You probably know by now that getting enough sleep is important for your overall health, but did you know that your sleeping position plays a factor too? Most people tend to fall into one of three categories: back sleepers, stomach sleepers, and side-sleepers. Each position has its own set of pros and cons, but nearly 75% of the world’s population is side-sleepers, which comes with some incredible benefits.
Sleeping on your side, as long as it’s your left side, is good for your digestive system and circulation. Many cardiovascular doctors also recommend side sleeping as the way to get your rest and take care of your heart.
So how can the way you sleep impact your heart and other bodily systems? It’s a simple combination of biology and your daily habits.
The Benefits of Side Sleeping
Couples can rejoice: side sleepers, the predominant population, are less likely to exhibit chronic snoring. By sleeping on your side, your airways are open, letting oxygen flow freely. Back sleepers are more prone to snoring and often have sleeping disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea, where breathing starts and stops erratically throughout the night.
Side sleeping is also great for lower back pain sufferers, provided you have the right mattress. It lets your body’s contours curve naturally without adding extra stress. As long as your mattress is soft enough to avoid adding extra weight to pressure points (like your hips and shoulders) but firm enough to support your spine, you may find sleeping on your side reduces lower back and hip discomfort.
The side that you sleep on plays a part in your health, too. If you’re a right-sided sleeper, studies show that this position may reduce the risk of developing cognitive decline and neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Some studies analyzed the sleeping positions of mice and found that right-side sleepers had better glymphatic systems. In humans, the glymphatic system is responsible for removing harmful waste from the brain. It’s thought that improvements in this system’s functions could be the key to understanding and preventing cognitive decline.
While these studies haven’t carried into humans yet, it is understood scientifically that not getting enough sleep prevents your brain from removing protein build-up, which is often a precursor to Alzheimer’s.
Side Sleeping and Your Heart
If you don’t sleep on your right side, don’t stress it! Left-sided sleeping can be as beneficial in other ways. Experts believe that this position helps the blood flow to your heart and improves circulation.
Sleeping on your right side adds pressure to your heart. The blood vessels can become constricted and reduce the flow of blood throughout the body, as our heart pumps out and returns blood through the right side after it has circulated through your system.
Many factors cause your heart to work overtime. If you are overweight, suffer from chronic heart conditions, or are pregnant, left-side sleeping is a habit you might want to pick up. This sleeping position reduces the stress on your heart and improves your circulation, a benefit especially important to someone with the above-mentioned complications.
Side Sleeping Does Have Cons, Though
Side sleepers typically report the same complaints: they wake up with numb extremities and tend to be more susceptible to heartburn or acid reflux.
If this sounds like you, your mattress may be at least partly to blame. The numbness in your arms is probably caused by the pressure of your shoulder or another body part stuck under your body while you sleep. If your weight is not evenly distributed or the springs of your mattress are pushing up as your body weight pushes down, you can lose circulation in that area. This causes numbness and discomfort and will almost always interfere with a healthy sleep cycle when you wake up to shift your body.
When side sleeping, your throat , and stomach are at about the same level, so stomach acids can more easily flow into your esophagus — this is what causes heartburn. The best way to prevent heartburn symptoms is to keep your upper body elevated. Memory foam mattresses, combined with the right pillow, let you continue to sleep on your side but avoid the heartburn.
Side Sleeping is Heart Smart
Your individual health needs will help you decide which sleeping position is best for you, but if you want to reduce stress on your heart, side sleeping is the way to go.
The cons of side sleeping may have prevented you from purposefully sleeping in this position before. Knowledge of how to avoid the discomforts that are commonly associated with this sleeping pattern can let you enjoy the benefits with none of the drawbacks. Your heart health is important, so why not reduce the stress on this vital organ as you sleep?