What your sleeping position reveals about you and your health

By Sam Downing|

Do you sleep on your side, your back, or on your front?

Some online sources claim the answer to this question reveals something profound about your health and longevity – or even about your personality, or the quality of you and your partner's relationship.

Not so surprisingly, the science is a little more measured.

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What sleeping position is best for you? (Getty)

Which sleeping position is best for health?

According to sleep physician Dr David Cunnington, it's impossible to declare any one sleeping position is the best – it depends on the individual, the quirks of their body, and their health conditions.

"One specific example is people who snore or are concerned about obstructive sleep apnea, they're usually better off not sleeping on their back [where] they're more likely to get the tongue falling towards the back of the airway," Cunnington tells 9Honey.

Another reason one sleeping position might be better than the other for you is because of musculoskeletal issues (an injured shoulder might rule out side-sleeping), or if you're pregnant (particularly in late pregnancy), when women are advised not to sleep on their backs).

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Beautiful pregnant woman relaxing or sleeping with belly support pillow in bed. Young mother waiting of a baby. Concept of pregnancy, maternity, healthcare, gynecology, medicine.
Woman are advised not to sleep on their backs when pregnant. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

How to change your sleeping position

It's easy enough to adjust your standing or sitting position when you're awake and have control over your body – but much harder to adjust the position your unconscious sleeping body naturally falls into.

"It's not really at all clear that you can be trained to change your sleeping position," cautions Cunnington.

However, pillows, blankets and the like can be used (with varying levels of success) to try to prevent sleeping people rolling into certain positions. Cunnington explains there are also more advanced devices that can detect how you're lying in bed and prod you to move.

"Maybe it's something that goes around your chest or neck, and [when] you roll onto your back and it'll vibrate, which prompts you to roll onto your side," he says.

Sleeping position myths

Go shopping for a new pillow (which, by the way, you should think about doing every 1-2 years) and you'll see pillows marketed for side sleepers, back sleepers and so on. Cunnington doesn't believe there's much merit to these different types, though he allows that physiotherapists and chiropractors might think differently.

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Your pillow may not matter all that much to your sleeping position. (Pexels)

You might've also heard sleeping on your front improves breathing, a myth that has sprung up in recent years because of the pandemic.

"With COVID in ICU, if you're trying to get someone's lungs a bit better, you turn them on their front to ventilate them a bit better," says Cunnington. But he explains that you can't generalise and therefore assume front sleeping helps everyone breathe better.

Even the idea that people sleep only in one position is a myth. One study of almost 700 Danish adults found that participants generally spent about half their sleep in the side position, about a third on their backs, and the remainder on their stomachs, and that they changed position about three times every two hours, on average.

"People swear, 'I never sleep on my back or I never sleep in this position', [but] there's been some studies where they set up video cameras in their homes and show that in fact they do sleep in a whole range of different positions, but just aren't aware of it," Cunnington concludes.

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