Did you know that almost half of Americans (46%) report being poor sleepers?
How about the fact that a quarter of US adults suffer from acute insomnia each year?
Or that in total, about 50 to 70 million Americans deal with sleep-related problems of all kinds?
Granted, many factors contribute to these sleep issues, like stress and disease. But not a lot of folks know that sleep position can also play a huge role.
Studies are finding evidence that for one to sleep right, one should sleep on their left side.
Ready to learn all about the benefits of sleeping on your left side? Then let’s dive right into it!
Sleeping on Your Left Side May Reduce the Risk of Heartburns
Heartburns are so common that up to 60 million Americans experience it at least once a month. Of these people, experts estimate that at least a quarter experiences it every day.
This usually occurs when the esophagus’ lining gets exposed to stomach juice for a long time. Also called “gastric juice”, this fluid is a mix of hydrochloric acid and pepsin. It’s responsible for breaking down proteins from digested food.
Now, imagine that dissolving power directed at the soft lining of the esophagus. Not pretty, right? But in people who have heartburns, that’s the power of the gastric juice at work.
And people who sleep on their right side may be at higher risk of experiencing heartburns.
One possible reason is that this position exposes the esophagus more to the stomach. When lying down on one’s right side, the stomach goes up higher than the esophagus. This can then put more pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).
The LES is a muscular valve found at the esophagus’ lower end. Its main function is to ensure that the gastric juice remains in the stomach. As such, increased pressure on it can make it “pop open” and expose the esophagus to the stomach juice.
If you’re prone to heartburns, then your left side may be the best side to sleep on.
Left-Side Sleeping May Help Ease Symptoms of GERD
Heartburn is one of the most common symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD is actually the term for the esophagus injury caused by its exposure to stomach juice. This condition affects an estimated 18% to 27.8% of the North American population.
Aside from heartburns, GERD can also cause chest pains and difficulty swallowing. You may also regurgitate sour liquid or bits of food. It’s also common for GERD sufferers to have a lump-like feeling at the back of the throat.
If your symptoms include nighttime acid reflux, then you may develop chronic coughs. This can then disrupt your sleep or even progress to laryngitis.
Researchers have also found a strong connection between GERD and asthma. One study of 100,000 veterans showed that those with GERD were 1.15 times more likely to also suffer from asthma. In those with asthma, 80% of patients also had GERD symptoms like heartburns.
As mentioned above, sleeping on your left side may help protect your esophagus. This may then reduce your risks of GERD or help manage its symptoms at least.
Reduced GERD Risks May Also Lower Your Risk for Barrett’s Esophagus
About one in 10 people who suffer from chronic GERD symptoms are at risk of Barrett’s esophagus. This can be a severe complication of GERD that causes changes to the esophagus’ lining. The affected tissues of the esophagus become more like the tissues of the intestine.
Barrett’s esophagus increases one’s likelihood of developing esophageal cancer. Although esophageal cancer only accounts for 1% of new cancer cases in the US, it is very aggressive. In fact, the five-year survival rate for this type of cancer is between 5% and 45%.
Again, not all people with GERD will develop Barrett’s esophagus or esophageal cancer. Still, it’s a risk that you definitely don’t want to put yourself in. Getting used to sleeping on your left side may help you reduce such risks.
It May Also Help You Breathe Easier at Night
Sleeping causes all of the muscles in the body to relax. These muscles include those in the throat that open to let air pass through and enter the lungs.
In ideal conditions, the throat retains a partial opening so as not to obstruct the flow of air. However, some people have a narrower throat.
This, plus the fact that the throat muscles relax during sleep, makes it more difficult to breathe. The tissues can get too close to the throat that they can block the airway. This can then result in a temporary stop in breathing called apnea.
Sleeping on your back can make this even worse, as the tongue can also drop to the back of the throat.
Whereas sleeping on your side allows the airway to remain free. Without any blockage, it’ll be easier for you to breathe during sleep.
Better Breathing Helps Decrease Risks of Sleep Apnea
Speaking of “apnea”, experts say that this affects an estimated 22 million Americans. What’s more, eight in 10 moderate to severe cases go undiagnosed. One likely reason is that most people who have apnea snore, which could be embarrassing.
However, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a dangerous sleep disorder. After all, it occurs when the breathing stops due to blocked or narrowed airways. Even a slight pause in breathing means that not enough oxygen flows throughout the body.
This is why OSA is one of the biggest risk factors for developing hypertension. From there, high blood pressure can progress into chronic heart diseases. Many studies, like this one, have also linked OSA with diabetes.
As such, avoid sleeping on your back since it makes you more prone to airway obstruction. Instead, practice sleeping on your left side. One study found that 68% of patients with OSA breathe better when they don’t sleep on their backs.
Side-Sleeping May Also Help Prevent Snoring
Loud snoring is one of the most common signs of obstructive sleep apnea. Snoring occurs when air that passes through relaxed throat tissues makes it vibrate. This vibration then produces wheezing, hoarse, or harsh sounds.
Snoring is very common, affecting up to 90 million Americans. However, only half of snorers may have OSA. Meaning, you don’t have to have sleep apnea to snore.
Whichever the cause of your snoring is, it all boils down to how tissues in your airway become relaxed as you sleep. So, if you snore, your aim should be to reduce the blockage in your airway. Sleeping on your side is one way to achieve this goal.
Lying Down on Your Left Side May Boost the Quality of Your Sleep
Breathing difficulties, snoring, and OSA can all lead to sleep disturbances. So, it’s not surprising that as many as 70 million Americans have a chronic sleep disorder.
Unfortunately, sleep disruptions can cause short-term effects like pain and mood disorders. These can also make one’s stress levels skyrocket, resulting in emotional distress.
Lack of sleep has also shown to impair memory and cognitive skills. One study even found that drivers who slept for less than four hours were 15 times more at risk of causing a car crash. This helps explains why 7% of all road-related accidents in the US involve drowsy drivers.
Long term effects of sleep problems include hypertension, poor metabolism, and heart diseases. These can also heighten your risk for diabetes and even colorectal cancer.
All these hazards should be enough reason to give left-side-sleeping a try. Since this position may help keep breathing issues and OSA at bay, then it may help you sleep better.
Of course, what you sleep on also has a lot to do with how good (or bad) the quality of your sleep is.
Even if you start sleeping on your left side, a too-soft or too-firm mattress can make your spine go out of alignment. This can then form pressure points and cause soreness or pain. Either way, a bad mattress won’t help you get the most out of sleeping on your left side.
That said, it’s also important that you invest in a high-quality mattress for better sleep. Not sure how to pick the right one? Then check out this buyers guide for starters.
Sleep Right by Sleeping on Your Left Side
As you can see, sleeping on your left side holds a lot of potential benefits. Especially if you suffer from heartburns, GERD, or sleep apnea. Not only will this position help you sleep right — it’ll also help you wake up on the right side of the bed.
So, as early as now, master the left-side sleeping position! The earlier you do, the sooner you may experience the health benefits of quality ZZZs.
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