The Problem With Sleeping On Your Side, How To Sleep On Your Back, Little-Known Sleep Enhancement Tricks & Much More!

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Podcast, Sleep

Over the past 20 years, my guest on today's show, Dr. Peter Martone, has been trying to recommend pillows for his patients that would put their head in the correct position so that they could get a great night's sleep and wake up rested. He could not find one, and he would have patients purchase soft down pillows and stuff them under their necks. He found that a conventional pillow would lose its shape and end up on the floor. The problem is that a pillow is for your head and you can not support your head to get a great night sleep.

But one day he was watching the movie “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” in 2000 and the two actors came out of the room after “cuddling” all night. The camera gave a quick glimpse of the room they came out of. It showed what the two actors slept on, and to his amazement, it was just a thin pad for their body and a block of wood in lieu of a pillow for their head. 

In that lightbulb moment, Dr. Martone invented the exact sleeping tool we discuss on today's podcast. He's one of the smartest guys I've ever talked to when it comes to sleep, so prepare to optimize your rest and recovery biomechanics like never before!

During our discussion, you'll discover:

-How Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon inspired Dr. Martone's invention…

  • One of the props was a piece of wood, not as a pillow, but for their neck
  • Peter had shoulder issues, couldn't identify the cause
  • While camping, he used a shoe under his neck for sleeping; woke up well rested
  • Used a shoe, and other odd objects for sleeping; shoulder and other health issues were resolved

-Surprising problems caused by sleeping on one's side…

  • 90% of Peter's patients have some type of damage to their cervical curve in the neck
  • We lose the curve doing day to day activities, and there's nothing to repair it at night
  • 98% of patients who lose the curve in their neck develop an unnatural curve in their lower back
  • This eventually leads to scoliosis in the lower back
  • The vermis portion of the brain: main function is to control the body's proprioception
    • 80% of proprioception into the brain comes from the spinal cord
    • The vermis atrophies due to loss of proprioception
    • It affects the pre-frontal cortex (executive functioning)
  • Decreasing the curve in the spine severely limits glymphatic drainage
  • Why we toss and turn at night:
    • Pain centers and nerve centers are very close together
    • When you fall asleep on your side, you can only stay in that position for a short period of time
    • Body should be in a “neutral sleeping position”
    • Alcohol inhibits pain sensors. You stay in the same position longer and wake up in pain
  • OURA ring
  • If you didn't get all that, get this: Loss of the cervical curve = degeneration of the spine. It also causes the vermis to atrophy, which negatively affects the pre-frontal cortex. Side sleeping causes pain and discomfort, which in turn affects the quality of our sleep.
  • The advantages of sleeping on the back versus the side or stomach…
    • Use a pillow for the neck rather than the head
    • Restore the cervical curve and decrease lumbar tension

-How to train yourself to sleep on your back…


-The little-known hack called “Remembering” that may help with sleep problems…

  • Peter struggled to sleep due to numerous things he was thinking about
  • Needed to be “in control” of something
  • Visualized people sitting in a specific seat after giving a talk; he went right to sleep
  • Focus on something, but don't think about it
  • You can't think yourself to sleep; you have to remember yourself to sleep
  • Dreams are how the mind categorizes the day's events
  • The further back in time you can remember, the more efficacious this technique will be

-Ways to control your core temperature while sleeping…

  • Allostatic load:
    • Hierarchy of needs in bodily functions (heart pumping vs. growing fingernails)
    • Your body cares more about your core temperature than even the immune system
    • We get sick because there's a finite amount of energy our body can distribute
  • Maintaining the body's core temperature maintains the allostatic load in our entire body
  • Keep your core as warm as possible; keep hands, feet, and head exposed
  • People like to sleep on their side so they can curl up, feel protected
  • “Head garage” Place a pillow over your head, just above the nose

-More little-known sleep hacks…

  • First 2 hours of the day are the most productive and alert
  • The story of Edison's balls…
  • Write things down, then go to sleep. You won't remember when you wake up
  • The Pilot's Pen
  • Think about “thinking about nothing”
  • CBD Oil

-And Much More…

Click here for the full written transcript of this podcast episode.

