For twenty four years I have been on a mission to reform the nighttime postures of my patients, friends, and family. Of particular concern to me is the damaging habit of stomach sleeping. While it seems harmless to those who find this position to be most comfortable, overtime it can cause more harm than good.
Even if you’ve slept this way for 30 years, one day you will wake with your spine in a bad mood that just won’t quit. (Just as your formerly sound 30-year roof will one day begin to leak.) The thousands of patients I’ve treated during my career would all attest: chronic back or neck pain is not worth the pleasure of stomach sleeping.
The first reason why the stomach-lying position is so precarious has to do with the nutritional feeding of the discs in your low back. The slightly arched position that lying on your belly creates in your lower back, prohibits your discs from absorbing the nutrients they need to stay healthy. “Starved” discs will begin to break down giving rise to bulged or herniated discs.
The second problem with stomach sleeping is that it requires you to fully turn your head to the side in order to breathe. A full night of holding your neck in this end range position will adversely affect not only the discs in your lower neck, but it will act to break down the joints as well leading to, or aggravating, existing arthritis.
The next best position for the stomach-sleeper who can’t seem to sleep comfortably on their side is the position I call “pseudo-stomach sleeping”. First purchase a body pillow. Begin in side lying with the long pillow in front of your chest and in between your knees. Place your head on the side edge of your regular pillow, so your cheek is supported, but your face is off the pillow. Turn yourself forward (chest against the body pillow) and straighten your bottom leg out behind you. This way you can feel the pressure of the “bed” against your front, all the while protecting your spine from the extremes of stomach-lying.