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8 Tips for Finding the Best Sleep Position for Your Health

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Advice on sleep hygiene—habits we can adopt to help us get higher quality, more restful sleep—abounds. We’ve heard about the benefits of turning off our phones an hour before bed, avoiding caffeine in the evening, and keeping our bedroom dark and cool, but how do the positions in which we sleep affect our overall health?

As Nancy H. Rothstein, a sleep wellness consultant for The Sleep Ambassador explains, “the most appropriate sleep position varies from person to person and is dependent on comfort, health issues, and recommendations by health professionals.” Everything from snoring to acid reflux to pregnancy to back pain impacts which sleep position is best for your individual health. So when should you sleep on your back, stomach, left side, or right side? Here are some helpful tips for choosing the best sleeping position, based on your needs.

1. IF YOU HAVE BACK OR NECK PAIN, DON’T SLEEP IN THE FETAL POSITION.

The fetal position (scrunching your knees up to your chest and pulling your arms into a tiny ball) may feel safe, but it’s not the best position for your body. Tucking your chin and curling your body up into itself can strain your neck and head. According to Rothstein, sleeping in the fetal position can also compromise your circulation and restrict healthy, diaphragmatic breathing. To avoid overstretching your back and neck, try to straighten your legs and arms so you’re lying flat on your back instead.

2. IF ACID REFLUX KEEPS YOU AWAKE, SLEEP ON YOUR BACK.

To get a more restful night when you suffer from acid reflux, sleep on your back with your head elevated. Dr. Eric Olson, the co-director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Sleep Medicine, told Health that acid or food is less likely to come back up if your stomach is positioned below your esophagus. Besides helping to minimize acid reflux, sleeping on your back also puts less strain on your back and neck than other positions.

3. TRY TO AVOID SLEEPING ON YOUR STOMACH.

When you lie on your stomach with your head turned to one side, you could be straining your neck, spine, and lower back. If you're only able to doze off while positioned belly-down, consider using a thin pillow to minimize the angle that your neck is placed, and put a pillow under your pelvis to encourage your spine to stay in neutral alignment.

4. IF YOU SNORE, SLEEPING ON YOUR SIDE MAY HELP.

Because the position of your tongue can obstruct your airway, making it harder to breathe, sleeping on your back usually increases snoring. Rothstein warns, “If you snore regularly, it is critical to seek diagnosis for possible sleep apnea, a serious condition which when undiagnosed can lead to multiple health issues.” If your physician diagnoses you with sleep apnea, ask him or her what the best sleeping position is for you.

If you snore but don’t have sleep apnea, try sleeping on your side to keep your airway open. “And consider placing a pillow between your knees to alleviate pressure on your lower back,” says Rothstein.

5. SLEEPING ON YOUR BACK IS BEST FOR PREVENTING WRINKLES.

If you’re worried about premature facial wrinkles, try to sleep on your back rather than on your stomach or side. When you sleep on your back, your pillow doesn't rub against your face all night. “Sleep wrinkles are the lines that are formed when the face is compressed against a pillow night after night," Dr. Goesel Anson, a plastic surgeon, told Harper’s Bazaar. "[They] will eventually become permanent from constant compression and decreased skin elasticity with age.”

6. PREGNANT WOMEN SHOULD SLEEP ON THEIR LEFT SIDE.

There are pros and cons to sleeping on your left side versus your right side. If you’re on your left side all night, you can put strain on your liver and lungs, but being on your right side can make heartburn worse. Most experts agree that a pregnant woman should sleep on her left side rather than her stomach or back in order to take pressure off her uterus, stomach, and breasts, and to optimize blood flow.

7. AVOID THE STARFISH POSITION IF YOU WAKE UP WITH SHOULDER PAIN.

Although sleeping on your back with your arms above your head can feel good on your back, you could be hurting yourself by putting too much pressure on the nerves in your shoulders.

8. SLEEPING ON YOUR SIDE MAY PREVENT BACK PAIN, BUT IT CAN MAKE YOUR BREASTS SAG.

If you sleep on your side with your knees bent up slightly towards your chest (not a full fetal position), you minimize straining your back, neck, and spine. But, gravity causes your breasts to hang downward, which can stretch the ligaments over time. To combat sleep-related breast sag, either sleep on your back or, if you’re loyal to sleeping on your side, put a pillow under your breasts to support their weight.

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Why You Should Think Twice About Drinking From Ceramics You Made by Hand
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Ceramic ware is much safer than it used to be (Fiesta ware hasn’t coated its plates in uranium since 1973), but according to NPR, not all new ceramics are free of dangerous chemicals. If you own a mug, bowl, plate, or other ceramic kitchen item that was glazed before entering the kiln, it may contain trace amounts of harmful lead.

Earthenware is often coated with a shiny, ceramic glaze. If the clay used to sculpt the vessel is nontoxic, that doesn’t necessarily mean the glaze is. Historically, the chemical has been used in glazes to give pottery a glossy finish and brighten colors like orange, yellow, and red.

Sometimes the amount of lead in a product is minuscule, but even trace amounts can contaminate whatever you're eating or drinking. Over time, exposure to lead in small doses can lead to heightened blood pressure, lowered kidney function, and reproductive issues. Lead can cause even more serious problems in kids, including slowed physical and mental development.

As the dangers of even small amounts of lead have become more widely known, the ceramics industry has gradually eliminated the additive from its products. Most of the big-name commercial ceramic brands, like Crock-Pot and Fiesta ware, have cut it out all together. But there are still some manufacturers, especially abroad, that still use it. Luckily, the FDA keeps a list of the ceramic ware it tests that has been shown to contain lead.

Beyond that list, there’s another group of products consumers should be wary of: kiln-baked dishware that you either bought from an independent artist or made yourself. The ceramic mug you crafted at your local pottery studio isn’t subject to FDA regulations, and therefore it may be better suited to looking pretty on your shelf than to holding beverages. This is especially true when consuming something acidic, like coffee, which can cause any lead hiding in the glaze to leach out.

If you’re not ready to retire your hand-crafted ceramic plates, the FDA offers one possible solution: Purchase a home lead testing kit and analyze the items yourself. If the tests come back negative, your homemade dishware can keep its spot on your dinner table.

[h/t NPR]

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Marathon Running Won't Undo Poor Lifestyle Choices, Study Suggests
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Even marathon participants can't outrun an unhealthy lifestyle, according to a new study highlighted by The New York Times.

For years, expert opinion has been mixed on whether long-distance running helps or hurts hearts. In the 1970s, research suggested that marathon running and a heart-healthy diet would completely prevent atherosclerosis (a buildup of harmful plaque in the arteries). But since high-profile runners have died of heart attacks, scientists in the 1980s began to worry that running might actually harm the vital organ. Compounding this fear in recent years were studies suggesting that male endurance athletes exhibited more signs of heart scarring or plaques than their less-active counterparts.

Experts don't have a verdict quite yet, but researchers from the University of Minnesota and Stanford and their colleagues have some good news—running doesn't seem to harm athletes' hearts, but it's also not a panacea for heart disease. They figured this out by asking 50 longtime marathon runners, all male, with an average age of 59, to fill out questionnaires about their training, health history, and habits, and then examining them for signs of atherosclerosis.

Only 16 of the runners ended up having no plaque in their arteries, and the rest exhibited slight, moderate, or worrisome amounts. The men who had unhealthy hearts also had a history of smoking and high cholesterol. A grueling training regime seemed to have no effect on these levels.

Bottom line? Marathon running won't hurt your heart, but it's not a magic bullet for poor lifestyle choices.

[h/t The New York Times]

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