Is there a “right” way to sleep?
by Christian Moro, Bond University And Charlotte Phelps, Bond University
After 50 years of research, William Dement, a leading sleep researcher at Stanford University, is quoted as saying that the only solid explanation he knows for why we sleep is “because we are sleepy.”
Although sleep is, in the words of another researcher, “the only important behavior whose function is unknown,” it is clearly essential for health and well-being.
But are we doing it right? What does the research say about sleep positions?
Is there a better position for sleeping?
Most people prefer to sleep on their side. This is good news, because people who lie on their backs are more likely to have trouble sleeping or breathing.
We usually move around a lot during the night. A study of 664 people found that, on average, participants spent about 54 percent of their time in bed on their sides, about 37 percent on their backs and about 7 percent on their stomachs.
Men (especially those under 35 years of age) tended to be more restless, change positions more often, and perform more arm, thigh, and upper back movements during the night.
This is not necessarily bad, as it is considered a good thing to move around during the night.
When we sleep, the body detects any pain or discomfort and adjusts its position accordingly. This allows us to avoid getting pressure sores on a daily basis.
If you find that you can’t move around because your partner (or dog) is taking up too much space, consider switching sides or getting a bigger bed.
And don’t pull your sheets too tightly around you, leave yourself room to move on either side.
Comfort is key. There is no reliable research that provides clear answers about what would be “an optimal sleeping position”. Age, weight, environment, activity level and whether or not you are pregnant all play a role in determining which sleeping position is best for your body.
Ideally, you should settle down to get a good night’s sleep and avoid waking up sore.
No matter which position we prefer, some versions are better than others. One study showed that people who slept in a position that twisted the spine (such as the unsupported lateral position) woke up with more pain in the morning.
Nevertheless, although some lateral positions can create some load on the spine, it seems that these are, in general, a better choice than the other options.
Choosing a pillow
A good pillow is essential for a good night’s sleep.
A lack of head and neck support has been found to have a significant impact on spinal alignment and lead to muscle problems such as neck and shoulder pain and muscle stiffness.
The material the pillow is made of does not seem to have an impact on the spine. What matters is the shape and height of the pillow. A U-shaped pillow can help to extend the hours of sleep, and a roll pillow can reduce morning and night pain in people with chronic pain.
Unfortunately, research has not been able to rule on what constitutes an optimal mattress. Each person has their own way of sleeping, so it would be difficult to compare long-term results.
However, there are bad mattresses. If your bed is sagging, has lost its firmness, has noisy springs or shows obvious signs of wear, consider changing your mattress.
Turning your mattress over can contribute to its longevity and improve comfort. This should be done at least once or twice a year.
Other tips for a good night’s sleep
Set the room temperature to be fairly cool. The ideal temperature for sleep is 18.3°C (15-19°C); higher temperatures can affect sleep.
Keep the air circulating in the room. This not only brings in fresh air, but also removes built-up heat and keeps you cool at night.
Some medications, such as antihistamines, can make it easier to fall asleep. On the other hand, stimulants such as caffeine can significantly affect the quality of sleep.
Finally, don’t go to bed with a full bladder, as having to get up at night to go to the bathroom can affect your sleep.
Christian Moro, Associate Professor of Science & Medicine, Bond University And Charlotte Phelps, PhD Student, Bond University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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