What your sleep style says about your health


Are you the type of person who curls up in a cuddly foetal position when sleeping? Or do you sprawl out like a starfish across the bed?

Or do you perhaps manage to lie still on your back the entire night?

The way you sleep could reflect or affect your physical health.

“Some sleep positions could signal sleep disorders or medical problems or, in the long run, lead to such problems. On the other side of the spectrum, however, there are some sleep positions that could actually promote good health,” says Dr Alison Bentley, sleep specialist at Sunninghill Hospital in Johannesburg.

We take a look at a few common sleep positions and how they affect our health.

The good

Pillow support 

Do you sleep with an extra pillow for body support? You’re on the right track. “Whichever way you choose to sleep, a pillow can help your body fully relax and enable you to get the best sleep,” says Dr Bentley.

She shares a few tips: If you sleep on your side, place the pillow between your knees; if you sleep on your back, support your spine with a small pillow under the arch of your back; and if you sleep on your tummy, place the pillow under your hips to support your joints.

On your side 

If you enjoy sleeping on your side, rest assured that your body is reaping the rewards. But, think carefully: where are your arms when you nod off?

Sleeping on your side with both arms down is the best position for your spine. “In this position, your body is supported in its natural curve, which can help reduce back and neck pain,” says Dr Bentley. It could also reduce sleep apnoea (irregular breathing while sleeping).

The starfish 

Does this sound like you? Then we’ve got good news: Sleeping on your back with your arms up, like a starfish is good for your back and neck, and could also help prevent facial wrinkles. Add a good, supportive feather pillow, and Dreamland is where you’ll want to stay.
On your tummy 

Sleeping on your stomach could improve digestion. Just make sure you get it right, or else your spine may suffer: “The key is to lie in a ‘free-fall’ position with your face down, while slightly tilted to the side to facilitate breathing. Your hands should be positioned above the pillow,” advises Dr Bentley.

The bad

Back bender 

Sleeping on your back might be good in some ways, but those of us who sleep with our arms at our sides tend to snore more. “Many studies have proven that sleep apnoea is strongly linked to this sleep position,” adds Dr Bentley. In addition, lying on your back for long hours could lead to acid reflux.

So, if you tend to snore, have sleep apnoea or suffer from heartburn, it’s best to try sleeping on your side.

Right can be wrong 

If you prefer sleeping on your side, rather do so on your left side. Research suggests sleeping on the right side could trigger heartburn symptoms. In turn, sleeping on your left side could help minimise acid reflux and improve circulation.

... And the ugly

Sleep like a baby 

You may think (and even feel) that sleeping in a curled-up ball with your knees drawn up and your chin tucked in - the so-called foetal position – is the most comfortable and best position to sleep in. But, according to Dr Bentley, it’s probably the worst sleeping position of all. “It’s not only really bad for your back and neck, but could also restrict deep breathing, which could lead to a host of sleeping disorders.”

For better rest and better health in the long run, rather adopt one of the other positions described above.  

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