Resources from this episode:

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon movie

The Neck Nest: use code GREENFIELD2019 to get a FREE custom pillowcase and Dr. Sleep Right's “30 Day Sleep Quest” program

-My Facebook Live with Peter Martone: How & Why To Sleep On Your Back 

Gravity beds on Amazon

Sleep wedge pillow

650 down pillow

DREEM headband for monitoring sleep

The OURA ring

Weighted blanket

Pilot's Pen (lit pen for nighttime writing)

MagSRT (code: GREENFIELD10)

Thorne Hemp Oil

Deep Sleep Decoded: Everything You Need To Know To Increase Your Deep Sleep Percentages.

GetPocket app

The Pilot's Pen

Episode Sponsors:

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Pso Rite: Built for getting to the really important Psoas muscle but awesome everywhere else in your body and really easy to use and control the pressure yourself. Receive a 10% discount when you use discount code: BEN10

Do you have questions, thoughts or feedback for Peter or me? Leave your comments below and one of us will reply!

Ask Ben a Podcast Question


46 thoughts on “The Problem With Sleeping On Your Side, How To Sleep On Your Back, Little-Known Sleep Enhancement Tricks & Much More!

  1. What about snoring when sleeping on your back?

    I get kicked frequently when I find myself on my back, due to snoring.

    Now, tbf, I’ve slept on my side my whole life, but keep going back to my back after getting pretty uncomfortable half way through the night on my side. I also have shoulder capsule issues that seem to be aggravated / caused by side sleeping. Back sleeping seems the most comfortable, albeit I can get some congestion and sleep apnea – type awakings.

    The back does feel comfortable, but the snoring thing makes it a no go for my marriage!

    I’ve got a sleep wedge, but needed to cut it down a bit because side sleeping on a 7inch wedge has you rolling down to the foot of the bed! I’m also trying to find the right pillow depth, as my shoulders are quite wide and I bodybuild. They always feel crunched up.

    So, what does Dr Martone recommend for dealing with back snoring and keeping the marriage sane? ;)

    Cheers Ben,

    Steve

    1. Peter says:

      Some buteyko breathing practitioners advocate taping your mouth shut.

  2. Sam says:

    Slynate below reply toDamian and others.
    Alz is a complex disease and there is no easy fix either by medication ( Big pharma so far has failed on this) or by sleeping it off. We do know as we age,we need to sleep longer to help remove amyloid and Tau proteins. Our efficiency of removing amyloid and tau protein also drops off as we age. There is 2 good books The End of Alzheimer’s: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline
    by Dale Bredesen who is a neurologist UCLA, and 2nd edition Grain Brain by Dr Perlmutter.
    Dr Bredesen now is another 100 patients added to his original observational study of 10 patients.
    https://foodrevolution.org/blog/food-and-health/prevent-reverse-alzheimers/
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4221920/
    https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2019/03/10/treating-mercury-toxicity-with-emeramide.aspx
    https://www.beingpatient.com/cannabis-treat-alzheimers/
    https://www.beingpatient.com/marijuana-relieves-alzheimers-like-symptoms-at-least-in-mice/
    https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/311347.php?sr

  3. SlyNate says:

    So just a few weeks ago Dan Levendowski was hosted on another popular biohacking podcast and recommened side sleeping for glymphatic drainage and reduced alzeimer’s risk.

    Two recommendations at complete odds, what to make of this?

  4. Les says:

    Hi Ben. Does the Neck Nest ship to Australia? Thanks.

    1. Not at this point. You would have to send a prepaid address label.. Box dimensions are
      7x10x24 inches and 3 pounds shipping from 1 Teal Road Wakefield, MA 01880

  5. Steve says:

    How about a rolled up small towel under neck when sleeping on your back. No pillow needed. Cervical curve held just fine. Price-$1. I have been doing it off and on for a long while. I had a reversed cervical curve when I first took xrays, years ago (like 25) with chiro. All good now. I have been in the health/biohack game for 30 years. Many times, simple is all that is needed.

  6. Gary Scott says:

    Ben,

    Shockingly unscientific podcast guest. You asked: any research…evasive answers…he looked at his patient’s x-rays and lo and behold, improvement 3-4 months later…must have been his new product he is selling on your podcast.

    I hope you got more than a free pillow for the exposure you provided.

    And if you did, that’s pretty bad journalism.

