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Is It Bad to Sleep on Your Stomach?

sleep stomach

Sleep Positions

Let’s face it — with our busy lives and the multitude of modern distractions, most of us are glad to get any sleep at all. But it’s true that, when we finally do hit the sack, there are sleep positions that may give us a better night’s rest.

Is it bad to sleep on your stomach? The short answer is: yes. Sleeping on your stomach can reduce snoring and diminish sleep apnea, but it is also taxing for your back and neck. That can lead to poor sleep and to discomfort throughout your day. If you’re pregnant you should be especially careful about your sleeping position and avoid sleeping on your stomach if you can.

Find out how hops can help you sleep »

It Starts with the Spine

Many stomach sleepers experience some type of pain. Whether it is in the neck, back, or joints, this pain can affect how much sleep you get. More pain means you are more likely to wake up during the night and feel less rested in the morning.

According to Mayo Clinic, sleeping on your stomach places a strain on your back and spine. This is because the middle of your body is where most of your weight is. This makes it difficult to maintain a neutral spine position when you are sleeping.

Stress on the spine increases stress on the rest of your structure. Additionally, since the spine is a pipeline for your nerves, spinal stress can cause pain just about anywhere in your body. You can also experience tingling and numbness, as if parts of you have “fallen asleep” (while the rest of you is uncomfortable and wide awake).

And Then There’s the Neck

Unless you’ve somehow figured out how to breathe through your pillow, you need to turn your head to the side when you sleep on your stomach. That puts your head and spine out of alignment, twisting your neck. You might not notice the damage this causes after one episode of stomach sleeping, but over time neck problems can become evident.

The neck problem you really don’t want is a herniated disk. That’s when one of your spinal vertebrae has shifted enough to rupture the gelatinous disk inside it. When this gel leaks, it can irritate the nerves.

Special Cautions for Moms-to-Be

When you’re “sleeping for two,” you need as much good quality rest as you can get. The very notion of sleeping on your stomach is laughable late into your pregnancy, but you’ll want to avoid it early on, too. That extra weight around the middle will increase the pull on your spine.

Also, your baby will have more room if he or she isn’t forced to squeeze in between your spine and the mattress. A 2012 medical study suggests that sleeping on your left side when you’re pregnant can increase healthy blood flow and provide the optimum oxygen levels for you and your baby.

No Alternative?

What if you have slept on your stomach all your life, and despite warnings, you just can’t get sleep any other way? Here are some tips that might help you avoid any of the potential complications:

  • Use a thin pillow or no pillow at all. The flatter the pillow, the less angled your head and neck.
  • Put a pillow under your pelvis. This will help keep your back in a more neutral position and take pressure off your spine.
  • Stretch in the mornings. A few minutes of stretching will help get your body back in alignment and gently strengthen supporting muscles. Be sure to warm up with a little movement before stretching, and be gentle!

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