As a Pilates instructor, I remember regularly lecturing my clients on the painful pitfalls of stomach sleeping. But somehow these conversations were completely forgotten a few months after the birth of my second daughter when I was tempted to sleep face down. Having been denied the option for so long due to my enormous pregnant belly, I was curious about what it would feel like. I flipped onto my belly at bedtime and quickly slipped into slumber. The habit stuck. Now, 10 years later I find I can only fall asleep lying on my stomach.
I began to second guess my earlier assertions and wondered is it really bad to sleep on your stomach? Unfortunately for my bedtime habits, it's pretty much considered to be the worst position to sleep in — its only plus: it can alleviate snoring, which is not my issue. I can attest, however, that it does leave you prone to some aches and pains come morning. Here's why:
When lying on your stomach, you must twist your head to the side in order to breathe. And this twisting to one direction — as we stomach sleepers favor one side over the other — for a long period of time is not so good for the vulnerable vertebrae in your neck since it overstretches the ligaments and muscles that protect the cervical spine. Ultimately, stomach sleeping is not the most neck-friendly position. You can decrease the issues associated with this sleeping position by not using a pillow at all. Elevating and twisting the head in this position is definitely a no-no for long-term neck heath.
A healthy spine has natural curves that make a subtle S shape when looked at in profile. Sleeping face down exaggerates the natural curve in the lower back, over stretching and straining the ligaments that keep the spine stable. A night of stomach sleeping can leave you with an achy lower back and, over time, increases the tightness of the muscles on either side of your spine. And tight back muscles can make it harder to engage your abs properly. This muscular imbalance can negatively impact your core strength, since you want the front and back of your body to work together. You can try placing a pillow under your pelvis to decrease the stress on your low back. But I can tell you from experience as you move throughout the night, the pillow gets tangled in your legs and becomes more of a distraction than a sleep aid.
Stretches to Help
While I do switch positions and sometimes wake up on my side, I have found two simple stretches help me recover from my sleeping face down throughout the night. I start on all-fours with the Cat and Cow to remind my spine so that it can move. Then I sit back into a Child's pose to reverse the curve of my low back and really stretch out my spine. Best of all, I do both of these moves in bed!