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Why Is Sleeping On Your Stomach Bad?

image of our writer Filip Maric

Written By Filip

Sleep Advisor

Woman sleeping on stomach

2 April 2024 5 min read

Many people wonder – is sleeping on your stomach bad? Well, let's put that question to bed and see exactly how sleeping on your stomach impacts your body!

Is sleeping on your stomach bad? Well, it depends on who you ask. Some people say that it's the best way to sleep, while others strongly disagree, maintaining their stance that tummy sleeping is one of the worst things you can do for your health. So which is it?

The truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle. There are far worse things you can do to harm your health, and on the same note, there are so many better things you can do to get a full night's rest. So, let's settle this debate once and for all. Shall we?

What are the bad effects of sleeping on the stomach?

a man sleeping on stomach in his bed.

We do lean more towards the “stomach sleeping position is bad” side of things, not because we're biased, but because academic and medical associations say so. Out of all sleeping positions – this one's the worst.

To defend our “stance”, we will outline some of the main “side effects” of this sleep position, starting with the most obvious one – spine misalignment.

Spine misalignment

The human spine is not meant to be flat. In fact, it's S-shaped, with a natural curve that starts at the base of the neck and continues all the way down to the lower back. And, this is the natural curve we're talking about, not the side-to-side S-curve. That's scoliosis, which can also be aggravated by sleeping on your stomach, too.

But the thing is – you don't sleep completely flat when you sleep on your stomach. When you lie face-down on your bed, your hips sink into the mattress, below your shoulders, which is arguably even worse than laying completely flat.

In other words, when you fall asleep on your stomach, this natural curve is either flattened out or over-extended, neither of which are good for the desired neutral position of spine, and they can both lead to all sorts of problems, including:..

Possible neck, back or shoulder pain

…all kinds of pains.

For starters, when your head is turned to one side for extended periods of time (which it often is when you're sleeping on your stomach), it can cause neck pain and stiffness. You'll often wake up with a very sore neck, and a limited range of motion, leading to all kinds of problems.

On the other hand, lower back pain is perhaps the most common complaint among stomach sleepers. Since your spine is not in its natural position, it puts extra strain on your lower back, which can lead to pain and discomfort that can easily turn chronic if you don't fix your sleeping posture.

And then there are the shoulders. When you're lying on your stomach, your arms are often bent at awkward angles, which can again lead to pain and stiffness. Not to mention, if mix sleep positions (stomach to side sleeping), all that extra weight on your shoulders can cause lead to numbness, pressure, or tingling in your arms. Or, complete numbness in arms if you spend the whole night sleeping on yours.

More facial wrinkles

Did you know that sleeping on your stomach can give you wrinkles? Well, it's true.

The constant pressure from your pillow on your forehead, cheeks, and chin leads to the formation of fine lines and wrinkles over time. And, if you're using a harsh pillow – this effect is even more pronounced.

Not to mention, all that squishing can also cause sleep creases, which are vertical lines that appear on either side of your mouth. These are not permanent, but they can be quite noticeable, especially if you have pale skin.

Difficulty breathing

Another thing to consider is that when you sleep on your stomach, your airway can become restricted.

This happens because your head is turned to one side, and your chin is pushed down into your chest.
This compression of the airway can lead to increased snoring or even sleep apnea – a condition in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep.

So, all things considered – there are quite a few reasons why sleeping on your stomach might not be the best idea. But, that's not all.

Sleeping on your stomach is generally not recommended during the later stages in pregnancy. It is fine throughout early pregnancy, but you'll eventually have to switch it up.

Sleeping on your stomach is typically safe until your tummy grows, which occurs around 16 to 18 weeks. For most moms-to-be, stomach sleeping becomes unpleasant after their tummy begins to develop, so they naturally switch over to the side.

But avoiding sleeping face down isn't just about comfort – it’s also for safety reasons. The main reason for this is because it can put extra pressure on the stomach and the baby, which can lead to all kinds of complications, including:

So, if you're pregnant – it's best to play it safe and stick to sleeping on your side – preferably on your left side.

Here is how to sleep on stomach (if you must)

a picture of a man sleeping on his stomach

Now, we know that moving away from your preferred sleep position is easier said than done if you can – try and do it. You'll get a good night's rest – we promise.

If you can't, well, it's actually not that big of a deal. This is because there are a few things you can do in order to lessen the strain sleeping on your stomach has on your body. That being said, if you start experiencing back pain, it might be a sign to see a professional and possibly change your sleeping position.

Sleep on a firm mattress

Sleeping on a firm mattress will help to keep your spine in alignment, and prevent any pain or discomfort that might come from sleeping on a softer mattress. As you know, softer mattresses will cause your hips to dip, resulting in aching lower back and loads of other unpleasant experiences in the morning.

Get a thin pillow

An image of Slumberdown Super Support pillow.

If you absolutely must sleep on your stomach, the first thing you need to do is get a very thin pillow. A thick pillow will push your head upwards, which will make breathing difficult, aggravate sleep apnea symptoms and put extra strain on your neck, causing stiffness, pain and general discomfort.
A thin pillow, on the other hand, won't have this effect – making it much easier for you to sleep comfortably on your stomach.

Related reading:

Have a pillow under the pelvis

Whether you're pregnant, or not – it's a good idea to place a pillow under your pelvis. This will help take the pressure off of your spine and make it easier for you to sleep comfortably on your stomach.
This will also ensure your hips remain in alignment with the rest of your body (mainly shoulders), resulting in a much better full-body alignment and a more pleasant sleeping experience.

Always stretch in the morning

If you've been sleeping on your stomach all night, it's important to do some stretching, lightweight exercise or yoga in the morning. This will help to relieve any stiffness or pain that might have developed during the night, and will also help you set the right tone for the rest of day – which is a lovely bonus!

Conclusion

Overall, is sleeping on your stomach bad? Well, it's not ideal. However, if you follow all of our tips, you should be in the clear. However, if you do start experiencing back pain after swapping your sleeping position, make sure to see a professional! And let us know in the comments if you sleep on your stomach and whether you've had any issues.

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