Kiwis’ expanding waistlines and higher BMIs are forcing us to adopt new sleep positions to help them breathe – according to new research.
Around half (48%) of adult New Zealanders sleep on their side – a position which researchers say increases in preference as we age and our Body Mass Index (BMI) rises.
The new research from mattress retailer Ecosa also found that as we age we tend to move away from sleeping in other positions such as on our back, stomach and ‘freestyle’ (a variation in sleep position).
The sleep position preference study which collected data from more than 730 Kiwis from around the country found that around a sixth (17%) of us prefer to sleep on our backs, a tenth (8%) sleep on our stomachs and a further quarter (27%) are freestyle sleepers.
Ecosa CEO Ringo Chan says the New Zealand data is consistent with European research which found similar proportions of sleep position preference among adults.
“The New Zealand study results are in line with international data which showed one in every two adults prefer to sleep on their side.
“In addition to showing a correlation between an increase in age, the researchers also noted that preference for this position also increases with weight and BMI,” he says.
Chan says understanding your sleep position is important as it can be associated with a wide range of health concerns ranging from respiratory issues through to premature wrinkles.
He says while the reasons for our preferences in sleep position are not fully understood by scientists, a number of theories have been put forward.
“Researchers have suggested that the reason the side position preference increases with age is due to loss of flexibility of the spine and/or the extra effort required for breathing in the front position.
“Side sleeping also helps to open our airways to allow for steady airflow to the lungs.
“Lying on your back and assuming a neutral body position typically results in the least amount of strain on your head, neck and spine however studies show links between this position and snoring,” says Chan.
He says sleeping on your stomach may make breathing regularly a challenge because airway passages could be compromised and others may experience neck pain or tingling in joints and muscles due to poor circulation.
Chan says research has also found a link between this position and the development of facial wrinkles. Skarpsno ES, Mork PJ, Nilsen TIL, Holtermann A. Sleep positions and nocturnal body movements based on free-living accelerometer recordings: association with demographics, lifestyle, and insomnia symptoms. Accessible here  Goesel Anson, Michael A.C. Kane, Val Lambros, Sleep Wrinkles: Facial Aging and Facial Distortion During Sleep, Aesthetic Surgery Journal, Volume 36, Issue 8, September 2016, Pages 931–940, https://doi.org/10.1093/asj/sjw074