It's been a long hot summer here in the UK and if you're anything like me you'll have spent the summer tossing and turning and trying to find a position — any position — that you can sleep comfortably in. But if that position happens to be on your stomach, be warned, because it probably isn't doing you any good. Here's why sleeping on your stomach is bad for you.
While sleeping on your front can reduce snoring and risk of sleep apnoea — when you have difficulty breathing during sleep — it can cause extreme physical problems that will affect you not only during the night but in the day, too.
Research by the Mayo Clinic suggests that sleeping on your stomach can bring on back pain, which is going to make you feel pretty rubbish in the day, whether you have a job that entails spending hours sitting at a computer screen, or extended periods of time on your feet. Back pain is particularly common because most of our weight tends to be focused in the middle of our bodies, and when we are sleeping on our stomachs, it is difficult to keep the spine in the neutral position it needs, putting huge pressure on our backs.
Since the spine is connected to many other nerves, this can have a knock-on impact on the rest of the body, and can cause stress and strain to the neck and joints, in addition to a prolonged numb or tingling sensation. These strains and pains may also carry on into the night after, and will make it difficult for you to get some solid shut-eye, according to a report by the Daily Mail.
Rishi Loatey of the British Chiropractic Association told the paper that sleeping on your front is "the worst possible position you can sleep in from a musculoskeletal point of view," as, in order to breathe, sleepers are forced to "lie with [their] head and neck almost fully rotated to one side for many hours". And this, according to the same study by the Mayo Clinic, can lead to a whole host of other issues, such as a slipped disc — which, trust me, is every bit as painful as it sounds.
If you're pregnant, you're probably sick of people telling you what you can and can't do, but sleeping on your stomach can be problematic, even in the early stages. A 2012 study by Tomasina Stacey and Edwin A Mitchell at the University of Auckland reported that it is better for both mother and baby if a pregnant woman sleeps on her side, as it promotes healthy blood flow and ensures that both are receiving optimum levels of oxygen. It also gives the baby more space to move.
Equally the extra weight a woman is carrying during pregnancy around the stomach means sleeping on your stomach puts immense pressure on your spine, and will only exacerbate feelings of back pain that you might be experiencing as a result of pregnancy anyway, the Mayo Clinic reports.
But if face-down is your sleeping position of choice and you can't bear the thought of switching it up, there are things you can do. When you're sleeping on your stomach, try using a thin pillow, or doing without one altogether. As orthopaedic surgeon Rocco Monto explained to Health magazine, plump pillows can "push your neck back a little bit and give you neck pain or cause some discomfort in the lower back." Or look into changing your mattress — people sleeping on their stomachs should have a firmer mattress than most, which will give their spine some much-needed stability. Experts on the Dreams website advise: "due to the level of support stomach sleepers will need for their spine, it's not recommended to get an overly soft mattress. If your mattress is too soft, your torso will sink to the mattress and your spine will arch as you sleep, leading to aches and pains."
If all else fails, a simple stretch in the morning can help move your body back into alignment and strengthen the muscles. Head to a yoga class or stick on a soothing playlist, light a candle, and do a few spine-strengthening poses in your living room.