Right Sleep Position Can Boost Your Health

Friday, 17 Jan 2014 10:33 AM

By Stacey Colino

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When you climb into bed each night, you probably try to find a position that feels comfortable to you. That’s a reasonable start, experts say, but it may not be the ideal approach if you have certain types of pain or health conditions.
 
Different sleep positions have their benefits and drawbacks so it’s important to find one that suits your body’s needs.

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Here are some common health conditions that warrant specific sleep positions:
 
Sleep apnea: If you snore or have sleep apnea (a disorder involving pauses in breathing while you sleep), it’s better to sleep on your side or stomach because these positions will help keep your airway open.
 
Snoring and sleep apnea tend to be worse when you sleep on your back because “when you’re sleeping, everything relaxes in the neck and throat and the tongue will slide back and cause some obstruction to air flow,” explains Jason Coles, M.D., a sleep physician with the Spectrum Health Medical Group in Grand Rapids, Mich.
 
In fact, a recent study at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston found that when people with obstructive sleep apnea slept on their backs (the supine position), 60 percent of them had more than a two-fold worsening in their pauses in breathing and airflow.
 
There are a variety of techniques to keep people off their backs while they sleep.
 
“The cheap way is to sew a pocket into the back of a T-shirt and add a tennis ball around the level of the shoulder blades,” says Ryan S. Hays, M.D., an assistant professor of neurology & neurotherapeutics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “Having a body pillow that you can roll over and ‘hug’ during the night may also be helpful in promoting non-supine sleep.”
 
Neck, shoulder, and back pain: For neck issues, avoid sleeping on your stomach because it can contort or strain your neck. It’s better to sleep on your side or back, with your neck in a neutral position and the entire spine in proper alignment.
 
If you have shoulder pain, “certainly it’s a good idea to avoid sleeping on the side that hurts,” Dr. Hays says. Otherwise, the added pressure may aggravate the pain and compromise the quality of your sleep.
 
For back pain, it’s generally thought to be better to sleep on your back because this keeps the spine in its natural alignment. Putting a pillow under your knees and keeping your legs parallel can reduce some of the pressure on your hips and back, Dr. Coles says. “It can also help you avoid twisting your hips and back in a way that would hurt it more.”

I
f you prefer to sleep on your side, putting a pillow between your knees and keeping them slightly bent can help reduce strain and pain in the lumbar spine. 
 
Acid reflux: If you suffer from chronic heartburn or acid reflux, it’s likely to be worse when you lie flat on your back. That’s why it’s smart to elevate the head of your bed by raising the top portion with blocks or by sleeping on a wedge or additional pillows that prop up the upper half of your body.
 
The key is to make sure your head is higher than your esophagus, which should be higher than your chest and stomach.
 
This way, “gravity helps the stomach acid stay down,” Dr. Coles explains.
 
Indeed, research from the University of Wisconsin found that when people with acid reflux elevated the head of their bed with 8-inch blocks or used a foam wedge to elevate their upper body, their esophagi were exposed to less acid while they slept.
 
Making these positional adjustments may help you get a better night’s sleep – and avoid aggravating underlying health conditions while you visit the Land of Nod. Chances are, you will wake up feeling better tomorrow.

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