Does Elevating Your Head Really Help You Sleep?

Many of us have probably seen the commercial on television for adjustable mattresses. The wife, miffed at her husband for snoring, grabs the mattress controller and elevates her spouse’s sleep position. Voila, the snoring ceases!

Is this really possible, and are there benefits to elevating one’s head and neck while sleeping?

If you have acid reflux, the answer seems to be a resounding yes. An elevated head helps prevent the acid reflux from causing coughing and other digestion-related problems that interfere with one’s sleep. But what if you don’t suffer from acid reflux?

Here, the head position also comes into play with snoring. If you chin drops down toward your body while sleeping in a position that causes that, the result is a restricted air passage, which can lead to or worsen snoring. So, yes, the TV ad may have some validity to it in that freeing the air passage by elevating the head and neck can affect snoring in a positive way.

There’s both a science and an art to analyzing sleep positions, including how you situate your head. Some analyses even purport to relate one’s personality to the position in which one sleeps, whether on the back, left side, right side, face down, and so so.

On the science side, sleep posture can absolutely affect the quality of your sleep, according to Steven Park, MD, author of Sleep, Interrupted and clinical assistant professor of otolaryngology at New York Medical College in Valhalla, N.Y.  Fatigue, sleep apnea, headaches, heartburn, and back pain are some of the problems that can be aggravated by improper sleep posture and a bad night’s sleep.

As for proper sleep positioning, on your back is a no-no if you snore or suffer from even mild sleep apnea. On your side is generally best. If you have heartburn, sleeping on your left side is beneficial while sleeping on your right side will worsen the symptoms. Sleeping on the left is also recommended for pregnant women.

As for sleeping on your stomach, that all relates to the size of your air passage according to Park: “The smaller the airway in your throat becomes at night, the more likely it is you’re going to sleep on your stomach.”

As always, if you face sleep issues, you should seek professional help starting with your family physician and also be mindful of good sleep-hygiene habits, which can include how your position yourself while you’re sleeping. And remember, if you cannot resolve your sleep problems through these routes, you can — and should — seek out the help of a dedicated sleep professional.

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