Like most people, Andrew Wellman changes his sleeping position many times during the night. And like most people, he rarely notices it. “The only time I realize I’m rolling onto my back is when my wife nudges me because I start snoring,” says Wellman, director of the Sleep Disorders Respiratory Laboratory in the Circadian and Sleep Disorders Division of the Brigham Hospital and Women’s in Boston.
“Many of my patients tell me that they sleep on their side,” Wellman says. But when monitored by position sensors in the sleep lab, many self-proclaimed side sleepers are on their backs for up to 30% of the night, “and they didn’t know it.”
The dream occurs in a repetitive series of cycles, from light to deep to the phase called rapid eye movement (REM) when most dreams occur. We wake up after each cycle, even if we don’t realize it.
“Everyone wakes up during the night five to seven times after each sleep cycle ends and then falls back to sleep quickly, often with a brief movement, sometimes changing position,” explains Shelby Harris, a psychologist and associate professor. by Albert Einstein. New York City School of Medicine and author of A woman’s guide to overcoming insomnia.
Choose your preference
Sleep experts agree that there is no one ideal sleeping position for everyone. Sleep advice websites make many unsubstantiated claims: that sleeping on the right side protects the heart but causes wrinkles on the face, and that sleeping on the back helps cleanse the brain of debris.
But there is very little research to suggest that one position is better than another.
For healthy people, “it’s just a matter of preference,” says Alcibíades Rodríguez, medical director of the Sleep Center at NYU Langone Health and assistant professor of neurology at NYU School of Medicine.
But for someone with pain or certain medical conditions, proper positioning can become important, Rodriguez says, especially as we age.
People with back pain can relieve themselves by sleeping on their backs, according to the Cleveland Clinic, with a small pillow or rolled towel under their knees to relieve pressure. If that’s not comfortable, sleeping on your side and switching sides at night might work.
Placing a pillow between the knees can relieve back and hip pain in some people. Most experts advise against sleeping on your stomach as it forces your neck to turn to the side and misaligns it, which can cause back pain.
If you need to sleep on your stomach, try omitting the pillow or placing another pillow under your pelvis to reduce stress on your back and neck, the Mayo Clinic advises.
where you sleep matters
“Kids sleep anywhere,” says Rafael Pelayo, a sleep specialist at the Stanford Center for Sleep Medicine. “Teenagers sleep anywhere. Like most college students.
Young people’s growing bodies and minds demand and encourage deeper sleep, explains Pelayo. That’s why their arousal threshold, what it takes to arouse them, is so much higher.
“Most people say they sleep better in their own house,” says Pelayo. Not so with insomniacs. “With all the frustration, the twists and turns of insomnia, you create negative associations towards your bedroom.
You dread going to bed. So when you go on a trip, you go to a hotel, suddenly you get away from that environment and you sleep better.
There is another important factor that matters a lot to people: which side of the bed people sleep on.
“The first night you share a bed with someone, each one chooses a side of the bed,” says Pelayo. “From now on, never discuss it again. This becomes your side. This becomes my side.”
At the Stanford Sleep Lab, he says, people who have had a bed partner for years tend to choose one side of the bed and ignore the other half, even if the bed is big and they’re alone. And that territorial character extends beyond the home.
“If you’re traveling, when you get to the hotel room with your partner, you say: ‘This is my side, this is your side,’” says Pelayo. Some people even consider it an invasion of privacy if they’re out of town and a bed partner walks past them. “You will say: ‘You used my pillow last night while I was gone. Why did you do that?'”