By Jonathan FitzGordon
March 10, 2014 4:25 AM EDT


Have you thought much about the positions in which you sleep? Considering that many of us spend close to a third of our lives between the sheets, if might be worth our while to contemplate how sleeping arrangements might hurt or help us.

It is pretty easy to know if the way you sleep is bothering you. How do you feel when you get out of bed in the morning? Some people jump out of bed ready to run a marathon while others find themselves bent over the bathroom sink, holding on for dear life, as teeth get brushed. Maybe you fall somewhere between those two extremes.

Let’s start with a position that no one should sleep in under any circumstance:

1. On the stomach
If there’s a winner in the worst sleep position contest, it’s stomach sleeping without a doubt.
If you sleep on your belly, your lower back is compressed all night long, and your head and neck are invariably twisting to one or the other side in a fairly extreme manner.

While changing sleep habits might not be the easiest thing in the world, we are a highly adaptable species capable of doing pretty much anything we want, though sometimes extreme measures are called for.

When it comes to sleeping on your stomach, you might need to wear a pocket T-shirt to sleep with a tennis ball tucked into the pocket. It is certainly possible that you might be able to change without it but if not, the tennis ball in the pocket should do the trick.

Another sleep position to be avoided is:

2. On the side with one leg hiked up higher than the other
This position moves us toward stomach sleeping but also twists and torques the pelvis for as long as you maintain the shape. People who adopt this pattern often do so to accommodate tight muscles, so changing this pattern can benefit you in terms of the quality of sleep and balance of your muscles.

Some people need to tie their legs together in order to make this change. You can use a bathrobe belt or something soft, and there’s no need to tie the strap too tight, but as long as the legs can’t separate you will be doing your body a wonderful service.

A great way to sleep for most people is:

3. On the back
Sleeping on the back is an excellent option with three important caveats.

If you sleep on your back, you probably don’t want to use a pillow, because this will force your head up at an unnatural angle.

Both legs should be straight. There’s a tendency for one knee to slide up and out. This should be avoided, as it can twist the pelvis.

Also, if you’re someone with very open hips whose legs flop completely open while lying in a supine position, you can be stressing the hip joints with too much rotation.

Propping up the outer calves or belting the shins is an option if you have open hips as described and don’t want to change your position away from sleeping on your back.

But the winner of the best sleep position for the long term health of your back and body is:

4. On your side, with the legs together
Sleeping on your side with the legs together and the knees aligned is a fine way to serve the needs of your body for sleep. The least amount of stress is placed upon the body when sleeping this way. Your pelvis is well situated, and this variation on the fetal position is both calming and comforting for your nervous system. Placing a pillow between the legs is an excellent complement to this position.

Make your pillow is the right thickness between your ear and your mattress so that both sides of the neck are evenly extended. This way, you’re setting yourself up for a comfortable and sound night’s sleep.

The quality of your sleep shouldn’t be disregarded in the search for a healthier and more fruitful life. The rest we get overnight impacts the energy of our waking hours in ways that are often underestimated. Good sleep positioning goes hand in hand with good sleep efficiency and fruitful waking hours.

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