Sleep plays a crucial factor in each person's health, but certain positions are proven to be healthier than others. Whether you prefer to sleep curled up in fetal position or flat on your tummy, there's pros and cons to every sleep position.
If you happen to be part of the stomach sleeper group that makes up 16 percent of the population, you likely find it to be the coziest way to fall asleep since you're snuggled up against your mattress and pillow. It's also a position that keeps airwaves open, which can reduce snoring.
Unfortunately, the benefits end there. After consulting with several doctors and sleep experts, it became evident that stomach sleepers face a range of negative health effects.
Why stomach sleeping is harmful
1. It strains the neck.
"When you sleep on your stomach, you are forced to turn your head one way or the other," said Alex Tauberg, DC. "What this does, is it holds the neck in a position where the muscles on one side are all being shortened, while the muscles on the other side are all being elongated. This can cause neck pain from the muscular imbalance."
2. It leads to back pain.
Sleeping on your stomach knocks your spine out of alignment, leading to back pain.
Bill Fish, founder of Tuck.com and certified sleep science coach, said, "Since the majority of the weight of the human body is around your center, that core pushes into the sleep surface further and basically puts strain on your spine in the wrong direction, causing back and neck pain."
3. It makes you more likely to drool.
When you sleep on your stomach, saliva tends to pool in your mouth and spill out if you open your mouth during the night. While not entirely harmful, drooling can be an embarrassing experience for those that it affects.
4. It causes you to sleep hotter.
Compared to other sleep positions, stomach sleepers are more likely to be hot sleepers since most of the body is pressed up against the mattress. This may cause overheating, which can make it difficult to stay asleep through the night.
5. It can contribute to breast sag.
Joshua Zuckerman, MD, FACS, points out to his female patients who are stomach sleepers that this position can contribute to breast ptosis (sag). He explained that the compression of the breasts due to the weight of the body and the effects of gravity adversely affect the structural ligaments that maintain the shape and structure of the breasts.
To address this issue, he suggests wearing a bra to sleep but admitted, "Very few seem to take my advice!"
6. It can cause premature wrinkles.
The friction of squishing one side of your face against the pillow can cause wrinkles. If this issue concerns you, we recommend transitioning into back sleeping to best avoid premature wrinkles.
7. It increases the pressure on your abdominal organs.
For those who are subject to GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), Susan Besser, MD, advises against sleeping on the stomach. The position can worsen symptoms, which include heartburn and acid reflux.
Solutions for stomach sleepers
Don't panic just yet if you're a stomach sleeper—adjusting your sleep style takes time since your body has grown accustomed to it. With these following solutions, you'll be sleeping more comfortably with practice.
1. Transition into a side sleeper.
The best solution for stomach sleepers is to train the body to sleep in a healthier position, such as side sleeping.
Fish said, "If you are working to sleep on your side, measure the length between your neck and the end of your shoulder. Find a pillow that that supports this height so that your head and neck can stay aligned with your spine. Be sure that the pillow is firm to keep the same height. If sleeping on your side is uncomfortable at first, try placing a pillow between your legs."
2. Try sleeping with a body pillow.
Another way to transition into side sleeping is by trying a body pillow. Zuckerman recommends using a body pillow because it prevents one from turning over while asleep.
3. Switch up the side you turn your head before sleeping.
If you simply can't transition out of sleeping on your stomach, Tauberg suggests alternating the side you turn your head before you sleep every night. While not ideal, this helps prevent one side of the neck from being tighter than the other side.
For products that can help stomach sleepers enjoy better rest, click here for our list of stomach sleeper essentials.