    1. Peter Martone says:

      Despite the back-and-forth debate between the right and left side, research points to sleeping on your back as the best method for staying healthy while sleeping.“Back sleeping is the best option for pain management, as it allows your body to rest in a neutral position, which is great for reducing aches. It also cuts down on heartburn, as it keeps your head elevated above your chest,” according to Popular Science. And, according to Sleep.org, sleeping on your back gives your head, neck, and spine a proper rest throughout the night. When you sleep facing the ceiling, you will lessen the likelihood of suffering acid reflux.

      Simply put the bio mechanics work much better on your back putting your body in a neutral position than on your side.

      1. chris says:

        Popular Science and Sleep.org are “research”?

        How about something like this-

        https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5677378/

        And, from the study:

        “Body postures and movements during sleep have been reported to be associated with sleep quality and various health outcomes.1–3 For example, poor sleepers spend more time on their back,1 the severity of sleep apnea–hypopnea syndrome is increased in this position,2 and patients with heart failure tend to favor sleeping on their side.4,5 These studies thus suggest that distribution of sleep positions may constitute important health-related information. Although the influence of sleep on health and well-being is well documented,6 information about the distribution of body postures and movements during sleep is scarce.”

        So, poor sleepers (from this one study) spend more time on their back and heart failure might be correlated to side-sleeping and back-sleepers increase problems with sleep apnea–hypopnea syndrome. EESH! Now what do we do?

        This stuff took five minutes of searching to find out.

        I think what we are asking for is your s c I e n c e re: back-sleeping.

        My own n=1 experience from more than 25 years of shift work is that great sleep comes more from 1. darkness 2. state of mind 3. temperature and 4. establishing a routine. In that order. I have coached many a fellow night shifter (free of charge) into sleeping well during the day. If I fix the above things, the rest is easy. Weighted blanket? Sure, why not. Good pillow? Of course.

        However, 50+ years of being primarily a side sleeper does not mean I am going to develop scoliosis or heart failure any more than being a back sleeper translates into sleep apnea–hypopnea syndrome.

        I love the focus on sleep and making it better. For that, the science aaannnddd common sense is abundant and clear. For the “sleep on your back or else” evangelization, not so much. It just has that “My coffee is the only mold-free coffee” kinda feel to it.

  7. M.H says:

    Interesting thoughts put forward but by no means conclusive and arguably a little too biased – the original argument of C-spine straightening lending itself to pelvic distortion and brain degeneration seems to be more of a movement problem than a sleeping problem. It’s a bizarre top-down approach and I’d argue that taking someones feet into the equation for how and why the spine has arranged itself in this way is of greater value. Lack of movement options damages joints far more than “neutral” sleeping: suggesting there is one optimal way for everyone is about as asinine as believing that there is one “neutral” posture we should all exist in day in and day out. Sorry but sleeping in a way that is comfortable and allows for nasal breathing in order to get into deep sleep seems far better than a silo perspective from x-rays.
    Ben- I appreciated your questions towards this topic, it was a well led discussion.

  8. Kirk says:

    Another N=1 here, somewhat in support of this guy. I have apnea and have used a CPAP for 30 years. After a few years of CPAP use, my wife complained that I sometimes opened my mouth at night, the sound of which woke her. I trained myself to sleep on my left side so that I would not be facing her. That solved the sound problem, but after decades of side-sleeping, now I have bunched, tight muscles in my left shoulder and neck which do not want to release. Getting those muscles to relax is one of my goals for this year.

    Now that the kids have moved out, my wife sleeps in one of the other bedrooms. Over the past two years I trained myself to sleep on my back. I don’t even use a pillow at all when sleeping on my back. (Won’t work for everyone, but it does for me.) I also have learned to use a hand towel, folded two times lengthwise, to cover my eyes and ears. And I started mouth-taping last year, which caused a big improvement in sleep.

    Another interesting sleep hack: Four Sigmatic Reishi packet in the morning coffee. My dreams now are fascinating.

  9. p says:

    Lots of research on better to sleep on side to drain lymph and avoid Alzheimers> I sure would like to read the response to this!

    1. Michael says:

      Thanks for pointing this out !! That was my thoughts also. Not so sure his ideas and pillow are a good idea.

    2. Peter says:

      I have seen much of it and have not been convinced. Although lymph drainage occurs better on your left side you still need muscle contractions to help it move along. The other point is when you fall asleep on your side you are not in control how long you stay there for.

