Overview of Sleeping Styles
Scientific advances continue to offer new ways for humans to monitor and improve their quality of life, but the vast majority of attention continues to remain on what humans do during their waking hours. Most human beings spend approximately one-third of their lives sleeping, but people rarely stop to think carefully about the impact of their sleeping habits on their overall well-being.
When one pauses to consider the act of sleeping, the first interesting aspect involves the wide range of sleeping styles. Some people sleep on their backs with pillows under their heads while other back sleepers forego the pillow entirely. Certain individuals report that they sleep on their stomachs with a pillow supporting their head and neck; other folks slumber on their stomachs without pillows.
A particularly common sleeping style involves laying down on one side or the other. Once again, some side sleepers use various types of pillows for support while others ignore pillows altogether. The remainder of this page explores in depth the decision to sleep on one’s side, discussing scientific findings about side sleepers and offering some useful tips for dealing with common issues that arise for side sleepers.
Variations of Side Sleepers
Before the discussion of the advantages of sleeping on one’s side instead of on one’s back or stomach, it is important to differentiate between different styles within the side sleeping group. Breaking side sleepers into sub-categories will allow for a more detailed, useful investigation of the advantages and disadvantages of side sleeping.
The first class of side sleepers covers those who sleep on their side, fully stretched out. Some sleep specialists have aptly nicknamed this class the “log” sleeping style. A second class of side sleepers features those who sleep on their side, curled up in a ball. Specialists have labeled this the “fetus” sleeping position. Finally, a third subsection of side sleepers involve the “yearners”; these individuals rest on their sides with their arms stretching out in front of them.
Advantages of Side Sleepers
Discerning the specific advantages of different sleep positions is a tricky task, but researchers have found some significant reasons to consider sleeping on one’s side. For example, the “log” side position keeps the sleeper’s body aligned in a favorable manner; a straightened spine each night can help those who suffer from certain forms of back pain.
Certain health benefits even potentially follow from the specific side one choose to sleep on, regardless of which of the three classes of side sleeper one represents. For example, sleep specialists have conducted studies that link sleeping on one’s left side to better health for specific internal organs. Left side sleeping reportedly has positive effects on the heart’s circulation and helps those who suffer from heartburn symptoms.
Finally, side sleepers of all three classes enjoy advantages in terms of breathing. Sleeping on one’s side, whether one is a “log,” “fetus,” or “yearner,” frees up one’s airways significantly in comparison to laying on one’s back. For those struggling with snoring or more serious issues like sleep apnea, side sleeping should be the obvious choice.
Disadvantages of Side Sleepers
The previous section seems to suggest that side sleeping is a significantly better option than other sleeping styles. Nonetheless, side sleepers do have a few disadvantages that cannot be overlooked. These drawbacks may inspire someone to consider switching positions or taking other steps to remedy their side-sleeping-induced problems.
While sleeping on one’s left side in any of the three side sleeping styles has demonstrable advantages, choosing to lay on one’s right side can be problematic. Sleep studies suggest that resting on one’s right side actually exacerbates heartburn symptoms. Right side sleeping’s impact on heart health has inspired sleep specialists to discourage pregnant women in particular from choosing their right sides.
One other slight disadvantage for side sleepers relates to digestive health. Sleeping on one’s back or stomach helps with issues like acid reflux and facilitates normal digestion. Side sleepers are not able to harness these benefits. Finally, those who sleep on their sides are more prone to develop wrinkles on their faces than those who sleep on their backs since their faces are pressed against surfaces for hours.
Remedies for Side Sleeper Problems
For most people, sleep specialists do not recommend radical changes to one’s preferred sleeping style. If side sleeping is the natural position for an individual, it is usually wise for that person to simply make minor tweaks if he or she suspects that side sleeping is contributing to problems for them.
For example, a side sleeper that suffers from some neck or back issues does not necessarily need to switch to sleeping on their back, especially if the individual suffers from sleep apnea or extreme snoring (conditions that do not fit well with back sleeping). Instead, the side sleeper can re-examine the pillow that the sleeper uses. Pillows are an overlooked contributor to a successful night of sleep, but specialists continually stress their importance. Bamboo memory foam pillows, for example, have recently become very popular because their inventors specifically designed them to assist those with neck and back issues.
In some cases, however, side sleepers may want to consider transitioning to a different sleep style entirely. For example, pregnant women should consider alternative options, particularly if they currently sleep on their right side. Although there are some disputes about the best sleeping position, some specialists do say that sleeping on one’s back is technically ideal, all things considered.
Many people do not give much thought to their sleep position, but various sleep choices do have profound effects on a person’s overall well-being. The decision to sleep on one’s side can help with snoring, sleep apnea, heartburn, and back pain. Side sleeping can also have detrimental effects on digestion. Certain individuals may be discouraged from sleeping on one side or the other depending on what is occurring in their lives at a particular point in time. Finally, those who are having issues as side sleepers may want to consider a pillow change before attempting to switch to back or stomach sleeping positions.