of pillow they use to protect the neck as much as possible.

Negative effects of an incorrect sleeping position

Effect on the intervertebral discs

The intervertebral discs, also called discs, are positioned between each two vertebrae and protect them against forces that are exerted on the spinal column, for instance when lifting heavy objects. These discs look like little moisture filled pads. When force is exerted, moisture is removed from the pad, which reduces the protection by the discs of the vertebrae. Therefore, relieving the spinal column during sleep is very important. During sleep the discs will absorb new moisture and nutrients.

In a correct sleeping position, the intervertebral discs can fully recover.  Sleeping in an incorrect position or on a non-supporting mattress for a long time can result in chronic back problems because your back has not had sufficient recovery time.

Stiff back muscles

Muscles around the back will tense due to an incorrect sleeping position or a bed that offers the body inadequate support. This is a natural defence of the body to protect the back against damage. This can be best compared with an incorrect posture when working at a desk due to lack of ergonomics.

Tensioning of the back muscles wakes you up, makes you toss and turn more, makes you rise with a tense feeling in your back and gives you the feeling that your body has not recovered during sleep.

Our advice for a correct sleeping position

Try as much as possible to sleep on your side (legs on top of each other and slightly raised to max. 90°) and on your back. In addition, choose for an active sleep system or at least for an ergonomic mattress with well-planned zoning. Don’t forget to choose your pillow on the basis of your favourite sleeping position.

The Active+ sleep system is an all-in ergonomic sleep system combining a dynamic bed base with a bespoke mattress. It offers continuous active support and automatically adjusts to changes in sleeping position.