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Is Sleeping on Your Stomach Bad for Your Health?

Lara Vargas

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Stomach sleeping, while the go-to position for some of us, is not the best way for your body to get the rest it needs. The reason for this? By sleeping on your stomach all night, you are in a position that puts a strain on your body and can eventually cause chronic pain.

Laying on your stomach all night places stress on your lower back and neck. There really isn’t a way to sleep on your stomach without hurting yourself, but there are a few things you can do to minimize the harm. Let’s take a closer look at the problems stomach sleeping can cause, and some tips to give you a restful night.

Why Is Sleeping on Your Stomach Bad for You?

Falling asleep is only one part of being well-rested. HOW you sleep is just as important. Have you ever woken up with a stiff neck, sore back, or numb limbs? You probably weren’t sleeping correctly.

What does it mean to sleep “correctly”? Think of it this way: the human body is a machine, and just like you wouldn’t just throw your bike down after riding it, you can’t just toss yourself into bed at the end of a day. One bad sleep habit that could be robbing you of rest is stomach sleeping. It is not good for you. Here are some problems it can cause:

1. It Places a Strain on Your Spine

Picture your spine as a wire: if you twist or bend it, it doesn’t easily return to its original shape. It will always have some kinks in it. If you sleep on your stomach every night, you twist and strain your spine for extended periods in unhealthy positions. This problem worsens if you tend to sleep on your stomach with your limbs sprawling in all directions—this really stresses your spine.

Stomach sleeping also causes back pain. If you sleep like this, most of your weight shifts to your lower torso and your belly is pressed into the bed. The result is a strain on your spine.

2. It Causes Pain in Your Neck

When sleeping on your stomach, you have to twist your neck to one side to breathe, or else you end up sleeping with your face buried in your pillow. Twisting your neck to the side all night long can lead to stiffness and sore muscles. Part of getting pain-free sleep is maintaining neutral alignment, which does not happen if you sleep with your neck craned to one side for hours.

3. It Exacerbates Acid Reflux

Sleeping flat puts you at a higher risk of experiencing acid reflux, whether you’re on your back, side, or stomach. However, elevating the head alleviates acid reflux since gravity keeps stomach acid from traveling up your esophagus. Side and back sleepers usually find relief from digestive discomforts after switching to an adjustable bed or using a wedge pillow to keep their bodies upright, but that’s not possible to do in the stomach sleeping position.  With that, it’s best for stomach sleepers who suffer from acid reflux to sleep in a different position.

4. It’s Harmful for Moms-to-Be

Stomach sleeping is especially bad for you during pregnancy because it strains your back even more than usual. As the uterus grows, your stomach gets rounder, and sleeping on your stomach forces your back into a painful position. Most expecting mothers naturally shift how they sleep after lying on the stomach becomes uncomfortable.

When you are pregnant, your side is the most comfortable way to sleep. This places your body in a neutral position. Sleeping on your left side is best for circulation, and there are fewer large organs on this side of your body for the growing uterus to squish.

What Is the Best Sleeping Position?

The best sleeping position is somewhat relative to what you find most comfortable. However, we should all aim to sleep with a straight spine and open airways—this will best give us the rest and rejuvenation we need.

Easy Ways to Improve Your Sleeping Position

Regardless of how you sleep, these tips can help you rest in a more neutral position:

  • Maintain a straight spine: Find the best mattress for your sleeping position and body type, and use pillows strategically, to keep your spine in healthy alignment. Sleeping on an unsupportive mattress or with uncomfortable pillows can cause aches and pains.
  • Make sure your weight is evenly distributed: Proper posture and even weight distribution ease pain points. Side sleepers should place a pillow between their knees to take the extra weight off the hips; back sleepers should position a pillow under the legs to ease the stress on the lumbar area; lastly, stomach sleepers should put a pillow under their pelvis to keep themselves as straight and flat as possible, minimizing the strain on the lower back.
  • Keep your airways open: Try the zero-gravity position or simply elevate your head to alleviate pressure on your chest. This way your diaphragm is free to expand and contract fully and your throat is clear of obstructions.
  • Elevate your head: Upgrade to an adjustable bed frame or elevate your head with a wedge pillow—sleeping at an incline keeps your stomach acid where it belongs.

