Does it matter which position you sleep in? - (1/17/2023)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro 

Mrs. Brandywine came into the pharmacy to pick up some prescriptions. She mentioned to the pharmacist that, for the New Year, she and her husband, both in their late 50s, treated themselves to an expensive performance bed. “Those are wonderful,” exclaimed the pharmacist. “They do everything but go down to the kitchen and make you a chocolate souffle!” 

“Yes, the vibrating feature on my side of the bed is very satisfying,” laughed Mrs. Brandywine. “But what I was most concerned about was Henry’s snoring. We have been to sleep specialists, neurologists, ear, nose, and throat doctors – the full gamut! The only thing that works is if he sleeps sitting up. So, with this new bed, if he starts to snore, I can adjust his side to raise his head. But isn't sleeping sitting up bad for you overall?”

Sleeping in an upright position has its advantages. If you have back problems, sleeping sitting up maintains the natural curvature of the spine. Hence there will be less strain on your backbone. Ideally, one should use a spine pillow – available at many sleep specialty shops or online  - to support your backbone as you sleep.  People who suffer from GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, a type of heartburn, often find it difficult to sleep because lying down can result in pain and discomfort. Sleeping upright can be a satisfying solution for these people, as it keeps the stomach contents from going up into the esophagus. In addition, sleeping upright can help reduce the risk of stomach acid regurgitation into your esophagus. Sleeping upright is neither healthy nor unhealthy. If you can rest comfortably and get enough shuteye, the upright position may best the best option for you. Some people have medical conditions that make sitting up comfier for sleeping, such as obesity or breathing problems.  

Do we consciously choose the position in which we sleep? Or does our body conform to whichever position makes us feel better? “I try to sleep on my back,” said Mrs. Brandywine. “But when I wake in the morning, I am on my stomach. And then I do have some back strain.” Training oneself to change sleep positions can be tedious. The pharmacist suggested a softer pillow to place less pressure on the neck and back areas. He says that the Sleep Foundation recommends that one of the best sleeping positions is on one’s side or some variation of the fetal position. Here, whether you have sleep apnea, when you gasp for air during the night, or are pregnant, side sleeping allows air to flow more naturally, eases compression on the spine, and lets one stretch out one’s legs for improved circulation and less cramping. 

Older people have aches and pains that make sleeping an exercise in futility. If you have a bad hip, then the best position is on your back with a pillow under your knees or on your good side with a pillow between your knees. Why? For back sleepers, a pillow under the knees takes the pressure off your hips. For side sleepers, a pillow between the knees helps keep your hips and back from sagging and rotating.

The Brandywines are happy with their new bed. “I think this bed will help to save our marriage,” stated Mrs. Brandywine. “We were planning to get a sleep divorce.” Sleep divorce is a relatively new term in which a couple decides to move into separate bedrooms. The partners want to stay together and be intimate with each other but want to sleep alone. The reasons can include snoring, tossing, turning, and preferring different sleep temperatures. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world,” she told the pharmacist. “But we are too frisky to stay apart for too long.” “Mazel tov!” cheered the pharmacist.  

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a recovering pharmacist and writer-in-residence at Rx-Press.

The content contained in this article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Reliance on any information provided in this article is solely at your own risk.




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