In this modern world getting 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night is a privilege that many of us don’t possess. In fact, there are various reasons that prevent us from getting enough sleep at night, ranging from stress to eating habits.
The question is ” can sleep position be one of the factors that are strong enough to influence sleep?”.
Well, various studies and research indicate that; sleep quality, as well as quantity, can be affected either positively or negatively according to the sleep position (1),(2).
While there is an ongoing discussion about the best sleep position, sleeping in the prone position seems to be the worst position in terms of health and sleep quality. For those who don’t know; sleeping in the prone position is another way of saying sleeping on your stomach.
What if you are a stomach sleeper from your earliest recollection? Should you give up on sleeping on your stomach as this position has negative effects on your health and sleep?
First of all, you should know that you are not alone at all if you are a stomach sleeper. Various surveys show that approximately 10 to 15 per cent of adults prefer sleeping on their bellies (3),(4).
It is even claimed that sleeping in a prone position can be an effective way to ease sleep apnea and snoring (5),(6).
However, apart from this potential benefit, always sleeping on your stomach has many disadvantages and can damage your health, especially in the long run.
What Makes Sleeping on Your Stomach Bad?
Before start discovering the potential disadvantages of sleeping on your stomach, we need to explain why sleeping on your tummy is not a healthy way of sleeping.
Why sleeping on your stomach is not a good idea? Well, it is all about your body’s position while sleeping on your tummy.
When you sleep face down your head is turned in one direction and may remain in that position for long hours. When that happens, stress on your spine increases significantly. This increased stress on your spine can also cause stress in the other parts of your body mainly the shoulders, joints, neck and muscles (7),(8).
To put it simply, sleeping on your tummy is not ideal because this position distorts your neutral spine position. Though, it is important to note that sleeping on your belly for a couple of nights shouldn’t cause any negative effects.
6 Disadvantages of Sleeping On Your Stomach
Now that we have understood why sleeping regularly in a prone position is not a good idea, we can focus on the consequences of stomach sleeping.
Here are the 6 disadvantages of sleeping on your stomach.
1- Causes Neck Pain
None of us needs to be a professor to understand why sleeping in a prone position can cause neck pain.
Unless you have a specially designed pillow that allows you to breathe through, like the one seen in the image below, you have to keep your head turned in one direction to breathe while sleeping on your stomach.
The problem is when you keep your head turned in one direction to breathe while sleeping face down, your head remains in this position for long hours. And, this faulty position of the head can strain your neck muscles, resulting in neck pain (9).
Dr Andrew Bang ( chiropractor) from Cleveland Clinic, explains the situation by saying “Imagine standing and looking one way for two or three hours at a time. Stretching your neck muscle for that long creates soreness,” (10),(11).
We all have experienced neck pain at some point in our lives. In most cases, after a couple of days, neck pain goes away.
Nonetheless, according to Healthline; sleeping on your stomach, thus keeping your neck on one side can even lead to a herniated disk, a painful condition that can even cause permanent nerve damage (7),(12).
2- Increases the Pressure on Your Spine
One of the main problems with stomach sleeping is that your spine loses its neutral position in this particular sleep position, as we indicated earlier. When this happens, the pressure on your spine increases significantly, causing back pain (7).
But make no mistake, the pain wouldn’t be only in your back. The pain could easily radiate to other parts of the body including joints, shoulders and muscles.
The reason that pain radiates from your back to other parts of the body is that the spine is responsible for communication between the brain and the body; therefore, pain in the spine can easily radiate to other parts of the body through the nerves (7),(13).
It is safe to say that stress that happens on the spine ( for instance; due to sleeping on your stomach ) can negatively impact all parts of your body and can even cause sensations like numbness, tingling or nerve pain in any part of your body.
Moreover, it is important to underline that sleeping on your stomach can worsen lower back pain.
3- Harmful For Pregnant Women
If you are a pregnant woman, like many things you may have to change your sleeping position as well, especially after the first 12 weeks (first trimester).