Sleeping Positions That Check These Boxes

While stomach sleeping can’t meet all the criteria mentioned above, back and side sleeping can. However, these sleep positions aren’t always perfect. Here are some things you shouldn’t do as a back and side sleeper.

  • Back sleeping: Sleeping on your back with your legs straight and a pillow supporting your head keeps your body in a neutral position and distributes your weight evenly. Back sleepers should look for a medium to firm mattress with extra support under the hips and torso.

If you are a back sleeper, make sure you have either a wedge pillow or one thick enough—5 to 6-inch thick pillows are usually recommended for back sleepers—to keep your head supported and in alignment with your neck and spine.

  • Side sleeping: Put a pillow between your knees to keep your spine and hips in a straight line. We recommend medium to soft mattresses for side sleepers because they’re cushioning and they cradle the hips and shoulders, keeping the body in a neutral position.

Side sleepers should avoid the fetal position—drawing your knees up towards your chest places stress on the back and neck, and can cause soreness in the morning.

Tips to Ease Stomach Sleeping Pains

What if you can only sleep on your stomach? There are ways to sleep in this position and minimize the problems it causes your body. The key to sleeping on your stomach safely is to maintain your spine’s natural curve and prevent the torso from dipping into the mattress. Here are some tips for tummy sleeping in a neutral position:

Sleep on a Firm Mattress

The best way to support your pressure points and distribute your weight is with a medium-firm to a firm mattress. Stomach sleepers should consider purchasing an innerspring mattress because the metal coils inside of this type of bed can support your body in a neutral position better than other mattress types.

Place a Pillow Under Your Hips

Sleeping on your stomach presses your stomach into the mattress, arching your back and placing a great deal of strain on your lower back. Putting a thin pillow under your hips offers extra support for the torso, straightens your spine, and guards against back pain.

Keep Both Legs Straight and Flat

Sleep with your legs as straight and flat as possible. If you sleep on your stomach with your legs and arms sprawled out, it can bend and twist your spine—the flatter and straighter your limbs, the more neutral the body position.

Use a Thin Pillow or None at All

There really isn’t a way around twisting your neck to one side because this is the best way to breathe in this position, but sleeping with a flat pillow, or none at all, helps relieve neck pain and keep your head in line with your spine.

FAQs

Why do my hips hurt when I sleep on my stomach?

Stomach sleeping places most of your weight on your hips. Your hip joints work hard all night holding up your weight, so it’s no surprise hip pain is rather common. If hip pain is hindering your daytime activity or impeding your night’s rest, sleep with a pillow below your hips for better support and even weight distribution. Of course, you may want to look into upgrading your mattress as well. Old, lumpy beds cause pain points, especially in the hips and shoulders.

Is sleeping on your stomach bad for your ribs?

Sleeping on your stomach puts extra stress on your rib cage, causing discomfort—especially for those with injured ribs. If you notice your ribs ache after sleeping on your stomach, listen to the signals your body is sending and switch to side or back sleeping instead.

Is sleeping on your stomach bad for your heart?

Sleeping in a neutral position is best for your blood flow, and a neutral position is hard for stomach sleepers to achieve. While this position is not best for your circulation, it is not bad for your heart.

Is it bad to sleep on your stomach if you have scoliosis?

Because sleeping on your stomach is more likely to put a strain on your spine, this is not the best position for those with scoliosis. Look for a medium-firm to firm hybrid mattress—these beds offer good support while the soft layer on top helps distribute your body weight.

Is there a downside to sleeping without a pillow?

Pillows help align the neck and spine no matter your sleeping style. If you don’t use a pillow, you can’t rest in a fully neutral position. Sleeping with a pillow is especially important for those who experience nightly acid reflux.

Conclusion

Life is tough on your body. Whether you work a physically-demanding job or sit at a desk all day, your body is working hard to support you. Sleep is your body’s chance to prepare itself for the next day, and you want to give it the best rest possible. You can do this by investing in a high-quality mattress, and purchasing pillows that help you rest in a neutral position. It is very difficult to keep your spine and neck in a straight line while sleeping on your stomach, therefore this position is not the best way to get your body a good night’s sleep.

Try teaching yourself to sleep on your back or side. There are tools that can help! Buy pillows that will hold your body in a neutral position and help you get comfy—maybe it’s time to upgrade to a different mattress or an adjustable bed. Whatever you do, make sure your body is getting the rest it needs to get you through the day.

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