Why We Roll Over in Our Sleep, and Is It Good or Bad?

All of us roll over in our sleep unless we somehow can compensate for the body’s natural ability to seek relief from restricted blood flow. Let Michael Decker, PhD, RN, associate professor at Georgia State University and spokesman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, explain it:

“When you lie on any part of your body for an extended period of time, the weight of it reduces the flow of blood through those blood vessels, which deprives the skin of oxygen and nutrients. This causes nerve cells and pain sensors in your skin to send a message to your brain for you to roll over. Rolling over restores blood flow to the area, but it also briefly interrupts your sleep.”

So, perhaps rolling over is both good and bad, certainly bad if it wakes you up and you find it hard to get back to sleep.

Is there a solution or alternative? Potentially, if you can find the right mattress for you — one that minimizes the restrictions on your blood flow by reducing the pressure points on your body, Decker says. He adds, however, that such a mattress is different for each person.

Price doesn’t always guarantee a good fit for you, Decker adds, so you need to “try out” various mattresses in the stores and see which seems to render you most comfortable.

Not a lot of studies exist on mattresses, but many sleep professionals recommend a medium-firm mattress. According to Howard Levy, MD, an Emory University assistant professor of orthopedics, physical medicine and rehabilitation, a too-soft mattress is no good because your body will sink to the bottom, while a too-firm mattress will apply too much pressure to the sacrum, shoulders and head. So Dr. Levy is firmly in the medium-firm camp.

How about adjustable beds? These are recommended if you suffer from GERD or COPD and need to have your head elevated to prevent heartburn or aid in breathing.

You can get a hypoallergenic mattress if you suffer from allergies or asthma, but experts say a a much cheaper washable mattress cover will work just as well in keeping the mites and buggies from your skin, where they like to feast.

Finally, what about the oh-so-pricey memory foam mattresses? Studies don’t show much of an improvement in sleep on memory foam supports, but sleep professionals do say they might be worth the cost if you partner tosses and turns a lot. Because you sink into the mattress and are thus supported by it, your partner’s movements won’t affect you.

Bottom line: Test, test, test before you buy. Showrooms usually always allow you to lie on the mattresses and check them out.

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