The least common sleep posture is the prone sleep position. According to News Medical, approximately 7% of the population sleeps on their stomachs(1).
When you do, you lay flat on your belly with your face turned to the side. You may tuck your arms and hands under your body. Or keep them at your side or stretched out. Your legs are usually straight.
The Right Way of Achieving the Prone Sleep Position
Begin by lying flat on your belly. Then extend your arms outward. Don’t forget to turn your head to one side for easy breathing. Adjust the pillows and your body until you find the sweet spot.
Take note because this is important. If you're a stomach sleeper, it's important to have the right pillow and mattress to avoid discomfort.
Use a very thin pillow or none at all. This prevents your neck from tilting backward, which may cause misalignment with your spine. A second pillow (just as thin) under your hips helps with spinal alignment.
When it comes to the type of mattress, choose one that’s firm. A too-soft bed causes your belly to sink, placing your spine out of alignment. Go with spring and hybrid mattresses to prevent your lower back from overarching.
💡 Key Takeaway: The prone sleep position is achieved by lying flat on your stomach with your head turned slightly to one side. Choose the right pillow to relieve pressure on your neck. And keep your spine in neutral alignment.
Improved Breathing: A Benefit of the Prone Position
Prone sleeping can improve breathing by keeping airways open throughout the night. This may reduce snoring caused by restricted airflow. Another potential benefit is that it may help people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
OSA occurs when the soft tissue at the back of your throat collapses during sleep. This results in blocked airways, which causes you to stop and start breathing throughout the night.
Some studies suggest that sleeping in a prone position may reduce symptoms of OSA. A study in the National Library of Medicine revealed that it may result in fewer pauses in breathing(2). This is because the tissue on the back of your throat is less likely to collapse as it’s pulled forward by gravity.
If you snore or have mild OSA, sleeping in a prone position may help lessen the number of times you wake up during the night. The fewer your awakenings, the better your sleep quality.
💡 Key Takeaway: Prone sleeping can improve breathing by keeping the airways open. It may help reduce snoring and OSA symptoms.
Risks of Prone Sleep Position
While this sleep position has its pros, it also comes with risks. It’s important to understand what they are to see if sleeping prone is right for you.
May Cause Neck Pain
Sleeping on your stomach may put a lot of pressure on your neck. It’s no shocker considering your neck is twisted to the side. Your head and spine are misaligned, especially when using a pillow with a high loft.
If you’re not careful it may lead to neck pain and in the worst case, injury. That’s why it’s essential to pick the right pillow. A thin one provides comfort and support without tilting your head too far back.
Could Result in Back Pain
Sleeping in a prone position can strain your spine and back if you aren’t intentional about spine alignment. Think about it. Bad posture while you’re sitting or standing causes back pain. It’s the same as you sleep.
And that’s why a firm mattress should be your go-to if you’re a stomach sleeper. If your stomach sinks into the bed, it strains your lower back. And puts your spine out of neutral alignment.
And that’s not all — expect to feel aches and pains in your other joints and muscles as well.
Might Cause Wrinkles
We won’t lie. Sleeping with your head turned to one side may lead to wrinkles. The constant friction between your head and the mattress (or pillow) could cause sleep creases and wrinkles to form.
Real Simple says that sleeping on one side of your face for hours on end may cause cyclical swelling(3). Constant inflammation may lead to sagging over time as well.
Sleeping with your head turned to one side is unavoidable in the prone position. Consider investing in silk sheets or a silk sleep mask, which are gentler on the skin.
Best Avoided by Pregnant Women
Some say sleeping in the prone position is still okay in the first trimester. But you should avoid it altogether anytime after. In fact, you should just avoid it altogether to be safe.
Prone sleeping with a bun in the oven doesn’t leave much room for the baby. Plus, you’ll be putting way too much strain on your spine. Instead, sleep on your side so you and your baby benefit from optimum blood flow.
Also, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies under 1 year of age should sleep on their backs(4). They have a higher risk of experiencing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) sleeping on their stomachs. They may accidentally roll on their face and suffocate.
💡 Key Takeaway: Prone sleeping can be comfy and beneficial for some. But it can also lead to serious health risks if not done right. These include neck and back injuries, as well as a higher risk of SIDS in infants. If you have neck and back problems or are pregnant, this position isn’t for you.
FAQs on the Prone Sleep Position
Is the prone position good for sleeping?
Yes. Sleeping on your stomach can be beneficial for some people. It helps reduce snoring and sleep apnea by allowing the airways to remain open. But it’s important to note that this position isn’t suitable for everyone.
It can cause neck and shoulder discomfort in some cases. And it should be avoided by pregnant women and infants under 1.
Is it better to sleep supine or prone?
The best sleeping position for most people is supine or lying on your back. This allows the spine to remain aligned. And it helps keep the neck and head in a neutral position.
Prone, or lying on your stomach, can cause spinal misalignment and strain the lower back muscles.
However, some people find that they sleep better when prone as it can provide relief from snoring or other respiratory issues.
Ultimately, it's important to experiment with different positions until you find what works best and is safest for you.
What are the healthiest sleeping positions?
The healthiest sleeping positions depend on the individual.
But in general, sleeping on your back with a pillow under your knees is recommended. This position helps keep the spine in a neutral position. It also reduces pressure on your joints.
Sleeping on your side with a pillow between your legs can also help with lower back pain. It’s also good for proper spinal alignment.
Sleeping on your stomach may help reduce snoring and symptoms of sleep apnea. Slide a thin pillow beneath your head.
Finally, avoid sleeping in the fetal position as it can cause neck and shoulder strain over time.
What is the unhealthiest sleeping position?
The unhealthiest sleeping position is on your stomach. This position strains the neck and back. Try sleeping in a side or back position for optimal health benefits.
What are the side effects of a prone sleeping position?
Prone sleeping can lead to back and neck pain. It may cause an unnatural curvature to your spine. It may also cause numbness or tingling sensations in the arms and legs.
Why is the prone tummy sleeping position not recommended?
Experts usually don’t recommend sleeping on your stomach. It’s because there’s a possibility of neck and back injuries. And because it strains the spine, it may lead to chronic lower back pain.
Another concern is it may even cause facial wrinkles. This happens because of prolonged contact between your face and pillow.
We’d be lying if we said there are no risks to the prone sleep position. But if you think it’s right for you, speak to your doctor first. It’s important to get it right to maximize this sleep position’s benefits.
Want to know more about sleep positions, check out these articles:
Finding a sleep position that works for you is essential to getting restorative shuteye. We hope this post helps you determine if the prone sleeping position is right (or not) for you.
(1) “A Guide to Healthy Sleep Positions.” News Medical, https://www.news-medical.net/health/A-Guide-to-Healthy-Sleep-Positions.aspx. Accessed 22 March 2023.
(2) “Effect of prone positioning in mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea syndrome.” National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25618193/. Accessed 22 March 2023.
(3) “This Is the Best—and Worst—Sleeping Position for Facial Aging, According to a Doctor.” Real Simple, www.realsimple.com/beauty-fashion/skincare/anti-aging/best-sleep-positions. Accessed 22 March 2023.
(4) “Safe Sleep.” American Academy of Pediatrics, www.aap.org/en/patient-care/safe-sleep/. Accessed 22 March 2023.S
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