Two Sleeping Positions You MUST Avoid (Dr. Mandell)

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Two Sleeping Positions You MUST Avoid
Two Sleeping Positions You Must Avoid – Dr Mandell Graphic © Background photo: Pixabay (PD)

Most of us typically jump into bed and twist & turn into the most comfortable sleeping position. But how often do you think about the toll your sleeping position places on your body?

Sleeping positions may be personal—with everyone having a preference—but it’s essential to understand that how you orient your body may impact your quality of sleep and physical health.

And considering we spend over 30% of our lives sleeping or resting, it may be best to find a sleep position that supports your body’s physical restoration and repair during sleep. [1] So, what are the best sleeping positions, and which ones should you avoid?

Sleep Positions to Avoid – And What To Do Instead

According to Dr. Alan Mandell (aka. the motivational doc), there are two sleeping positions that you must avoid, especially if you have underlying musculoskeletal issues. These postures place undue stress on your spine, muscles, or nerves. They include:

Position To Avoid #1: Sleeping On Your Stomach

The stomach is typically the most discouraged and least popular sleep position. [2] Why? Because it tends to bring about several health issues.

One of the main reasons people are advised against sleeping on their stomachs is the increased risk of neck, back, and shoulder pain. [3]

Dr. Mandell illustrates how sleeping on your stomach forces you to keep turning your head on either side to allow breathing. This puts your neck in an unnatural position, which he likens to sitting in front of a computer and continually looking over your shoulders.

There’s also the issue of spinal alignment and back support. [4] Sleeping on your stomach typically forces your spine to arch into an asymmetrical sleep posture as your torso sinks into the mattress. This misaligns and strains the spine—leading to pains and aches when your wake up. Dr. Mandell further argues that stomach sleepers tend to have a limited supply of oxygen since the rib cage cannot fully expand.

In addition to the adverse effects on your musculoskeletal system, sleeping on your stomach may lead to more wrinkles as the skin on your face is compressed, pulled, and stretched against the pillow. [5]

Pregnant women are also advised against sleeping on their stomachs to avoid discomfort and lower sleep quality. This is particularly important since sleep deprivation during pregnancy is linked to an increased risk of labor problems and postpartum depression. [6]

But it is not all bad. A study published in the journal Sleep and Breathing suggests that sleeping on your stomach may help reduce sleep apnea or snoring. [7]

You can reduce the adverse outcomes of stomach sleeping and enjoy the position by making a few tweaks. Dr. Mandell recommends placing a pillow underneath the chest/hip area to reduce the angle of neck rotation. Placing a pillow under your hips can also help align the spine better.

You might also want to consider investing in a firm mattress that prevents your torso from sinking too deep.

Position To Avoid #2: Sleeping on Your Side With Arms Above the Head

Typically, the side is one of the healthiest sleeping positions, along with the back. Side sleepers get to enjoy health benefits such as improved spinal alignment, back pain relief, improved gut health, reduced risk of snoring/sleep apnea, and healthier pregnancy. [7][8][9] This may partly explain why 6 in every 10 adults are side sleepers. [3]

The position that Dr. Mandell advises against is sleeping on your side with arms above your head. He describes how the posture puts excessive stress on the head of the humerus—potentially exacerbating any underlying shoulder issues.
The posture may also restrict blood flow and put extra pressure on the nerves passing through your arms and shoulders. This might leave you with numbness or a “pins and needles” sensation in your arms.

And similar to sleeping on your stomach, side sleeping may impact the development of facial wrinkles as the face is pressed against the mattress or pillow. [5]

While sleeping on the side is generally good for your health, the side you pick matters. Most people will get the most comfort from sleeping on the left side. Sleeping on this side is believed to ease pressure on organs and help with cases of heartburn. [10] This is part of the reason pregnant women are advised to sleep on their left.
But for people with heart problems, sleeping on the right may be better. [11]

Best Sleeping Positions For Health

So how should you sleep to maximize health benefits and minimize adverse effects?

Our bodies are different, and people may have differing preferences for sleeping positions. When thinking about the best sleeping positions, consider the long-term health effects and the positions that best allow you to wake up feeling refreshed without aches.

So if your current sleeping posture is adversely affecting your sleep quality and health, enforce strategies to make a switch to healthier positions like back sleeping. Start slowly by using pillows to train your body to stay in the new position. And get pillows and mattresses that support your sleeping position.

All in all, the idea is to find a sleep position that aligns with your unique needs. For example, back sleeping is your best option if facial wrinkles are a concern. Likewise, if you’re a side sleeper with a problematic shoulder, either turn to the unaffected side or sleep on your back. And if you struggle with obstructive sleep apnea, consider switching to the side.

Topic: Two Sleeping Positions You Must Avoid – Dr. Mandell
Who? Dr. Alan Mandell



[1] Desouzart, G., Matos, R., Melo, F., & Filgueiras, E. (2016). Effects of sleeping position on back pain in physically active seniors: A controlled pilot study. Work, 53(2), 235-240:

[2] Skarpsno, E. S., Mork, P. J., Nilsen, T. I. L., & Holtermann, A. (2017). Sleep positions and nocturnal body movements based on free-living accelerometer recordings: association with demographics, lifestyle, and insomnia symptoms. Nature and science of sleep, 9, 267:

[3] Cary, D., Briffa, K., & McKenna, L. (2019). Identifying relationships between sleep posture and non-specific spinal symptoms in adults: A scoping review. BMJ open, 9(6), e027633:

[4] Lee, W. H., & Ko, M. S. (2017). Effect of sleep posture on neck muscle activity. Journal of physical therapy science, 29(6), 1021-1024:

[5] Anson, G., Kane, M. A., & Lambros, V. (2016). Sleep wrinkles: facial aging and facial distortion during sleep. Aesthetic Surgery Journal, 36(8), 931-940:

[6] Chang, J. J., Pien, G. W., Duntley, S. P., & Macones, G. A. (2010). Sleep deprivation during pregnancy and maternal and fetal outcomes: is there a relationship? Sleep medicine reviews, 14(2), 107-114:

[7] Ravesloot, M. J. L., Van Maanen, J. P., Dun, L., & De Vries, N. (2013). The undervalued potential of positional therapy in position-dependent snoring and obstructive sleep apnea—a review of the literature. Sleep and breathing, 17(1), 39-49:

[8] Khoury, R. M., Camacho-Lobato, L., Katz, P. O., Mohiuddin, M. A., & Castell, D. O. (1999). Influence of spontaneous sleep positions on nighttime recumbent reflux in patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease. The American journal of gastroenterology, 94(8), 2069-2073:

[9] Dainese, R., Serra, J., Azpiroz, F., & Malagelada, J. R. (2003). Influence of body posture on intestinal transit of gas. Gut, 52(7), 971-974:

[10] Katz, L. C., Just, R., & Castell, D. O. (1994). Body position affects recumbent postprandial reflux. Journal of clinical gastroenterology, 18(4), 280-283:

[11] Bayraktar, M. F., & Ozeke, O. (2018). Serial echocardiographic changes with different body positions and sleeping side preference in heart failure patients. Echocardiography, 35(8), 1132-1137:

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