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American adults are in pain. A 2015 study from the National Institutes of Health showed that 25 million U.S. adults cope with chronic pain every day. While everyone’s suffering is different—there are as many sources of pain as people—for many, how you sleep plays a crucial role.
Members of my own family are a part of this statistic: My grandma has purchased every pillow on the market to find one that supports her ever-aching neck, and my father relies on physical therapy exercises to keep his shoulder pain in check. I myself have tried purchasing a supportive mattress and pliable pillow, and I eat healthy and exercise regularly, but I still feel sore and stiff in the morning. According to the experts, it might be time to change my sleeping position.
Advice for Side-Sleepers
Most Americans sleep on their sides, according to the National Sleep Foundation. While many of them presumably do it without pain, this is not the best way to sleep. It can cause shoulder and hip pain, for one.
On top of that, several studies have shown that sleeping on your right side can aggravate heartburn. Scientists think that’s because lying in this position loosens your lower esophageal sphincter, the involuntary muscles that keep acid from rising up out of your stomach and into your throat. Sleeping on the left side, however, seems to keep the trap door between the throat and stomach shut, so leftie sleepers are less likely to feel the burn.
Shelby Harris, a sleep medicine expert and a professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, says that there’s no need to change your sleep position if it’s working for you. But if you’re waking up in pain, you can take steps to improve your situation.
She says side sleepers should buy pillows that are thick enough to support their heads, taking some of the pressure off their shoulders. If you experience acid reflux or heartburn, try to sleep on your left side. And, Harris says, tuck a pillow under your knees to better support your lower back.
101 on Stomach Sleeping
Side sleeping is hardly the worst of it. Though they’re rare, the seven percent of stomach sleepers are likely doing themselves a world of hurt. Because this position puts pressure on the entirety of their body, they’re at risk of numbness and tingling. If they turn their head to one side or another to breathe, that further increases the possibility of muscle and joint pain.
If you’re a stomach sleeper, Harris recommends using a flatter pillow to reduce strain on your neck. Other doctors suggest putting a pillow underneath your forehead to elevate your mouth and nose. This lets you sleep with your face straight down, eliminating that crick in the neck altogether.