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What are the Best Sleeping Positions for Older Adults?

Sleep is vital when growing up, and the same is true as we age. However, for older adults, sleeping patterns frequently change. Often, older adults begin experiencing trouble falling asleep or waking up. Others struggle to reach a state of deep sleep. That said, when this happens, don't assume it's a normal part of aging. These could be symptoms of insomnia or other sleep-related conditions. Therefore, ensuring you receive a good night's sleep is important and needs to be consistent, just like when you were younger.

Through a good night's sleep, your mental health and memory improve. Your body can repair worn-out cells and tissues, and your immune is refreshed. With this, your body can better fight diseases and stay healthy. On the other hand, a poor night's sleep can make you susceptible to memory problems, attention issues, and even depression. Further, it leads to a sense of fatigue during the day and worsened focus.

Best Sleeping Positions for Older Adults

If you want to enhance your sleep quality and health, your sleeping position may be a great place to start. For a full and restorative sleep, consider changing to one of the following recommended sleep positions:

  • Sleeping on Your Right Side

Right side lateral sleeping requires that you sleep on your right side of your body. Your right arm can be either beneath your body or extended forward. In this position, the pressure will be exerted on your right shoulder. You can slightly stagger your legs or sleep with them stacked. If sleeping straight as a right side sleeper isn't comfortable for you, you can tuck your knees toward your chest and assume the fetal position.

sleeping woman on right side

The right side sleeping posture is a great posture if you are experiencing joint pain on the left side of the body. Keeping the spine straight and elongated can help keep people with neck pain comfortable. By having the neck straight, this position can also help with acid reflux. Finally, sleeping in this position puts less pressure on the heart, as the heart falls closer to the center of the body when lying on the right side. This helps improve the functionality of the heart, improving heart rate and blood pressure. 

However, there are also negative aspects of right side sleeping. When you lie on your right side, this means shifting bodyweight towards the right, including the internal organs. As a result, your lungs will be under pressure reducing the volume of air.

  • Sleeping on Your Left Side

Similar to right side sleeping, left side lateral sleeping requires you to sleep on the left side with the left arm beneath the body or extended forward slightly. Again, your legs can either stagger slightly or stacked, according to your preference. If you choose to assume the fetal position while sleeping on the left side, bend your legs to bring your knees close to your upper body.

woman sleeping on her left side

Left side sleeping is an excellent remedy if you have a snoring problem or sleep apnea as it allows improved breathing. It's a great sleeping position if you are experiencing right shoulder pains or hip pains. Left side sleeping also has a unique benefit of aiding digestion! Sleeping on the left side lets gravity do some of the work of digestion, helping transfer waste through the body overnight. This transfer of waste is also known to help reduce heartburn and even reduce the risk of developing neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's! 

While left side sleeping is an excellent choice for some, it's not recommended for everyone. This sleeping style shifts the weight of your internal organs on the left side. This means your heart and lungs will be under pressure while sleeping. Thus, if you have heart complications, then you should avoid this style of sleeping. 

  • Sleeping Upright

If you love sleeping in a recliner, then this would be considered upright sleeping. This position involves sleeping with the head raised higher than the body. This position does not require sleeping in a chair or recliner, though. Wedge pillows and adjustable beds are other popular choices to help facilitate this position.

Elder woman falling asleep upright while reading a book

Upright sleeping comes with excellent health benefits. When you sleep with your head elevated above your body, this prevents blockage of the airway that leads to snoring. It also protects you from sleep apnea and related complications. Additionally, if you elevate your sleeping surface well, you may be able to relieve body aches. Finally, sleeping with your head elevated is known to reduce heartburn and acid reflux at night.

However, this sleeping position makes it hard to change body posture while sleeping. Therefore, you may be limited to one sleeping pose throughout the night.

  • Sleeping on Your Back

Many believe this is the best and healthiest position. Back sleeping, also known as the supine position, involves lying flat on your back while facing up. While doing so, the legs are also straight and facing up. Arms are often on the side of the body.

Back sleeping is helpful if you suffer from pain in your back, hip, knees, neck, or shoulder. Further, when you raise your feet above your heart with a pillow or cushion, you will relieve swelling in your ankles and feet. This will also reduce the effects of tension headaches, stuffy noses, or sinus issues.

It is worth noting, however, that sleeping on your back is more likely to produce snoring. If snoring is a problem for you, this position might not be in your best interest.

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Sleeping Positions to Avoid

Now that we've covered some of the best sleeping positions, it's important to understand which positions should be avoided. It is recommended to avoid the following:

  • Crossing Your Arm Under the Pillow

Sleeping with your arm raised under the pillow is risky for older adults. At a younger age, this could have been your favorite sleeping posture, but as we age, it is best to avoid it. This pose can cause your arm to lose circulation and feel numb.

  • Sleeping on Your Stomach

This position, also known as the prone position, requires sleeping with your stomach down on the bed. Your head will be turned in either direction to breathe. Arms are to be spread to the side or tucked below your body and legs straight.

Sleeping on your stomach is also among the worst positions. This position interferes with the alignment of your spine when you are sleeping. You will also be forced to turn your head to the right or left, causing your neck to stay bent. With this, you will be susceptible to neck pain in the morning. Lastly, more strain is exerted on your shoulder as you sleep in this posture, leaving you with aches in shoulder muscles in the morning. You should also not try this if you have breathing challenges. The weight exerted on the chest restricts lung volume and the efficient movement of the diaphragm and rib cage.

Other Considerations

If changing your sleeping posture doesn't relieve you from your sleep discomfort, then a change of mattresses might be a great consideration. Before you implement this option, get in touch with your physician. It may also be beneficial to check with a professional sleep therapist.

While considering the right sleeping position, ensure your body weight will be distributed well on the surface. This will prevent unnecessary joint pains and pressure on the body due to the shift of body weight on the wrong side.

Lastly, consider your body needs. Are there body pains that you experience while sleeping at night? You need to point out every pain or body ache and use it to choose the sleeping position. As you can see from above, sleep posture can potentially alleviate the pain or relieve it completely.

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