Sleeping Positions

Introduction

Which sleep position is the most optimal one for our own snooze? What about naps, are there any special exceptions? There can be many other questions you may ask, especially when sleeping polyphasically. 

This post will cover important topics about sleeping positions like the following:

  • Various sleeping positions
  • Why they are important for polyphasic sleep and sleep in general
  • The benefits of each position and more.

Why do sleeping positions matter?

Polyphasic sleep is all about maximizing sleep efficiency by getting the most out of it as possible. That is also why it is often necessary to fall asleep timely. Aside from the usual optimization of sleep hygiene, which is done by controlling food intake times, light exposure, exercise times etc. having a comfortable sleeping position is also essential. You do not want to find yourself rolling around in bed not being able to get shut-eye, thirty minutes past the intended bedtime. Therefore, it is important to know in which position the body is feeling the most comfortable.

Finding your best sleep position

Finding the best personal sleeping position can be a bit tricky, so here are a few tips:

  • The first step would be to simply have a look at the position you usually wake up from whenever you sleep at least one sleep cycle or just generally after your usual sleep. This is because people may not really move around much during the 20-minute naps. That position is most likely the one that works best for you.
  • Another option is to just try out various sleeping positions. You should use one position multiple times to get a feeling for it, and switching sides is also very helpful if possible.
  • Anecdotally speaking, you can also try to remind yourself about which sleeping positions you’ve used the most when you were younger.

Common sleep positions for laying down

  • Back (supine):
      • Pros:
      • Simple, easy to set up.
      • One of the best positions to freely breathe with.
      • Usually good against Acid reflux, as long as your head is somewhat higher than your stomach.
    • Cons:
      • May increase or cause snoring.
  • Belly (prone):
    • Pros:
      • Unknown
    • Cons:
      • Hard to keep the spine in a neutral position.
      • Harder to breathe.
      • Can lead to back and neck pain
      • Not really recommended

Sleep Positions on the Sides:

The glymphatic system, which removes waste products from the brain1  (including soluble amyloid β) functions most effectively during sleep. Research has shown, that sleeping superiorly on the side or alternatively in a supine position clears the most waste products compared to other sleeping positions2.

  • Left side:
    • Pros:
      • Sleeping on the left side will make it easier for multiple organs to function better than compared to sleeping on the right. For example, the transition of food from the small intestine to the large intestine (valva iliocaecalis) will be smoother when its position is higher than the rest of the digestion system. This is all because gravity can do the work.
      • Majorly superior side for people who suffer from acid reflux3.
  • Right side:
    • Pros:
      • Lower heart rate and less sympathetic nervous activity4.
      • Fewer heart palpitations5.
    • Cons:
      • Not ideally supporting the same organ function as opposed to the left side.
  • Right fetus (variation of the side position):
    • May be personally favored over the side lying position, but has equal benefits.
  • Left fetus:
    • Lots of similarities to the side positions in terms of health and organs.

NOTE:

  • The right lateral decubitus position was superior for significantly longer periods than the left lateral decubitus and supine positions.
  • Sympathetic nervous modulation was most attenuated in the right lateral decubitus position.

General conclusions

  • The right lateral decubitus position was preferable for significantly longer periods than the left lateral decubitus and supine positions.
  • Sympathetic nervous modulation was most attenuated in the right lateral decubitus position.
  • Right side is good against tachycardia/arrhythmia.
  • Left side is good against bradycardia because it doesn’t decrease the heart rate further.

Sleep positions for sitting (chair)

Note! Sleeping on a straight flat surface is still recommended over a sitting position, however, there is absolutely nothing to worry about if you use a sitting position for naps. Still, it should be mostly avoided for cores as your spine needs some rest in a neutral position so it can optimally prepare for another day of moving all the time. Here are a few examples for how sleeping positions while sitting can be applied:

  • Straight up with the head leaning onto a near wall.
  • Invest in a travel pillow so your head wouldn’t drop when you start to go unconscious.
  • Leaned backwards, so an almost flat position.
  • Leaned forwards, head on the desk.

Sleeping while sitting is one of the most universally applicable sleeping positions, as long as you have something to put your head onto.

Things to take care of

  • You need to place your arms in a way that they will not go numb. Do not restrict blood supply or nerve innervation to your arms by placing your arms under your head for example. 
  • Try to keep your spine in a straight, not side-bent or rotated position. Normal front flexion is alright for naps, but should be avoided during cores.

So which sleeping position for core and which for naps?

Sleep Positions for Cores:

  • Generally speaking, you should avoid the sitting positions for any longer duration. The purpose is to avoid these for any core sleeps as your spine needs some rest in a neutral position. Setting up the spine properly will optimally prepare for your overall mobility in the day.
  • Core sleeps give you the most rest and require the highest sleep quality and hygiene. Thus, you should ensure this by sleeping in the most comfortable position.
  • In addition, you should sleep in the horizontal position where you can fall asleep the fastest.

Sleep Positions for Naps

sh9p4.png (600×600)
Settling for a sleep position before napping
  • Short sleeps are not as crucial for body’s recovery as core sleeps, so you can handle these in an upright or sitting position.
  • If you work in a chair most of the day and now also want to sleep in it, try to still move around during every spare moment you have, especially right after you have slept.
  • Get out of the chair and do some stretching and mobility exercises to work against things such as chronic back pain or poor blood circulation due to immobility.
  • Sleeping on a straight flat surface however is still recommended over a sitting position.
  • Make sure you spare some time before your nap to find a nap spot or settle down for a comfortable position before sleeping. 

Main author: Feili

Page last updated: 21 January 2021

Reference

  1. John Douillard. (2018). Best Sleep Position: Ayurveda’s Benefits of Sleeping on Left Side.
  2. Lee, H., Xie, L., Yu, M., Kang, H., Feng, T., Deane, R., Logan, J., Nedergaard, M., & Benveniste, H. (2015). The Effect of Body Posture on Brain Glymphatic Transport. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 35(31), 11034–11044.
  3. Katz, L. C., Just, R., & Castell, D. O. (1994). Body position affects recumbent postprandial reflux. Journal of clinical gastroenterology, 18(4), 280–283.
  4. Fujita, M., Miyamoto, S., Sekiguchi, H., Eiho, S., & Sasayama, S. (2000). Effects of posture on sympathetic nervous modulation in patients with chronic heart failure. Lancet (London, England), 356(9244), 1822–1823.
  5. Miyamoto, S., Fujita, M., Sekiguchi, H., Okano, Y., Nagaya, N., Ueda, K., Tamaki, S., Nohara, R., Eiho, S., & Sasayama, S. (2001). Effects of posture on cardiac autonomic nervous activity in patients with congestive heart failure. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 37(7), 1788–1793.