In terms of the best sleep position during pregnancy experts recommend sleeping on sides, ideally on the left side (14),(15),(16).
What about sleeping on your stomach during pregnancy?
According to American Pregnancy Association; pregnant women need to avoid sleeping on their stomachs as well as on their back, particularly after the first trimester of the pregnancy (17).
The first reason is that sleeping on the stomach after the first 12 weeks of the pregnancy will not be comfortable due to the growing belly and breasts.
In addition to being uncomfortable, sleeping in a prone position while pregnant can also worsen lower back pain, which is common in pregnancy (14).
4- Is Not Ideal For People With Acid Reflux
Acid reflux is becoming more and more common and is estimated to affect millions, if not billions of people around the world (18),(19).
People who suffer from acid reflux should choose their sleep position wisely to avoid nighttime heartburn.
Speaking of sleep position and acid reflux; you need to know that if you suffer from acid reflux, you should avoid sleeping on your stomach. It begs the question why?
If you have acid reflux disease, that means your sphincter muscle ( a bundle of smooth muscle at the end of your food pipe ) doesn’t close tightly after allowing the foods and drinks into your stomach.
When it remains relaxed the stomach acid or content can go back to the food pipe. Tough, it is not a big deal if you are sitting or standing because gravity keeps the stomach acid where it belongs.
However, when lying down, gravity no longer keeps the stomach acid in your stomach, thereby the acid can flood into your food pipe, causing heartburn.
So, we can say that when you sleep on your stomach, especially if you sleep without a pillow, gravity works against you as it doesn’t keep the stomach acid below.
The second reason is increased abdominal pressure.
Susan Besser, MD, primary care physician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore says ” this is the worst position to sleep in if you have acid reflux. Sleeping on your stomach puts pressure on your stomach and can cause food to come back up” (20).
The conclusion is if you are prone to heartburn, you have a great reason to avoid sleeping on your tummy.
5- May Increase Wrinkles
If you are a stomach sleeper, the potential disadvantages of sleeping face down that we have counted so far may not be enough for you to reconsider your sleep position. Well, this one might work. Sleeping on your stomach can lead to wrinkles!! Here is why…
When you sleep in the prone position, one side of your head is smashed into the pillow for an extended period of time during the night. This repetitive pressure on either side of your head can be strong enough to cause wrinkles.
This is especially true if you aren’t a young individual whose body doesn’t produce enough collagen that could repair the potential damage caused by stomach sleeping.
Michael Breus, PhD ( a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine ) who talked to Self.com said: “Sleeping on your stomach not only causes back pain but leads to wrinkles as well. This is because you’re placing your face directly on the pillow, which causes friction on the skin.” (21),(22). If you are determined to prevent sleep wrinkles, you should be sleeping on your back.
6- Decreases Quality of Sleep
Thus far, we have counted a couple of reasons that could explain why sleeping on your stomach is not a good idea. The thing that these reasons have in common is that almost all of these consequences of sleeping face down can also decrease the quality of sleep.
- When you sleep on your stomach, you can experience neck pain, which can easily prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep.
- When you sleep on your stomach, you can experience numbness, tingling, muscle pain as well as nerve pain, all of these ailments can be strong enough to decrease your quality of sleep.
- Whilst sleeping on your stomach, you may experience nighttime heartburn. And, it can wake you up in the middle of the night or keep you awake.
- If you are pregnant and sleep on your stomach, the pressure on your abdomen increases significantly and that disrupts the quality of your sleep.
To sum up; sleeping on your stomach can decrease the quality of your sleep significantly, thus leading to daytime fatigue and mental problems.
Tarkan is an experienced health writer ( currently more than 600 articles ) and also the founder of this website namely www.neededforhealth.com. His expertise in health stems from in-depth medical research and knowledge which he obtained over the course of many years.
Tarkan enjoys sharing factual knowledge on health, psychology and nutrition. He always aims to deliver evidence-based recommendations, provide links to related scientific studies.