Stomach (prone) sleepers and back (supine) sleepers might prefer these positions to any other, but that doesn’t mean they're good for them. Mounting evidence suggests that side (lateral) sleeping improves the chances of living a longer, healthier life. Here are four positive impacts side sleeping has on your body, according to several medical studies.
1. IT CAN HELP DELAY THE ONSET OF PARKINSON'S AND ALZHEIMER'S.
A study out of Stony Brook University School of Medicine, published in the Journal of Neuroscience this past summer, suggests that side sleeping could help delay the onset of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Using dynamic contrast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), researchers discovered that the brains of anesthetized mice flush fluid, along with waste products, most effectively when asleep and in the lateral position. Neuroscientists theorize that a buildup of chemical debris may play a significant role in the progression of these diseases.
2. IT'S SAFER THAN SLEEPING ON YOUR STOMACH.
Not only can prone sleeping lead to the equivalent of a landfill in the skull, it can also kill an epileptic, according to a study published in the journal Neurology. After reviewing 253 cases of sudden, unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) during tonic-clonic seizure—when a person typically stiffens, jerks, and loses consciousness—researchers realized that 73 percent of the victims died in the prone position. And in a subgroup of 88 subjects, 86 percent of those stomach sleepers were younger than 40 years old, suggesting that SUDEP may share mechanisms similar to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
3. IT CAN COMBAT MILD SLEEP APNEA.
Supine sleepers who snore can expire unexpectedly if they suffer from sleep apnea and stop breathing. Sleep apnea is often a co-morbid condition, accompanying pre-diabetes and obesity. A study published by the University of Chicago Medical Center suggests that subjects with both conditions improved after they were treated with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) throughout the night. Sleeping on the side is another way to combat mild sleep apnea, and likely helps reduce burgeoning blood sugar.
4. IT'S BETTER FOR YOUR ORGANS.
Finally, sleeping on the left side, as opposed to the right, is better for the organs, including the heart (unless it’s been damaged by an attack or failure), spleen, and intestines. Lateral sleeping encourages the lymph system to drain and digestion to improve. In fact, numerous studies have found that sleeping on the left side reduces the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease, and many gastroenterologists, medical sites, and health and wellness centers recommend it.
Of course, there is a caveat to side sleeping, according to the Cleveland Clinic Center for Spine Health: proper alignment. If your waist is equal to or wider than your hips, then a firm surface keeps the spine in a neutral position; if the opposite is true, a softer surface works. A pillow is also always necessary to prop up the neck to the correct angle—or prone and supine sleepers will simply be trading a host of potential health concerns for a big batch of very real aches and pains.