Sleep restores and renews the body and mind, but your sleep habits may affect both the quality of rest you get and your overall health. While a supportive bed, like a latex mattress, is important for comfort, our habits and personalities may play an even a bigger role in sleep quality.
Certain positions predispose sleepers to wrinkle and snoring, while age, employment, and gender can offer insights into potential issues. Keep reading to learn how your preferred sleep positions, daytime habits, and personalities directly influence sleep and health – and yes, this is something that has been proven throughout our history.
Effects of Sleep Positions
How we sleep varies depending on personal preference, health, bed comfort, partners, and more. Because we spend several hours in the same position at night, it is important to understand how this may affect health. The four primary sleep positions each offer pros and cons depending on your situation, but overall experts consider back and side sleep preferable to fetal and stomach positions.
- Exacerbates snoring
- Not recommended during pregnancy
Sleeping on your back in a neutral position with the head and neck properly supported helps prevent back and neck pain. Lying with the head elevated above the stomach proves beneficial for individuals with acid reflux/GERD. Back sleeping also minimizes premature wrinkling, as nothing presses against your face. But, back sleeping is known to exacerbate snoring because the tongue and soft palate can press against the back of the throat. It is also not recommended during pregnancy due to the added weight and pressure of the fetus.
- Reduces snoring
- Best for pregnancy
- May reduce acid reflux symptoms
- May lead to premature wrinkling/sagging
- Arm, shoulder, and hip pain
If you have snore or sleep apnea issues, side sleeping may offer relief. As long as the head is elevated, sleeping on the left side can help mitigate acid reflux as well. Supported left-side sleeping (aka SOS-Sleep On Side) also remains the most recommended position for pregnancy. Experts caution that the head should remain horizontally aligned with the body however to prevent alignment issues. Using a support pillow between knees can also help maintain proper spinal alignment. One potential side effect of side sleeping is premature wrinkling and sagging due to bedding pressing against the face and gravity. Uncomfortable mattresses, sleeping with an arm under your head, and certain illnesses may also create uncomfortable pressure points that lead to poor sleep.
- May reduce acid reflux symptoms
- May reduce snoring
- Can offer comfort during pregnancy
- Can exacerbate joint pain, bad posture
- May restrict deep breathing
- May lead to premature wrinkling
As with side sleeping, the fetal position can reduce snoring and acid reflux symptoms, and also lead to premature wrinkling and pressure points. Because the head is typically curled in and knees bent, this position also tends to exacerbate bad posture and joint pain. Deep diaphragmatic breathing is also hindered which can affect sleep quality.
- May help reduce snoring
- May lessen sciatica symptoms
- Puts extra pressure on spine, joints, muscles
- May cause neck and back pain
- May lead to premature wrinkling
Stomach sleeping remains the least recommended position because it places added pressure on the spine, joints, muscles, and nerves. This often leads to neck and back pain, as well as premature wrinkling since the head is tilted against the pillow. Stomach sleeping can offer relief from snoring however, but sleepers should use flat pillows to preserve natural alignment. A good high-quality natural latex mattress is also recommended by health experts.
Common Sleep Issues
Some common sleep issues resulting from daytime habits or may point to potential issues that deserve further attention.
While most adults snore occasionally, chronic or highly disruptive snoring may highlight other conditions. Possible causes include irritated tissues or airway obstructions due to allergies, overeating, excess smoking or drinking, or sleep apnea. As previously mentioned, back sleeping can also increase snoring, so side sleeping may help alleviate symptoms.
Teeth grinding, formally Bruxism is a reflex response and one of the most common sleep issues. Grinding teeth while sleeping typically points to stress, anxiety, or medical issues. If you awake with jaw pain, headaches, or tooth trauma consult a professional.
Tossing & Turning, Frequent Waking
Moving about while sleeping may be caused by pressure points due to uncomfortable beds or positions, as well as stress. The poor sleep quality that results can lead to weakened immune systems, skin issues, and increased blood pressure. When combined with heavy snoring and waking with a dry throat, this may point to sleep apnea.
Relationship Between Personality and Sleep
Studies attempting to correlate personality and sleep face numerous challenges and remain limited. However, one study and a survey provide interesting insights into this relationship.
The study by Johns, Gay, Masterson, & Bruce
In this study, researchers examined college-aged, male medical students to observe potential relationships between sleep habits, adrenocortical activity, and personality. They classified the sleepers as “good” or “poor” based on the duration of sleep, onset, and awakenings, then examined psychological and physiological traits in each in the group.
Poor sleepers showed greater neurotic disturbance and anxiety on a psychological test, as well as less dream activity. They exhibited high adrenocortical activity similar to that displayed by persons with major psychological affective disorders.
Good sleepers scored higher on conversion reactions during psychological tests. This indicates better-developed defense mechanisms providing for more effective management of daily stresses.
National Sleep Foundation Survey
The National Sleep Foundation conducted a poll regarding individuals’ sleep habits, identifying 5 major clusters of “Sleep Personality” Types:
- “Healthy, Lively Larks” – those that have no problems with sleep. Primarily composed of young, partnered, full-time workers with no illnesses.
- “Sleep Savvy Seniors” – older adults who experience no significant sleep problems get the most sleep. Many in this group were retired and had at least one medical condition.
- “Dragging Duos” – couples who were twice as likely to miss sleep, with ⅓ reporting fatigue and high reports of insomnia symptoms. Most were employed at least full time, work late and wake early, are twice as likely to miss sleep, and reported lack of sleep affected relationships.
- “Overworked, Overweight, and Overcaffeinated” – night owls with long work weeks. In this group, half were single, half were obese, and 70% reported insomnia symptoms. They sleep less and nap more and consume more caffeine.
- “Sleepless and Missin’ the Kissin’” – also night owls and majority female, people in this group reported a high incidence of sleep issues and adverse effects in their relationship.
How to Improve Your Sleep Habits
1. Create a sleep-friendly habitat.
To create a bedroom conducive to sleep, make sure the room is dark and cool. Limit electronics and non-sleep related activities in the bedroom to reduce distractions and mentally establish a sleep connection with your bed. Use breathable, clean bedding, and a comfortably supportive, preferably natural, mattress to reduce pressure points.
2. Adjust the sleep position.
If you want to start side sleeping, experts recommend body pillows and knee supports to improve comfort. To train your body, you can even stitch a tennis ball into a shirt to prevent rolling on your stomach or back at night. If you want to switch to back position, make sure your pillow isn’t too large and that it supports your neck. Using a cushion or towel beneath the knees can also improve comfort and help you maintain back sleeping.
3. Practice good sleep hygiene.
Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine offers several tips for improving sleep habits, including:
- Set a schedule, and don’t break it on the weekends
- Establish a pre-sleep, de-stressing ritual
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and other stimulants
- Limit food and liquids close to bedtime
- Exercise to improve health and stress management
Habits often prove difficult to change. But, if you notice your sleep habits aren’t doing you any favors, use these tips to get more from your nights. Removing “sleep stealers” from your bedroom, adopting a beneficial sleep position, and practicing good sleep hygiene can all help maximize the quantity and quality of your sleep.