Sweet Dreams & Nightmares: The Pros and Cons of Sleeping Positions

Catching up at a ladies’ lunch the other day, I listened as my pregnant friend Sarah grumbled about her obstetrician’s latest order. A longtime stomach sleeper, she was trying, and failing miserably, to switch to sleeping on her side. Before long, we were all swapping stories on the pros and cons of our families’ assorted sleep positions.

Back to Bed

There were plenty of understanding chuckles when Julia described punching her husband in the arm to get him to shift from his back to his side whenever his snoring woke her. Making matters worse, he always complains about acid reflux the next day. His doctor has told them that sleeping on your back is the worst choice for those who snore or suffer from sleep apnea or acid reflux. It’s also uncomfortable for anyone who battles leg cramps or restless leg syndrome.

Another friend, Pam, spoke up in the position’s defense, relating how her chiropractor had explained that sleeping flat on your back is the best position for your spine and neck. She also insisted that it helped prevent wrinkles and skin breakouts.

The Full Fetal

Fetal Position On The Beach
Courtesy of Thomas Hawk

Kelly groaned at the mention of a chiropractor. It seems her preference for sleeping curled up in a tight ball gets her plenty of lectures from her chiropractor husband about how the fetal position is awful for the back and neck and can restrict deep breathing. Over time, it can also shorten the hamstrings, leading to lower back pain.

But Kelly has no plans to change her sleeping position. It’s the only position she’s found that doesn’t trigger her restless leg syndrome. Besides, her daughters sleep the same way.

The Freefall

With a wary glance at Sarah, Anna admitted that all three of her kids were stomach sleepers. Shaking her head, she said she didn’t understand how they could sleep that way; just looking at them was enough to put a crink in her neck.

Sarah explained that her favorite, if temporarily forbidden, position was hard on her neck sometimes, but that sleeping on the stomach was good for digestion. She credited it with taming her irritable bowel syndrome.

Side Sleeper

Sarah shared how her obstetrician wanted her to sleep on her side in order to keep her growing bulk from putting pressure on the vena cava. Since the vein is the main drain for the lower body, compressing it can lower the blood flow to a fetus. It can also trigger swelling in the mother-to-be’s feet and up her risk of hemorrhoids. For those who aren’t pregnant, the position can restrict blood flow in the shoulder, causing shoulder and arm pain. The position is sometimes blamed for sagging breasts too.

Announcing that she and her husband were side sleepers, Ellen pointed out that the position is best for those prone to snoring and sleep apnea. Sleeping on the left side also minimizes heartburn.

It seems as though every sleep position has its own pros and cons. One person’s sweet dream is another’s nightmare.  What is certain is that a good pillow can make all the difference.