The majority of experts recommend that sleeping on your back is the healthiest position. What’s interesting, aside from the fact that even doctors don’t agree about such a basic fundamental issue, is that the fewest amount of people actually sleep this way. I was surprised when I saw the numbers: roughly two thirds are side sleepers and the rest, split between back and stomach, with back sleepers coming in last!
Let’s get this straight; back sleeping is the most recommended, but the least utilized?
What is the problem?
If you look at the pictures and illustrations on the Mayo Clinic website regarding sleeping positions, you’ll notice that whatever position is your favorite, it's best accompanied by multiple pillows. Let me tell you what you already know: because of all these angles of human anatomy, the pillows, in the side position, are a weak attempt to keep us from torquing the spine further to reduce the possibility of nerve impingement. The pillows, under the knees in the back position, allow the hamstring muscles to relax, thus reducing the urge to move to the side.
Lessons From the Recliner
One of the most popular redesigns of the basic chair is the recliner. I would guess that it’s probably the most popular variation of a chair in the history of mankind. Why? The chair is designed to comform to the angularity of the body. By doing so, the muscles are in a more relaxed position, and the effect of gravity on the spine is reduced.
A friend of mine recently commented that she and her husband had spent over three thousand dollars on a new mattress and her husband still prefers to sleep in his reclining chair. It’s not at all a surprise to me; one allows angular relaxation, the other torques the angles of the body all night long, requiring constant movement to relieve the muscular tension. I imagine that millions prefer the comfort of their recliners every night.
It’s All About Angles
The human body is a connection of angles: from the ankles to the knees to the hips to the back to the shoulders to the neck to the head.
The major point of discomfort responsible for the nagging urge to move from the back sleeping position during the night is felt in the muscles of the lower back. Even though your legs are resting on the mattress, as they are stretched straight in front of you, they are exerting a constant torque on the lower back due to the fulcrum effect of the sacrum, or lower part of the spine that protrudes as it curves. Putting a pillow under the knees will reduce the hamstring tension, but not the tension in the lower back. Only a change in the elevation of the upper torso and/or legs and feet will relieve the constant tension without the need to turn from side to side.
What is Zero Gravity?
It’s a very relaxing position preprogrammed in many of the adjustable beds. If you happen upon a mattress store that sells adjustable beds, walk in and ask if you can relax in the Zero G position for just a minute. The upper torso is slightly raised and the legs and feet are elevated slightly higher. After resting like this for just one minute, when the bed is returned to the flat position, you’ll definitely feel a pulling sensation in the lower back–indicating how relaxed your muscles were in the Zero G position.
Problems Cited With Back Sleeping.
In the information regarding the healthiest sleeping position, when discussing back sleep, two issues are always mentioned: sleep apnea and snoring. Let’s address these issues.
Sleep apnea is a short cessation of breathing during sleep. It can be dangerous, and the long term effects are very serious. It is not within the scope of this article to expand this topic, but let’s look at elevated sleep as a possible solution.
The following quote is from a study done to determine the effect of sleeping at a 60 degree angle on sleep apnea patients:
“In approximately half the patients studied, obstructive sleep apnea was essentially abolished by the postural intervention.”
Despite the results of this study, I am unable find recommendations for elevated sleep positions in the major body of work on sleep apnea.
The full article can be viewed here:
Snoring is a problem with multiple causes and even more suggestions for solutions. Consider the potential benefits of sleeping in the elevated position. In the cases where snoring is a function of sinus issues, the capacity for the fluids to drain is greatly increased as you elevate away from the flat position.
Sleeping flat on the back requires a lot more effort to move these fluids, as they tend to pool in the neck. So in many cases, I believe that sleeping in the elevated position could have positive results for many who snore.
Whatever your sleeping posture is, these are the issues in trying to achieve what the experts say is the healthiest sleeping position, along with some possible solutions.
The Senior Health and Fitness Blog by Steven Siemons is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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