Why Sleeping on Your Stomach is the Worst Position for Back Pain

Approximately 7% of people sleep on their stomach.

Stomach sleeping may not be the most popular, but for those of us who have been known to front sleep, we know how secure and comforting it can feel. It’s so comfortable that as a serial side-sleeper, I once dreamed about how good it would be to have been sleeping on my front. True story. 

But enough nonsense. It really is that comfortable, and provides a sense of security not possible to experience sleeping on one’s back, exposed and naked (despite its many benefits). It differs from side-sleeping because the side-sleeper always wants to flip onto the OTHER side. They say the grass is always greener after all. But that aside, the facts remain…

Why You Should Avoid Sleeping on Your Stomach (Front-Sleeping)

The best sleep for dreaming.

Unless you’ve found a way to breathe through your pillow, if you’re sleeping in what sleep professionals call the “supine position”, you probably have your face at a right angle to your body which is not a neutral – or natural – position to lie down for 6+ hours.

Firstly it should be noted that sleeping on your stomach can have some benefits, one such being that it can help dislodge fleshy interference in your airways and thereby prevent snoring. But in most other cases, it’s not the best way to sleep.

Additionally, your neck is rotated to 90 degrees to the rest of your body (this is potentially 90 degrees more than both side and back sleeping positions) which is known to lead directly to an increased incidence of both shoulder and neck pains.

The fact is all sleeps were not created equal. Unfortunately there is a scale – an order – to what type of sleep works best for the human body (for most human bodies at any given time…exceptions must be made for different body types, pregnancies etc):

  • Back Sleeping
  • Side sleeping
  • Front sleeping

The dangers of front sleeping include

  • Blocked airways
  • Pressure on nerves – causing numbness/tingling/nerve pain
  • Dangerous sleeping position for pregnant women

The real issue is that it can leave you with long lasting back pain. Chronic back pain is often caused by unattended postural issues. It’s no surprise that in today’s society which involves long periods of sitting and napping in between sitting sessions, leaves many of us with chronic pain issues – that we wouldn’t be able to explain the origin of.

Why We Sleep on Our Side

The most common variant being the “fetal” position.

Side sleeping is the most common sleeping position recorded in surveys. Is it the most comfortable? Depends who you ask. What appears to be the consensus among sleep health experts however, is that back sleeping is the best form of sleep. The most documented reasons being, it:

  • reduces tension headaches.
  • helps chronic conditions by reducing pressure and compression.
  • relieves sinus buildup.
  • avoid creases, wrinkles, and irritated facial skin.
  • is seen as the best position for pregnant women.

Some may be obvious, others, less so. 

At 41% of the population, side-sleeping is by far the most common position we fall into. The problem is that this is seen as the worst for back pain. This is because it causes an unnatural bend in the spine for 6+ hours (or however long you sleep) and places a strain on the muscles.

This is why memory foam is often used as a counter to the negative effects of certain sleeping positions including side-sleeping. Memory foam adjusts to the body’s natural curves while providing the right amount of resistance to offset musculoskeletal issues.

Sleep With a Pillow Between Your Knees

nitekite leg pillow
NiteKite Strapped Leg Pillow, you can find them in the Shop

The good thing is that there are ways you can offset the risk – and potential damage – caused by side sleeping:

Why We Sleep On Our Backs

Medical experts refer to this as the “supine position”. This is generally seen as the position with the least risk. Now – we did say this was the best sleeping position so here are some of the reasons:

The benefits are numerous:

  • Your spine is in the neutral position meaning less chance of neck pain
  • With your head slightly elevated, it’s the best position to prevent heartburn
  • It is known to relieve pain for those experiencing musculoskeletal issues – especially in combination with sleeping on a hard, flat surface.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its disadvantages. Back sleeping has been known to aggravate certain sleeping conditions:

  • Known to adversely affect those experiencing sleep apnea
  • Can aggravate snoring (for some)
  • Not the best for late-pregnancy-stage women

Our sleeping position often comes natural or is usually down to personal preference. However like most things the behaviour we fall into isn’t necessarily the best for our overall long term health, especially as we age.

What position do you find yourself sleeping in and do you think you would go through the effort to adjust it based on the risks and rewards that could come with it?

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