The Science Behind Sleeping Positions: What Do They Mean?

Wellness

Sleep plays a vital role in various physiological processes that serve to reenergize the body's cells, clear waste from the brain, support learning and memory, and more. Although sleep positions are indeed a matter of preference, they play an intrinsic role in our quality of sleep and consequently have a wide range of effects on the body.

However, comfort is not the only factor that influences how we sleep; with age, we not only move around less but tend to gravitate to a side-sleeping position as we enter adulthood. As health problems, including stiffness and joint pain, become more frequent with old age, the quality of one's sleep becomes even more important. Naturally, research indicates that sleeping positions influence our dreams and offer insight into a variety of behaviors and personality traits:

On Your Back

Sometimes referred to as the supine position, back-sleeping can cause lower-back pain and aggravate symptoms of snoring and sleep apnea. Sleeping on one's back is not recommended for women during late pregnancy as it has a potential association with late stillbirths in the third trimester. Nevertheless, this position has its advantages; the head and neck being in a neutral position, you're less likely to experience neck pain.

Sleeping on one's back is often associated with self-confidence. Back-sleepers are often quiet and introverted and hold themselves to high standards. Depending on whether they sleep with their arms outstretched or at their sides potentially gauges how open-minded one is to others.

Side-Sleeping

Most people sleeping on their side, side-sleeping becomes more popular with age as spine flexibility reduces over time. This position proves beneficial in alleviating insomnia, chronic sleep deprivation, sleep apnea, joint and lower back pain, and fibromyalgia. Side sleeping is highly recommended for pregnant women (specifically the left side) as it maximizes circulation for both the mother and the baby.

Side-sleepers are often relaxed, open-minded individuals. According to Psychology Today, “whether you sleep on your right side (more likely to smoke and rely on caffeine) left side (creative, well-educated), with your arms at your sides (trusting and possibly gullible, also maybe rigid thinkers) or arms outstretched (tough on oneself and others, possibly suspicious, also curious about the world) may also influence your personality, outlook, and behavior.”

On Your Stomach

Sleep experts don't recommend sleeping on one's stomach as it inflicts unnecessary pressure onto the hips, abdomen, and neck, which contributes to consequent lower back and neck pain. Stomach sleeping is often associated with restlessness and frequent tossing and turning throughout the night. However, sleeping on your stomach can reduce symptoms of sleep apnea and snoring.

Stomach sleeping is linked to defensiveness, sensitivity to criticism, and perfectionism. Those who sleep in this position often feel anxious and lack control in their lives.

The Fetal Position

The most popular sleeping position of all, the fetal position is particularly favored amongst women, who are twice as likely as men to sleep on their side. This position is relatively healthy in that it allows one's spine to rest in its natural alignment. Research suggesting that sleeping on one's side allows for the brain to more efficiently clear waste, the fetal position plays a potential role in fending off conditions including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

The fetal position is linked to introversion, shyness, sensitivity, and a desire to protect oneself. The American Sleep Association states that the “self-protective, curled-up position of a fetal sleeper reveals an equally self-effacing personality.” In other words, “while they may have a tough exterior, fetal position sleepers may also be shy, yet kind once you penetrate their protective outer layer.”

The Best Position?

While sleeping positions may provide hints and insights into one's personality or preferences, they aren't necessarily fixed personality diagnoses. Overall, the side-sleeping position proves the healthiest for most people, especially to snorers, those with sleep apnea, and neck and back pain. Contrastingly, stomach sleeping is considered the worst of all sleep positions, with a few exceptions as it can provide relief to those suffering from snoring and sleep apnea. It ultimately comes down to finding a sleeping position that is both comfortable and provides you with a good night's sleep. Moreover, a regular and consistent sleep schedule maintains one's physical health, focus, work and school performance, and mental health.

Sources:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-happens-in-the-brain-during-sleep1/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sleep-newzzz/201903/your-sleep-position-affects-much-more-you-think

https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2013/04/benefits-slumber

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Kimberley Dunn
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Kimberley Yasmine Dunn is a French-American journalist, published poet, and teen activist. Born in Paris, France, she has spent the past sixteen years living in London, Dallas, and Miami. Kimberley has had extensive experience in writing for magazines and newspapers and has won various state-level awards for her poetry. Now living in Florida, she spends her free time reading classics, writing short stories, and listening to music.