Sleeping on Your Stomach Isn’t the Best Way to Sleep: Know Why

Sleeping after a long day feels so relieving. Our body needs to relax and recover before we move ahead with another day. However, sleeping on your stomach may have a negative impact on your body. Rather than allowing our bodies to relax and unwind, it may cause pain and immense stress in our bodies. Clearly, we wouldn’t want to overwhelm and burden our bodies with more stress especially when sleep is so important for the proper functioning of our body. However, as habitual stomach sleepers, we may find changing our sleeping position overnight to be challenging. Let’s dig deeper and understand the risks and alternatives for sleeping in this particular way.

Is Sleeping on Your Stomach Bad?

Sleeping on your stomach, also called the prone sleeping position, may have many adverse effects for different age groups like (1),(2):

  • Muscle pain in adults 
  • Back and neck stress in adults and elderly
  • Shoulder pain
  • Decreased pulsation
  • Accidental suffocation
  • Sudden infant death syndrome for infants
  • Increased resting heart rate
  • Overheating of the body
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Impaired arousal from active sleep of infants
  • Circulatory failure
  • Increase in acid reflux symptoms
  • Skin compression

What Happens When You Sleep on Your Stomach?

For Infants: The occurrences of sudden infant death syndrome have proven to be a consequence of infants sleeping on stomach (3). There is also other evidence that states when infants sleep on their stomach, it becomes an important risk factor for this particular syndrome (4). Thus, it becomes crucial to change or at least shift the sleeping positions of infants. Sleeping on the stomach has also been proven to be a risk factor for bruxism or involuntary grinding of the teeth (5). And, grinding may lead to cracking of teeth as well as teeth fractures, especially in infants (5).

For Adults: A prone sleeping position may also cause wrinkles and facial distortion (6). Again, not something that could be taken lightly as fault lines of your face may deepen by mechanical compression during sleep (6). Back pain is also common among stomach sleepers.

For the Elderly: As compared to the prone sleeping position, sleeping on the sides has proven to be beneficial for older people as it promotes healthy spinal alignment (7).

For Epileptic Patients: According to a survey, people with epilepsy may be at a higher risk of sudden death because of sleeping on their stomachs (7). In fact, according to a recent survey, three-quarters of people with epilepsy died unexpectedly while they were sleeping in a prone position (7).

Is Sleeping on Your Stomach While Pregnant Risky?

Surprisingly, sleeping on your stomach while you are pregnant may have certain benefits (8), (9), (10):

  • It relieves pressure on the medial and posterior portions of the lung.
  • Increase in uterine blood flow.
  • Reduction in diaphragmatic compression.
  • Optimal relief of the umbilical artery.
  • Complete uterine compression.
  • Reduction in systolic blood pressure.
  • Improves lung compliance and oxygenation in women with Acute Respiratory Distress syndrome.
  • Safe for surgical treatments.
  • Effective for refractory hypoxemia.
  • Most comfortable and healthy sleeping position.
  • Enhanced oxygen saturation.
  • Homogenous ventilation.
  • Better drainage of pulmonary secretions.
  • Smoother delivery of aerosol medications.
  • Improvement in ventilation-perfusion mismatch
  • Finer lung recruitment.
  • Good maternal and fetal outcomes.

However, the cons of sleeping on your stomach when you’re pregnant are (11):

  • Possibility of aortocaval compression.
  • Severe hypertension
  • Inability to easily monitor the fetal status
  • Difficulty in performing emergency Cesarean sections. 

Should You Change Your Sleep Position?

Yes, the reasons being: 

For Children: Unlike the prone position, it’d be better for children to sleep in the supine position for breathing most properly with minimal to no suffocation (12). Also, in contrast to adults, children with obstructive sleep apnea breathe smoothly in the supine position as compared to the prone sleeping position (12). 

For Adults: Sleeping on the stomach is not suitable for adults as it provides minimal back support and gives more pressure to the spine (13) It may also contribute to wrinkles and other signs of aging (13). Even with a pillow beneath your head or an arm for providing support, you may feel numbness or stiffness in your body especially in your spine (13). Compared to the prone sleeping position, sleeping on the sides may reduce snoring and heartburn apart from promoting even weight distribution and reduced grinding of the teeth (13). You may also try a back sleeping position or become an occasional back sleeper if you suffer from lumbar spinal pain, nasal congestion, or neck pain (13). Also, for adults suffering from digestive issues, or complaining about stomach pain when waking up, sleeping on the left side may prove to be effective (13).

Tips for the Stomach Sleepers

  • Keep a thin pillow under your head while you sleep on your stomach. 
  • Ensure the pillows you are using are much flatter.
  • If your neck feels strained, sleep without a pillow below your head.
  • Ensure your mattress is firm to avoid neck strain.
  • Try placing pillows below your hips.
  • Do proper stretching of almost 20 minutes every morning.
  • Don’t put pressure on your legs.
  • Relax your lower body.
  • Keep low-loft pillows around your body.
  • Switch to other sleeping positions when possible.
  • Sleep on your back to relax your spine.
  • Keep a soft back pillow for the bed.
  • If you snore a lot, try sleeping on your sides.

Conclusion

Sleeping is an important part of our lives. What matters though is the quality of the sleep and how much the body eases after a long day. However, how you are supposed to sleep is a defining factor for how much your body unwinds and distresses. When you’re sleeping on your stomach, you may cause immense stress in your lower back, shoulders, and neck. Rather than relaxing your body, it may contribute to other health issues too. Sleeping on the stomach is quite harmful for infants too. In that case, as well, the best way out would be to ensure that your baby does not create a habit of sleeping with their stomach pressed down.. As long as you’re comfortable and the sleeping position doesn’t disturb the alignment of your body and causes no pain, you might stick to it. Read the above tips as well if you’re a habitual stomach sleeper.

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