Everyone falls asleep differently, but there are certain sleep positions that work better for some people than for others. This depends mostly on your individual preference level for a certain sleep position, but there are also sleep positions that should generally be avoided in order for you to reduce chronic neck and shoulder problems. So although there is no one single “best sleep position,” there are a few that fall into the opposite category. The following are two of the worst sleep positions, according to Daniel Baumstark, who runs PhysioDC, a physical therapy rehabilitation clinic in Washington, D.C.
1. Don’t sleep on your stomach.
Sleeping on your stomach is one of the worst sleep positions due to the fact that it’s impossible to breathe properly with your face buried in a pillow. Therefore, people who sleep on their stomachs have to turn their head to one side or the other in order to breathe, and- as with most activities- most people eventually exhibit a preference for one side or another. So as they sleep on their stomachs, they continue to rotate their head to the same side night after night, and, while this could be harmless at first, in the long term, it presents some serious problems.
With your head rotated to the same side each night, you put an inordinate amount of strain on the joints of the cervical spine. Like every other part of your body, your spine needs some semblance of balance, and sleeping for eight or so hours each night with your head rotated in the same direction is certainly not providing this balance. Additionally, this position often results in a large amount of strain placed on your lower back. The only effective way to reduce the rotation strain placed on your neck is to use pillows to prop up your torso and neck, but although this helps the neck, it increases the amount of strain placed on the lower back. Therefore, there really is no avoiding strain on your spine when you sleep on your stomach.
2. Sleep on your side carefully.
Although sleeping on your side is usually advisable and healthy, there are certain things that some people do while sleeping on their sides to increase the risk of strain or injury. Lying on the side with your arms in an overhead position (wrapped around your pillow, for example) is one such inadvisable sleeping position. This position is imperfect because it places an undue amount of stress on the bottom shoulder. With the whole weight of the body placed on the downward-facing shoulder, this shoulder could face some serious strain. Usually, the body weight will cause a compression of the nerve bundle as it passes into the arm, which can result in numbness in the bottom hand or arm.
This type of position will also push the head of the humerus (the upper bone of the arm) forward, which could make it prone to impingement of the rotator cuff tendons. Some people who sleep in this position experience pinched shoulder nerves, and some experience injuries as severe as torn rotator cuff tendons- all from simply sleeping on the same side with the arms in an awkward position.