Is it bad to sleep on your stomach? The short answer is “yes.” Although sleeping on your stomach can reduce snoring and diminish sleep apnea, it’s also taxing for your back and neck. That can lead to poor sleep and 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.
Many stomach sleepers experience some type of pain. Whether it’s in the neck, back, or joints, this pain can affect how much sleep you get. More pain means you’re more likely to wake up during the night and feel less rested in the morning.
According to the Mayo Clinic, sleeping on your stomach places a strain on your back and spine. This is because most of your weight is in the middle of your body. This makes it difficult to maintain a neutral spine position when you’re sleeping.
Stress on the spine increases stress on other structures in your body. 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).
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 develop.
The neck problem you really don’t want is a herniated disk. That’s when there’s a rupture of the gelatinous disk between your vertebrae. When this gel bulges out from the disk, it can irritate the nerves.
When you’re “sleeping for two,” you need as much 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.
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 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!