People with heart conditions are often told to avoid left-side sleeping. But what are the dangers of sleeping on your left side? Here’s what you need to know.
You may have heard that sleeping on your left side is bad for your heart. There is no evidence that sleeping on your left side increases the risk of developing heart issues for those who don’t have pre-existing heart conditions. However, people with congestive heart failure or other heart problems have reported pain, discomfort, and trouble breathing when sleeping on their left side.
Along with the anecdotal evidence, a 1997 study found that electrocardiogram (ECG) readings picked up on noticeable changes in the heart’s electrical activity when patients slept on their left side. In 2018, researchers used a heart imaging technique known as vectorcardiography to study this phenomenon. They discovered that left-side sleeping caused the heart to shift and turn, even in healthy participants.
Heart movement during left-side sleeping is due to a key difference between your right and left side. On your right side, a thin layer of tissue between your lungs (the mediastinum) holds your heart in place. Because this only happens on the right side of your body, the heart moves around a little when you sleep on your left side. While this explains the ECG changes and reported patient discomfort, more research needs to be done about the dangers of left-side sleeping for people with heart conditions.
Best Sleep Positions for Those Without Heart Problems
For those who don’t have an underlying heart condition, sleeping in a fetal position on either side is best. Sleeping this way (curled up on your side) resets your spine to its natural alignment. If you experience back or neck pain from this sleeping position, you could sleep on your back.
Pregnant women without underlying heart conditions should sleep on their left side. Since the liver is on the right side of the abdomen, left-side sleeping prevents the uterus from pressing down on the liver. Also, sleeping on your left while pregnant stops the fetus from weighing down on your inferior vena cava, the large vein that delivers blood to your organs, legs and feet.
Best Sleeping Positions for Those With Heart Problems
Those who have had heart failure or other heart conditions should sleep on their right side whenever possible. Right-side sleeping lets the heart rest in place with help from the mediastinum, preventing the disruption of your heart’s electrical current. This will help ward off breathing issues and discomfort while sleeping.
Along with avoiding your left side, people with pre-existing heart conditions should avoid sleeping on their back. This can worsen sleep apnea, and people with sleep apnea are more likely to experience heart disease. Sleeping on your stomach can relieve sleep apnea and snoring but could cause neck or back pain. One solution is sleeping on your back and elevating your head with pillows, which can prevent breathing difficulties and take some pressure off your heart.
People with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) should sleep on the opposite side of their ICD implantation, as this is usually what’s most comfortable. Luckily, most ICDs are implanted on the left, so it’s likely you will be sleeping on your right side.
Improving Heart Health Through Better Sleep
In general, getting good sleep is more important than your sleeping position for heart health. Try to keep a consistent bedtime routine and get seven to nine hours of sleep. Also, avoid screens and alcohol immediately before bedtime, and keep your sleeping environment free of distractions or bright lights.
Heart health and sleep work both ways — if you have a heart condition, you might experience worse sleep because of it. If you’re having trouble breathing or experiencing pain while lying down to sleep, contact Tri-City Cardiology. We’ll work with you to understand the root of your discomfort, and help improve your heart health during the day and at night!