“Some sleep standing up, some sleep on the move. Some sleep with one eye open, and some sleep with both eyes open….“ these are the words from the beautiful picture book by Il Sung Na that tells us about different animals’ sleeping habits.
We, humans, do not usually display such a wide range of variation in our sleeping preferences, as we all more or less prefer to sleep lying down, in our beds, with both eyes closed. We do have a choice of sleeping positions to adopt within this set of limitations, and some positions turn out to be better for us than others.
Common sleep positions
There are several most common sleeping positions, and we all have a favorite one.
The fetal position (curled up on your side) is one of the most common sleeping positions out there, with 4 out of 10 people adopting it on a regular basis. It is also twice as common with women as with men.
About 15 per cent of people prefer sleeping in a log position, which is on your side, like the fetal position, but with arms stretched along your body.
If you like to sleep on your back with your arms by your sides, then you’re adopting the soldier position, together with about 8% of people of the population.
Some 7% of the population report sleeping comfortably in what’s call the freefall position, on their stomach with arms either hugging the pillow or on either side of the head.
The starfish position is when you sleep on your back with your legs and arms spread out in all the different directions. You look like a starfish whether you realize it or not. It is the least common sleeping position, with only 5% of us willing to look like rare sea creatures in our sleep.
What’s the best position?
So what sleeping position is best for your health?
According to a Sydney-based physiotherapist Alex McGeoch, who spoke to Lifehacker, “the best sleep position is one that supports the body to maintain the natural curves of the spine throughout sleep, without compromising respiration or circulation.”
The best sleeping position for you will also depend on your specific health issues. For example, if you have sleep apnea or tend to snore, sleeping on your side will help you open your airways to breathe more freely. Sleeping on your side (especially your left side, according to some doctors) also alleviates acid reflux. Some say that sleeping in the fetal position, specifically, can help ward off such nasty diseases as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
If you don’t have snoring issues, sleeping on your back is perfectly fine. Some doctors, however, suggest putting a pillow under your knees when you’re in this position. This will help flatten your lower back against the mattress, avoiding lower back pain later.
Sleeping on your stomach seems to be the worst position for you (sorry, freefallers). Apart from the benefit of relieving snoring, it puts serious strain on your neck. Because most of us tend to want to breath on a regular basis during our sleep, we’ll have keep our necks permanently craned if we’re in the freefall position to achieve that goal. Now imagine keeping your neck craned like this for one third of your life (which is how long you sleep). It’s not the best use of your neck, let’s face it.