When it comes to sleeping, we tend to think that whatever position is most comfortable is best for us. However, over time, extended sleeping on your stomach can cause strain in your spine and neck, which can lead to pinched nerves, joint pressure, osteoarthritis, and neck problems. Your chiropractor can help you find alternatives for sleeping on your stomach and put you back into alignment after stomach-sleeping.
The following is a list of reasons why sleeping on your stomach can cause damage to the health of your neck and back over time, and how you might be able to correct this sleeping habit.
1.) It twists your neck unnaturally
Unless you have a pillow with a hole in it to breathe, sleeping on your stomach will require you to turn your neck to either side, which can lock the vertebrae into an unnatural position. Over time, this can cause the loss of the natural curve in the neck, which can pinch the nerves, reduce disc space, and cause headaches or migraines.
There is a connection between the loss of the natural curves in the spine, especially in the neck, and increased health problems such as heart disease and lowered life expectancy. When the nerves are compressed at the top of the spine, it’s difficult to get healthy signals down into the rest of the body and organs.
In severe cases, the unnatural twisting of the neck can cause a herniated disc in the cervical area of your spine, which can cause severe pain, numbness, weakness, and nerve damage.
Your chiropractor can restore the natural curve in your spine, and give you neck traction exercises to do at home to stretch out the disc space between vertebrae. However, the problems will continue if you keep sleeping on your stomach, so it’s best to break that habit.
2.) It flattens the curve of your lower spine
Because most of your weight is centered in your belly area, this can cause your lower body to sag into your mattress. The sagging of your belly also pulls on your spine, taking that section of your spine out of proper alignment. If you sleep on a firm mattress, the pressure of your midsection can actually press against your spine and begin to flatten out its natural curve, again causing issues with alignment over time. Your lower back muscles will begin to ache.
Long-term alignment issues cause undue pressure on your vertebrae and joints and can lead to degenerative changes in the disc space between vertebrae. Slipped, bulging, or narrowed disc space puts you at risk for complications evolving from pinched or damaged nerves. In the lower back, you may develop sciatica, pain or tingling, and weakness or numbness in your lower extremities.
Your chiropractor can use gentle spinal manipulation and flexion distraction to realign your discs and pull the discs apart to alleviate pressure on the nerves. Nerves that are in distress send out pain signals to local muscles and organs, causing severe pain and an interruption in the proper functioning of the organs. It can also decrease blood flow to the area which can cause damage and deterioration of healthy tissue.
3.) It makes your body work harder to breathe
Undue pressure placed on your ribs, diaphragm, and lungs over time may make your body work harder to breathe when you sleep on your stomach. If you are overweight or already have respiratory problems, you may not be getting the proper amount of oxygen into your lungs because the pressure of weight can reduce lung volume.
Inadequate oxygen intake can exacerbate other issues that are already present, such as degenerative changes in the back due to stomach-sleeping. If there’s not enough oxygen and blood flow to nerves and muscles, inflammation and tissue deterioration can become a serious problem.
How to stop sleeping on your stomach
The first step to take to avoid sleeping on your stomach is first to determine how long you spend on your stomach. You may fall asleep this way but end up shifting over to your side or back. If you have a sleeping partner, ask them to keep an eye on you one night and see if you change positions. A sleep study or sleep clinic can also assist you in observing your nocturnal movements.
A pregnancy pillow is an excellent way to prevent yourself from rolling onto your stomach in the middle of the night. Designed for optimum comfort for pregnant women, pregnancy pillows are typically in a large U-shape, and you put yourself in the middle on your back, or your side. Many people put one of the legs of the U in between their knees if they’re laying on their side.
If you absolutely must keep sleeping on your belly, consider propping a pillow beneath your pelvis area to help alleviate pressure on your lower spine. If you can invest in a pillow with a hole in it for breathing so, you don’t have to twist your neck, that would be ideal. Otherwise, try to use a pillow that is very flat so as not to increase the unnatural curving of your neck.