When you lie down to sleep, the position you adopt can affect your health and even your appearance.

When you lie down to sleep, the position you adopt can affect your health and even your appearance.

“Sleeping on your side actually increases the number of wrinkles you have because when you sleep on your side you’re pressing your face against the pillow and that can actually increase the wrinkles, especially if you’re on your side all the time.” said Dr. Ravi Johar, chief medical officer for United Healthcare in the Missouri-Illinois region.

Being rested supports health in many ways. How your body is positioned can help promote the best restful sleep.

Johar is a trained gynaecologist. He said dealing with so many sleep issues and questions during pregnancy led him on a personal quest to learn more about it.

dr Ravi Johar is Chief Medical Officer for United Healthcare in the Missouri-Illinois region. (Courtesy of United Healthcare)

However you sleep — on your back, stomach, or side — Johar said, try not to arch your neck or spine too much.

“Anything you can do to keep your body and spine in a straight line is really beneficial,” he said.

Sleeping on your stomach puts pressure on your breathing and bends your spine and neck into somewhat abnormal positions that can cause pain in your joints and muscles.

“If sleeping on your stomach is best, you should put a pillow under your pelvis to keep your lumbar spine in a neutral position to help with back pain and things like that,” he said.

Side sleeping can cause neck and shoulder pain.

“Because of the pillow [can] Elevating your neck in not the most normal of positions and through the night can cause problems. Switching from side to side during the night can help prevent putting too much pressure on one side of the body,” Johar said.

The fetal position is good for circulation, helps prevent snoring and is good if you’re pregnant, but Johar cautions against bringing your legs too close to your chest, which can cause breathing difficulties, pain and stiffness. It is not recommended for people with arthritis.

Sleeping on your back is easy on the musculoskeletal system, as the body settles into a relatively neutral position. However, it can increase snoring and worsen sleep apnea symptoms.

“It lets your tongue fall back down your throat and that hampers your breathing,” he said. “When that happens, you start snoring. And you start to have difficulty breathing in and can even stop breathing at times, which is sleep apnea and that can cause all sorts of problems throughout your life.

Sleep apnea should be taken seriously, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, which states that “people with sleep apnea characteristically make intermittent wheezing or ‘snorting’ sounds during which their sleep is temporarily disrupted.”

Properly placed pillows can help people stay and stay in proper alignment while sleeping.

Stomach sleepers can place a pillow under the hips to elevate the lumbar region of the back. Back sleepers with lower back issues may want a pillow under their knees to help align their spine. Side sleepers might benefit from a pillow between their knees.

The Mayo Clinic describes and demonstrates pillow practices on its website.

“There are actually pillows that are designed for side sleepers and back sleepers to help balance everything and prevent some of the neck and spine pain that we’ve been talking about,” Johar said. “There’s a lot of new technology out there.”

Visit the sleep.org website for more tips on finding the best sleeping position.

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