What Does Your Sleeping Position Say About Your Personality and Health?


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person sleeping on their side
Illustrations by Maya Chastain

It’s that time of day — or night — again. With your nighttime routine completed, you turn out the lights, push back your covers, and snuggle into bed. How do you settle down under the covers?

By this point, your sleeping position may be entirely habitual. If you’ve settled into the same position in bed since childhood, you might not consciously think about it each night.

Yet whether you immediately turn over to one side after falling back onto your pillows or spend time switching between poses to get a little more comfortable, your preferred sleep posture can offer some important insights about your health.

Certain sleep positions have been linked to health concerns or better wellness outcomes — we’ll explore those below. But does your regular sleep position really have anything to do with who you are as a person, as some experts have suggested? Read on for more insight.

The link between sleeping position and personality

You probably don’t think much about what your typical sleep position means, other than a desire for optimal comfort while you snooze. Yet some sleep psychologists and experts have suggested personality can factor into sleep position and offer some insight about your traits and behaviors.

Professor and sleep expert Chris Idzikowski surveyed just over 1,000 British adults to uncover any links between sleep position and personality. He used these results to draw connections between common sleep positions and personality traits. A few of his findings:

  • The fetal position is most common, particularly among women. This position can be linked to shyness and sensitivity.
  • People who sleep on one side with arms outstretched may be open-natured but somewhat suspicious. They also tend to stick with their decisions.
  • Stomach sleeping with hands up or under the pillow is linked to a sociable nature and a dislike of criticism.

These results are likely best interpreted with a liberal sprinkling of salt, as the survey had several key limitations:

  • It only looked at results from about 1,000 people — quite a small number when compared to the general population.
  • These findings didn’t hold when the second group of participants completed the same survey, which suggests these results may not apply to everyone.
  • People reported on their sleep position and personality traits themselves, leaving more room for potential bias.

A survey on sleep position among Americans conducted by the Better Sleep Council (BSC) yielded a few other insights. Here’s a quick snapshot:

  • People who sleep in a log position (on one side with both arms down) believe they get enough sleep and are “healthier” than people who prefer other positions.
  • People who have a graduate degree or higher are more likely to prefer the fetal position than those who’ve completed less education.
  • Generation X and millennials are more likely to prefer stomach sleeping than baby boomers. Baby boomers, on the other hand, are more likely to sleep on one side with arms outstretched.
  • Introverted people are more likely to avoid sleeping on their stomachs with arms raised.

Again, surveys aren’t the same as controlled trials and other scientific studies, and other sleep experts are less certain about the link between sleep and personality.

We reached out to sleep psychologist and researcher Jade Wu, who notes that she’s not aware of any link between sleep position and personality.

What’s more, a number of online sources report Idzikowski himself didn’t intend his findings as conclusive evidence.

The link between sleeping position and your health

There’s far more evidence to link sleep position with certain aspects of health and wellness — both positive and negative. Here’s what to know about each sleeping position.

Side sleeping

Experts often recommend side sleeping, since this position can help relieve snoring and improve digestion.

If you sleep on your right side, though, you might notice worsening symptoms of acid reflux or other digestive issues. Sleeping on your left side keeps your stomach below your esophagus and makes it tougher for stomach acid to rise.

Side sleeping during pregnancy is associated with improved maternal and fetal health, but the left side is favored here, too. Left side sleeping not only reduces heartburn, but it also helps promote blood flow and relieves pressure on the uterus.

Side sleeping may also help relieve lower back pain and improve spinal alignment, but you might find sleeping on your side difficult if you have neck or shoulder pain.

Stomach sleeping

While stomach sleeping may have some benefits for obstructive sleep apnea and chronic snoring, it also puts stress on your neck and lower back, particularly if you sleep on a softer bed. This strain can throw your spine out of alignment and cause lingering daytime pain.

Back sleeping

Sleeping on your side or stomach can increase intraocular pressure, a risk factor for glaucoma. If you have sensitive skin, you might also notice pressing your face into the pillow leads to more breakouts, irritation, or even facial creases when you wake up. Enter: back sleeping.

Though back sleeping can offer benefits at any age — pediatricians recommend putting infants to sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) — back isn’t always best for adults.

“People with obstructive sleep apnea, a serious medical condition where the airway repeatedly becomes blocked during sleep, tend to have more breathing problems when back sleeping,” Wu explains. “This is likely because the airway is more easily blocked when lying on the back.”

And what about back pain? Some people with lower back or neck pain find that back sleeping worsens the pain. For others, back sleeping is the only position that offers any relief.

Tips for optimizing your sleeping position

In short, there is no single best position for quality sleep, since so many factors come into play. If you often have trouble sleeping or wake up with pain and discomfort, it’s certainly worth considering the potential impact of your current sleeping position.

That said, if you have no trouble getting the right amount of sleep and wake up without pain, you probably don’t need to worry about rolling over and changing things up.

Interested in the different types of sleeping positions and how to maximize their benefits? While there are plenty of ways to sleep, you’ll find the six most common sleep positions below.

