When You Sleep On Your Stomach, This Is What Happens To Your Muscles

If you're a stomach sleeper, you probably enjoy the comforting feel of full-body contact with your mattress. For you, flipping onto this position is what brings undisturbed sleep. And we get it, sleep positions are very personal. 

But when you're a stomach sleeper, you've probably also heard from non-medical professionals (read: friends) how bad this position is for your health. In fact, sleep experts have always maintained that what happens to your body when you sleep on your stomach is by far, the worst, when compared with other sleeping positions. Your muscles, in particular, are put under a lot of strain and it's not uncommon for someone who sleeps this way to wake up feeling all tense and tingly (via Healthline). 

For starters, sleeping on your stomach is known to give rise to lower back pain. According to chiropractor Andrew Bang (via Cleveland Clinic), this is an area that's put under stress during the day too. You bend down to pick up things, you work out at the gym, or you lift something heavy. Sleep is one of the crucial times when you can offer relaxation to your lower back. "Stomach sleeping doesn't give those muscles a chance to rest and recover," offered Bang. Additionally, your entire spine is thrown off alignment when the weight of your body is pulling it downward. Not maintaining a neutral spine and instead forcing it to arch unnaturally throughout your 7-9 hours of sleep can put stress on different muscles in your body.

What happens when you sleep on your stomach

Twisting your head to either side to avoid suffocating on your pillow is natural with stomach sleeping and while you may not think much of this, it actually places a lot of strain on your neck muscles. It's probably the same as having to watch TV from the far corner of the room with your head turned sideways for the length of the movie. Both experiences are culprits when it comes to sore necks. 

And if you're in the habit of raising your arms up or tucking them under the pillow while you sleep on your belly, you're also adding strain to the muscles in your shoulders and rotator cuffs. If you've ever woken up feeling like your arms went to sleep for longer than you did (tingly or numb), this could be because of restricted blood flow to your arms. 

Some stomach sleepers adopt the three-quarter position with one leg bent up on their side as they doze off. This is not great for your muscles either. Your pelvic region, lower back, and even the extended leg muscles could be strained throughout the night. 

If you've experienced any of these muscle aches and pains, you may be wondering how you can stop sleeping on your stomach. We have good news for you. 

How to change your sleeping position

Training yourself to turn onto your back or side is the best way to go when it comes to picking a different sleeping position. But this is a lot easier said than done. Most of us instinctively flip onto our preferred sleeping position despite knowing about the best sleeping position for our back

Some experts recommend altering your stomach sleeping position by adding a pillow under your pelvis, removing your face pillow altogether, and engaging in gentle stretches when you wake up in the morning to minimize what happens to your muscles in this sleeping position (via Healthline). But others urge you to work on changing the position entirely (via Sleepopolis). 

Pillows can be your best friend here. The goal is to try and create full body contact with pillows when lying on your side — prop a pillow between your knees, some pillows behind you to align with your neutral back, and perhaps even a body pillow in front of you to make you feel like you're all cushioned in. They can be like bumpers that remind you not to flip onto your stomach at night. Once you get comfortable sleeping on your side, you can try sleeping on your back too. It's going to take time, consistency, and trial and error but if you keep at it, you'll get there. And it's not just your muscles that will thank you. Sore muscles mean waking up grouchy and tired too. All of this can be avoided with some time and patience.