Stomach sleepers are just 16 percent of the population, but for that sleepy minority, the tummy-down approach is the way to get your shut-eye. Who can blame them, right? It’s hard to find anything wrong with a full mattress body hug.
But turning your back to the rest of the sleeping world may be affecting your joints and sleep quality more than you think. Here’s the good, the bad, and the snuggly on stomach sleeping.
Pros and Cons of Stomach Sleeping
Stomach sleeping presents a mixed bag of pros and cons for sleepers. Spoiler alert: They’re mostly cons.
When you lie supine, your spine is strained, which puts pressure on your back and neck joints. Eight hours of joint pressure leads to some long-term consequences to your joints. So, even though you’re happy as a little clam sleeping on your stomach, you may not feel its effects to your body for decades.
The mattress bellyflop also affects your sleep, as joint pain—combined with the intense body heat you generate—rouses you from your deep sleep cycle. You may not even be aware of the constant arousal and the sleep deprivation side effects.
Sleep quality and joint wear and tear are the “good news” for those worried about their appearance. As comforting as it can feel, squishing your face into your pillow can actually cause the “formation and progression of facial wrinkles”. That’s more crow’s feet, mouth lines, flattening of the forehead—and you thought it was the constant facepalms!
But to be fair, stomach sleep has a few benefits. For one, it’s a great alternative position for those who snore or suffer from sleep apnea. Stomach sleeping is also a better position than back sleeping for reducing heartburn and indigestion.
Pillows for Stomach Sleepers
It’s the age-old problem for belly sleepers: Should I use a pillow or go straight head-to-mattress?
Best answer: You should use the method that aligns your neck and spine.
As a stomach sleeper, you’re already straining your neck by turning your head to the side to breath. Propping your noggin up on a fluffy pillow only increases the number of awkward angles to your neck position. That’s why tossing the pillow out completely works to keep your neck aligned.
Stomach sleepers with pillows that are too thin often compensate by adding their arms into the mix. Others reshape overly stuffed pillows by pushing the material away from their heads and forming a small nook so their heads don’t overheat.
Both pillow strategies help keep your neck aligned, but each also present problems. First, you should never trust your sleeping position to your arms. They will move, shift, or fall asleep throughout the night. That won’t ensure consistent neck alignment—only numb noodle arms.
You can reshape overly stuffed pillows to roughly fit your head, but too much fluff doesn’t allow good airflow for your dome. You can wake up to a sweat-soaked pillowcase. Instead, opt for a good stomach sleeper pillow made from breathable material that will keep your neck aligned.
For stomach sleepers who prefer the no pillow approach, their mattress becomes their headrest. That makes getting the right one critical to a good night’s sleep. As with pillows, a good mattress for stomach sleepers adjusts to your pressure points and effectively dissipates body heat.
Good stomach-sleeper mattresses give way to the pressure of your head and stomach while supporting your neck and pelvis. The wrong mattress will exacerbate joint pain and keep you waking up throughout the night. The next day, you’ll be both crooked and cranky.
Because they “hug” their mattresses, stomach sleepers tend to trap more heat compared to other sleepers. A stomach sleeper’s body temperature eventually rises enough to rouse them from deep sleep. Look for a mattress that promotes good airflow and efficiently disperses heat.
What stomach sleepers want is a mattress that is scientifically engineered to be soft where they want it but firm where they need it. This relieves pressure and offers support without giving up comfort.
Tips for Stomach Sleeping
If you really prefer to sleep belly-down rather than belly-up (you’re not a dead fish after all!), here are a few tips to get the best rest possible.
Prop Up Your Pelvis
Like Elvis during the Vegas years, most of your body’s weight is centered in your middle. The weight distribution causes your pelvis to sway and sink into the mattress, throwing your back out of alignment. Putting a flat pillow under your pelvis will help keep your back in a more neutral position, taking the pressure off the spine and decreasing lower back pain.
Also, don’t make the common mistake of bringing one of your legs up toward the side à la Karate Kid. This only makes the spine twist into an even more unnatural position, and you definitely won’t win any sleeping competitions that way.
Morning Stretches for Night Comfort
Immediately upon waking up, do 2-4 minutes of stretching to work out any stiff or kinked muscles. Take a lesson from yoga class and do downward-facing dog, happy baby, or similar yoga poses for some wonderful back extensions. Go easy, though! Your body isn’t warmed up yet, so make sure to stretch gently.
Train Yourself to Sleep in a Different Position
Because the downsides of stomach sleeping can outweigh the upsides, you may want to train yourself to assume another sleeping position, like side or back. Here are a few ways to get there:
- Use an orthopedic contoured pillow. They’re horrible for sleeping on your stomach, so they’ll guide you into another position.
- Nap on the sofa for practice. The extra back support and reduced surface area forces you to stay on your side.
- Use a body pillow to help you transition from full stomach sleeping to partial stomach sleeping. You’ll get much of the same sensation of lying flat, with fewer nasty side effects.
- Earn the nickname of the Princess and the Tennis Ball. Wear sleep pants to bed and place a tennis ball in your pocket. Every time you roll, the ball will poke you to stay in the desired position.
Other Stomach-Sleeper Questions
Here are some common answers stomach sleepers need to know.
Should Pregnant Women Sleep on Their Stomach?
When you’re pregnant everything is harder, and this goes double for sleeping. While avoiding stomach sleeping late into your pregnancy is a no-brainer, it’s also good to avoid early on as well.
As that little bundle of joy grows and shifts, it puts pressure on different parts of your body. Starting around mid-pregnancy, OB-GYNs advise women to avoid sleeping on their backs. As the uterus grows, it compresses the large veins that pump blood from your legs back to your heart. Sleeping on your back can decrease this blood flow, causing dizziness, shortness of breath, or a faster heart rate.
But if you just can’t get the sleep you need unless you’re on your stomach, try using a donut-shaped pillow to support your belly and adjust your hip and neck pillow placements for good spine alignment.
Do Stomach Sleepers Share Similar Personality Traits?
Do you feel out of control? Do you often wake up feeling anxious about not finishing a task from the previous day? Yes? You sleep on your stomach, right? Whoa, how did we know that? Because we’re wizards! No, it’s simple statistics.
One British sleep survey of a thousand participants found that stomach sleepers, or “freefallers,” have body language that suggests feeling out of control, like life is happening around them and they are just hanging on for the ride. The “freefaller” position is described as having “the whole body outstretched flat on their stomach, arms at right angles, hands gripping the pillow as though holding on for dear life.”
But there’s one thing you don’t have to worry about: finding the best mattress for stomach sleepers. That’s a no-brainer. No matter how you sleep, whether it be on your belly, back, flank, or even upside-down, you’ll do it best on a Purple mattress.
Happy stomach sleeping and sweet dreams!