Back sleepers

Sleeping on your back can help relieve different types of pain while also taking pressure off your spine and promoting good spinal alignment.

Back sleeping distributes body weight evenly, so no one part of your body is under more pressure than another. For many people, this can lead to more restful sleep.

What’s more, since back sleeping means you don’t press your face into your pillow every night, this position could help you avoid premature facial wrinkles.

A smaller pillow (or even a rolled towel) under your knees can work wonders for better back sleeping. This helps your spine maintain its slight curve.

Try a cervical pillow or small, rounded pillow at the curve of your neck to help relieve neck pain. If you snore, have allergies, or experience heartburn, try a wedge pillow to elevate your head.

Soldier

Sleep on your back with your arms down at your sides? That’s the soldier position. According to the BSC’s survey, about 11 percent of respondents prefer this position. Soldier sleepers report preferring this position for its health benefits and often don’t change positions through the night.

Starfish

If you sleep on your back with your arms up and your legs slightly apart, you’re a starfish sleeper. About 7 percent of survey respondents say they sleep like starfish.

The BSC survey suggests this position is linked to a higher likelihood of sleepwalking. Sleeping with your arms above your head, particularly when your wrists are bent or flexed, may also contribute to numbness or tingling.

Side sleepers

Sleeping on your side can promote good digestion, help reduce snoring, prevent heartburn, and possibly even boost brain health. For healthy cognitive function, your brain needs to remove waste on a regular basis. It usually takes out the trash, so to speak, while you sleep. An animal study found that this process was most efficient during side, or lateral, sleeping.

Side sleeping may help reduce back pain, but it can put pressure on your shoulder and lead to tightness, tension, or pain in your head and face. For best results, consider choosing a mattress that provides good pressure relief and a firmer pillow with enough loft to support your spine’s natural curve.

For better hip and low back support, try sleeping with a pillow between your knees or lower legs. You might even try hugging a body pillow or large pillow — some people find this offers better arm support.

The side you choose to sleep on can also make a difference. Right side sleeping can ease strain on internal organs, but it may worsen acid reflux.

Experts consider left side sleeping better during pregnancy and for people with digestive concerns. Keep in mind, though, that sleeping on your hands or with bent wrists can lead to tingling or numbness and may worsen carpal tunnel symptoms.

Log

You’re less likely to experience numbness in the log position since this involves sleeping with your arms down at your sides. This position isn’t very popular.

According to the BSC survey, only about 6 percent of people prefer the log position. The BSC reports this position, like the starfish position, is also associated with sleepwalking.

That said, log sleepers tended to say they believed themselves to be healthier and get the right amount of sleep than people who preferred other positions, so there may, in fact, be something to “sleeping like a log.”

Fetal

Side sleeping appears to be the preferred sleep position. According to the BSC survey, that’s thanks to the fetal position, preferred by 47 percent of people surveyed. Women seem to prefer this style of side sleeping.

To truly sleep like a baby, try to keep your limbs and chin loose and your posture relaxed. To prevent numbness, avoid bending or curling your wrists tightly, or sleeping with one hand under the pillow.

Yearner

About 13 percent of those in the BSC survey said they preferred to sleep in the yearner position, or on one side with arms outstretched.

This position can prevent extra pressure on your wrists and hands, so it may help to adjust your arms if you often wake up with numb or tingling hands.

Giving this position a try may also help if you typically prefer the fetal position but “yearn” to wake up free of tension and pain. Sleeping too tightly curled can sometimes lead to discomfort and stiffness the next day.

Stomach sleepers

Sleeping on your stomach, or prone, generally isn’t recommended, since it can contribute to back and neck pain. If your head always faces the same way, you’ll probably begin to notice some daytime stiffness before long.

If you’ve tried and failed to get comfortable in any other position, though, stomach sleeping might be the best position for you. Try changing the direction of your head regularly instead of always facing left or right.

Choosing a flat, thin pillow (or skipping the pillow entirely) can help prevent neck pain. Adding a pillow under your pelvis can also make a big difference in back stiffness and pain.

Also, consider your mattress. A firmer mattress can help keep your spine aligned, preventing pain and improving the quality of your sleep.

Freefall

Just over a quarter (26 percent) of people surveyed by the BSC see this as the worst sleeping position. Still, 17 percent of people prefer stomach sleeping with arms under the pillow, or wrapped around it, head to one side.

The freefall position may feel more comfortable to those looking to relieve pressure at the shoulders and hips.

To avoid numb, stiff hands, try extending your arms out to either side instead. Instead of bending one of your knees, keep both legs straight and slightly apart.

The bottom line

While there could be some links between sleep position and health, your preferred sleeping pose probably doesn’t have all that much to do with your personality.

If the quality of your rest leaves something to be desired, trying out a new sleep position could help improve your sleep. A sleep specialist can offer more guidance and recommendations based on your sleep needs.

Sleeping just fine? You probably don’t need to worry about how you fall asleep. The best sleep position, after all, is one that keeps you comfortable enough to get the rest you need.


Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.


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