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Position Matters – The Right Side is Not Always Right (And not just in sleep -10/26/10)

October 26, 2010

And Your Position Is…

So where do you sleep?  On your back, on your right or left side? Flat on your stomach?

Chances are good you do all three, even if you don’t know it.  People move like crazy in sleep, especially in “phase transitions” where they go from light sleep into REM sleep.  One Austrian physiologist decided to study sleep positions, but quit when he reached nearly 800.

Do  most folks know their position when they sleep?  No.  They generally remember where they wake up.  Many a person studied in a sleep lab will tell you they woke up in the same position they went to sleep, but have actually moved dozens of times – the videotape tells the story.

But position significantly affects health  – even when you’re not conscious. Generally people snore and have more stopped breathing episodes, or apneas, on their backs.  The reason is gravity – the tissue at the back of the throat  that blocks the airway, which causes most apneas, is more prone to be blocking when you’re sleeping flat on your back.

Some people solve their snoring problem and apnea problem  with  “tennis ball technique” – tennis balls sewn into a pocket on the small of the back’s part of a T shirt.  Others find this uncomfortable and an interference with sexual matters.  Some move to the bulkier Zzoma device, which looks like a large inverse chastity belt, and find that an even bigger block to comfort and interpersonal intimacy.

Yet there’s more to night-time position than breathing and snoring.

Gut Feelings at Night

Lots of people, especially in a deeply recessionary economy, have problems with their guts.  Many in America suffer from GERD – gastroesophageal reflux disease.  Stomach acid comes up.

This often happens at night. – which wakes you up.

People don’t buffer acid as well during night-time sleep as during the day.  So GERD wakes up millions.

Functional dyspepsia, or a feeling of pain and fullness in the gut, also wakes people up.  According to new research from Dartmouth, it afflicts 10% of the population, and triples the rate of sleep problems.

Many people deal with GERD and functional dyspepsia by sleeping on an incline.  It’s not the easiest thing to do – you really have to put blocks under the mattress to raise the head of the bed 4 inches or more.  Highly marketed, popular  pillows generally won’t cut it.  Yet sleeping on your side may help.

Just not the right side.

For reasons unclear, as reported in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, people have more heartburn sleeping on their right than their left side. Sleeping on either side should prevent apneas, increasingly common in the population.

Leftists Win

Overall, sleeping on your left side seems to be physiologically superior for much of the population – though certainly not all – some folks really do sleep much better on their back.  So how do you get to sleep on your left side?

Tennis ball technique, as above.  Or a friendly bed partner who can behaviorally snuggle you into position.

But recognize that position matters in the daytime, too.  Lots of Americans, perhaps a third, complain of GERD.  One way to prevent GERD is to use gravity well  –  to stand up  after meals.

A particularly useful way to do this is to follow FAR – Food-Activity-Rest – as a pattern during the day.  Not only can going FAR shrink waistlines and weight, but it can get people fit, and by walking after a meal, really take down belly fat.

And FAR can help reduce GERD – some would argue you can reduce symptoms 50%, especially if you can walk 20 minutes after a meal.

Which by making you fitter and preventing GERD, can also help you sleep.

So your grandmother was right – position is one of the most important things in life – night and day.
Rest, sleep, Sarasota Sleep Doctor, well-being, regeneration, longevity, body clocks, insomnia, sleep disorders, the rest doctor, matthew edlund, the power of rest, the body clock, psychology today, huffington post, redbook, longboat key news

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