Before you drift off to sleep each night, there’s a good chance you slide into a familiar position. Maybe you roll over to your right side and pull your knees into your chest, or perhaps you lie flat on your back, arms at your sides as if you’re in “corpse pose” at the end of a yoga class. While you may think this pre-sleep move is simply your way of getting comfy, experts say it can actually tell you a lot about your personality—and your health.
Robert Phipps, a body language expert in England, conducted a survey for a popular U.K. budget hotel chain and found a connection between certain sleeping positions and psychological characteristics (think of it like a horoscope of sleep positions). And Chris Idzikowski, another British researcher and director of the Sleep Assessment and Advisory Service, conducted similar research—and found comparable results.
While some sleep experts scoff at the broad-sweeping connections Phipps and Idzikowski have claimed, what you can look at is the more widely studied physiological issues that can result from sleeping in certain positions, says Rachel Salas, MD, assistant medical director for the Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep. “There are a number of physical issues that can pop up as a result of sleeping in the same position on a regular basis,” she says.
Here’s a look at the three most common sleeping positions, what they could be saying about your personality and health, and how to make little tweaks to wake up more refreshed.
If you sleep on…your side
Your sleep-o-scope: Curl up in the fetal position and it could mean you’re a worrier, according to Phipps’ survey. You may also be tough on the outside but sensitive at heart. If you sleep with both arms stretched out in front of you, you’ve likely got an open nature—but you also may be yearning for more in life, ready to conquer everything life throws your way.
Your potential health woes: Side-sleeping can cause nerve compression in the arms and legs, which can lead to chronic pain, says Salas. Research also shows that acid reflux can worsen when you sleep on your side, particularly if you tend to roll onto your right side. “To combat these issues, sleep next to a body pillow, says Salas, to help support your back and neck. “You might also try sleeping with a thin pillow between your knees to give your back extra support.”
If you sleep on…your back
Your sleep-o-scope: Sleeping like a log—body straight, arms beside you—can indicate that you’re inflexible and rigid, according to Phipps, with a tendency to be bossy, stubborn, and set in your ways. But if your arms drift above your head, there’s a good chance you’re always ready to listen to and help others, making you a great friend.
Your potential health woes: While back sleeping is actually great for those with back or neck pain (it aligns your spine and puts minimal pressure on the nerves in your extremities, says Salas), it can make you more prone to snoring and sleep apnea—two conditions that can be annoying to bed partners at best and detrimental to your health at worst.
Sleeping on your back can also make acid reflux worse, keeping you awake throughout the night. Try propping yourself up with an extra pillow under your head, says Salas, if you’re dealing with acid reflux or snoring.
If you sleep on…your stomach
Your sleep-o-scope: If you like to drift off face-down with your arms outstretched (Phipps coined this position “the freefaller”) it could mean that you often feel like you don’t have much control over what happens in your life or that you’re just hanging on for the ride. If this is the case, you may wake up feeling anxious or worried about your to-dos.
Your potential health woes: Due to the fact that most beds aren’t built like massage tables with holes for us to breathe so that we can keep our neck in line with our spine, it means you likely sleep with your neck turned to one side or another. The result? “This causes a great deal of neck strain that can lead to muscle spasms and chronic pain issues,” says Salas. The solution: Train yourself to sleep on your side or back, she says, as the neck extension that’s required to breathe easily is just too extreme on the body.