Sleeping on your Stomach: Why you shouldn't!

Sleeping on your stomach is very stressful to your body, especially your neck. Some of you are going to complain that you can't sleep any other way, or that you start in another position, but always end up on your stomach. I have some ideas that have helped many patients break this habit, relieving neck and back aches!

What's the problem with sleeping on your stomach?

In this position, you have to keep your head turned for hours at a time. Think about a time when you had to have your head turned for a conversation, or to watch a movie. I am guessing that after a short while, you moved to give your neck a break, or you got stiffness and pain in your neck, maybe even a headache. The same happens at night, but you just aren't feeling it until morning. Or maybe you wake up ok, but then feel the effects throughout the day. Maybe it hasn't caught up with you yet, but it will someday.

In more technical terms, this position applies mechanical stress to the cervical spine, or the neck bones. It also holds certain muscles in a shortened position and others in a lengthened position perpetuating and creating trigger points.  There is a phenomena called creep that is basically defined as when a ligament, tendon, or joint capsule (connective tissue) is held in a lengthened position for a long period of time (about an hour or more), the connective tissue starts to permanently change length, creating a longer resting length. The same is true of a shortened position: The connective tissue literally shortens. What does this mean for you? If you always sleep one direction, your neck will change to make that your new set resting length!

Notice in the picture how her head is twisted to the side and her low back is excessively curved.

I start on my side, but wake up sleeping on my stomach. What do I do?

Though it is hard, it is not impossible to break this habit. It may take 2 week to 6 months to break it. Here are some things that have helped some of my patients:

  • Tie a knot in the front of your pajamas or put a tennis ball in a front pocket. When you roll over, it will be uncomfortable and you will automatically go back to your back or side.
  • Try Meridian Tapping - This is a simple technique where you tap on acupuncture points to help with a variety of issues. It can help break unwanted habits.
  • Try a Therapeutica pillow. This is a shaped pillow that has specific spots for back sleeping and side sleeping, and supports your head well. It is very comfortable in those positions, but not at all for sleeping on stomach.


I can only fall asleep sleeping on my stomach

If you really can't break the habit, try modifying it. You can sleep at an angle, using pillows to support you, so you are half way between your stomach and your side. You can sleep with your head angled down off the edge of a pillow so your neck is not so turned. It is possible to do this with regular pillows, but easier with a body pillow.

Try this position below.

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