Before you turn out the lights tonight and start to close your eyes, it might be worthwhile taking a few minutes to think about the sleeping position that you usually adopt in bed. The position that you take each night is important, and it might help you ease your snoring even if you’re not aware of it doing so. However, the position you take may make all the difference between you, and possibly also your partner, getting a good night’s sleep or a poor one.
Those who snore, or suffer from obstructive sleep apnoea, may find this particularly important as position can influence how much or little you snore. If you’re one of the many who sleep flat on their back, then you’ll probably snore more in that position than in others – particularly if you’re middle aged or older. The reason is simple. As we age, our throat muscles lose their tone and strength and are more likely to close at night, with snoring the result as air causes the vibration as it is forced under pressure through the partially closed airway of the soft palate. If you sleep on your back, the airway collapses easily, but less easily on your side.
Snoring, and incidents where apneas occur, are far more likely in this supine position, and one study showed a doubling of apneas for those sleeping on their back as opposed to their side. The person who lies in this lateral position (on their side) is therefore far less likely to snore than the person sleeping in the supine position (on their back).
If you wish to sleep on your side it is often worth trying the use of a full-length body pillow, which will help to support your body, and adopting this lateral position can really make a huge difference to some lighter snorers. It is a better and more comfortable preventative option than the old style remedy of taping tennis balls to the back of the pyjama jacket. Adjustable beds like those in hospitals, which raise the head and therefore open the airways more, are a more expensive option to be available.
Which sleep position is the healthiest overall?
Four main sleep positions are described in various articles by Sleep Centre Doctors and researchers and they analyse the various benefits and problems as follows:
The best position is sleeping on your back as far as overall health is concerned but it’s the worst if you snore. Snoring is usually most frequent and severe when sleeping on the back. This position is regarded as being good for preventing neck and back pain, reducing acid reflux, and minimizing wrinkles, but is identified clearly as being the worst position if you are a snorer, or if you have any form of sleep disorder that involves this as a symptom.
Sleeping on your back makes it easy for your head, neck, and spine to maintain a neutral position and you're not forcing any extra curves into your back, says a leading chiropractor in New York City. It's also ideal for fighting acid reflux, because if the head is elevated, your stomach will be below your esophagus so acid or food can't come back up."
The next best position is sleeping on your side – the lateral position – better for those who suffer from snoring or sleep apnoea and also for prevention of back and neck pain. Side sleeping is great for overall health because it reduces snoring and keeps your spine elongated. If you suffer from acid reflux, this is the next best thing to sleeping on your back
The Foetal position is always mentioned but although good for snoring less, being lateral, this curbed position can cause some leg and back pain and it also restricts diaphragmatic breathing, so the less tight the curl, the better
The Worst sleeping position overall is to sleep on the stomach. Although it eases snoring slightly it makes it hard to maintain a neutral position for the spine and the pose puts pressure on joints and muscles, which can irritate nerves and lead to pain, numbness, and tingling. Facedown keeps your upper airways more open. So if you snore and aren't suffering from neck or back pain, it's fine to try sleeping on your stomach.
Key conclusion: Don’t sleep on your back if you snore.
John Redfern worked for 15 years at leading London Advertising agencies writing on many international products and markets during that time, before moving into a consultancy role, where he has gained long experience of writing on important matters of personal health.
John has had in-depth involvement in a broad spectrum of subjects in this area, covering all possible age groups.
Through his work as a consultant to Sleeppro, John has acquired an in-depth knowledge of snoring and sleep apnoea, and the many serious health problems with which they are so closely associated.
In addition, he has spent time developing projects for the British National Health Service, some major educational groups and authorities, and various voluntary organizations and manufacturers whose aim is to focus on family health, fitness and well-being.