Side or back? Sleep position affects health

Everybody has a natural rhythm that determines how much sleep they need each night.

But doctors -- and mattress makers -- have recently found that getting the right amount of sleep can fight illness, make people feel better overall and even add years to your life.

You probably know the tips about keeping a regular routine and avoiding caffeine to help you get to sleep. But how you lay when you're at rest can also affect how your body feels when you get up and about.

Some say it can also tell something about your personality.

Ease Back Pain

The Mayo Clinic says that simple changes in sleep position can take strain off your back.

For example, if you sleep on your side with your legs drawn up slightly toward you chest, it can alleviate the effects of arthritis or pain in the hip. A pillow between your knees can also make things feel better. Those who sleep on their backs can use a pillow or rolled-up towel under their lower back for support. Doing so can also help with pain in the small of the back. People who sleep on their stomachs -- 7 percent of people, according to a story from BBC.com -- have a higher risk of back pain. But if you must sleep that way, a pillow under the belly can help. If that's not enough, sleeping without a pillow for the head may work.

Positional Personality

Professor Chris Idzikowski, of the director of the Sleep Assessment and Advisory Service, told the BBC that common sleep positions can tell you something about the person. "We are all aware of our body language when we are awake, but this is the first time we have been able to see what our subconscious posture says about us," Idzikowski said. "What's interesting is that the profile behind the posture is often very different from what we would expect."

He calls the most common position -- curled up on your side -- the fetus. Forty-one percent of the people in his study slept that way, though it is twice as popular with women.

He said people who sleep like that are shy at first, but soon relax.

The next most-popular position is the log -- laying on your side with both arms down. Those sleepers are easy going and like being part of a crowd.

"Yearners" sleep on their sides with both arms in front of them. They are open, but can be suspicious and cynical, and stick with a decision once they have made up their minds.

Lying on your back with arms at your sides is called the soldier, and it is used by reserved, quiet people who don't make a fuss.

Seven percent of people sleep in "freefall" -- on their bellies with hands around a pillow. Idzikowski said those people are brash but don't like to be criticized.

The least-popular of the six common postures was the starfish. That means people sleep on their backs with arms up on pillows. He said they are good listeners who are willing to help.

Idzikowski also said that the freefall position was good for digestion, while the starfish and soldier positions were more likely to lead to snoring and a bad night's sleep.

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