      Our bodies were meat to have our neck supported while we sleep reversing the damaging effects of forward head posture activities is only one of the benefits.

  10. Manuela says:

    Side-sleeper here.

    My problem with back sleeping is that the surface of my lower-back, top of the butt, and hamstrings go numb-ish when I’m on the back… and then I get very antsy & can’t stand it. I’ve been increasing to 30 mins over several months, but it’s still very uncomfortable. Wish I had his thoughts on this…

    Very informative, though!

    Thanks a lot, Ben, for bringing him in!

    1. Peter Martone says:

      Manuela,
      There might be a degeneration issue and your bed could be the cause. You can try a few things.. Sleeping on a feather bed topper at an elevated sleeping position of approx 5-10 degrees is where I would start.

      Try that and let me know

  11. Sam Y says:

    Many people have undiagnosed sleep apnea. Supine sleeping position worsens OSA. Additional research suggest lateral sleep position help lymphatic drainage in the brain . see links below..

    For those who have chronic neck , back, hip. knee pain ,reflex sympathetic dystrophy pain etc, take a look at FSM

    .
    https://frequencyspecific.com/frequency-specific-…

    Body posture: Glymphatic transport activity is most efficient in the right lateral position compared with the supine or prone positions.26 Body position is known to influence sympathetic tone, with sympathetic tone being lower in the right lateral

    position compared with that in the left lateral position.27 Body position is also known to affect respiratory function, particularly during the night sleep cycle.28,29

    The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association March 2016 | Vol 116 | No. 3

    https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Joerg_Lehest…

    Head Position During Sleep: Potential Implications for Patients with Neurodegenerative Disease
    https://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-…

    1. Damian says:

      You seem to have a lot of knowledge on glymphatic transport. Two questions:

      – Any other tips/tricks to increase glymphatic transport?
      – Anyone know whether there is any way to, should one have gotten crappy sleep for years previously, clear out accumulated amyloid beta or tau proteins, or is it just a matter of improving things going forward?

      1. Sam Y says:

        Damian and others.
        Alz is a complex disease and there is no easy fix either by medication ( Big pharma so far has failed on this) or by sleeping it off. We do know as we age,we need to sleep longer to help remove amyloid and Tau proteins. Our efficiency of removing amyloid and tau protein also drops off as we age. There is 2 good books The End of Alzheimer’s: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline
        by Dale Bredesen who is a neurologist UCLA, and 2nd edition Grain Brain by Dr Perlmutter.
        Dr Bredesen now is another 100 patients added to his original observational study of 10 patients.
        https://foodrevolution.org/blog/food-and-health/prevent-reverse-alzheimers/

        https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4221920/
        https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2019/03/10/treating-mercury-toxicity-with-emeramide.aspx

        https://www.beingpatient.com/cannabis-treat-alzheimers/
        https://www.beingpatient.com/marijuana-relieves-alzheimers-like-symptoms-at-least-in-mice/
        https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/311347.php?sr

    2. Peter Martone says:

      After reviewing much of the science on sleep and sleep position I have found that it is very incomplete and based on what you read many studies contradict each other. There are so many unknowns and variables that are not considered with much of it that the PREMISE of the researcher or reader will determine the interpretation (conclusion) of the study.
      My premise is based on fact that the entire body is controlled by the central nervous system (CNS) and the most important factor that effects your health and well being is that your nervous system functions optimally. The structure of your spine, (including your spinal curves) directly effects the function of the CNS. If you lose the curves of your spine you lose function of the CNS thus effecting your overall health and performance. Robing a person of life.
      Your sleep position, posture, and pillow placement play a vital role in maintaining a healthy spine by reversing the damaging effects of prolonged computer work, texting, and side sleeping. These forward head posture positions cause your spine to break down thus effecting your body’s function. (For me personally just using the wrong pillow was what was causing my daily back pain.)
      If you do not share the same premise, then you will come to different conclusions. Even if you are looking at the same statistical data. Your premise can cause you to will miss vital variables which lead researches to come to inaccurate conclusions.
      None the less, they will miss that the structure and function of the CNS will be comprised which is the underlying basis of my Neutral Sleeping Position conclusion.
      If we can agree to come from the place of spinal alignment, then we will start to see that working on keeping our body in a neutral sleep position will help us not only get a great night sleep but will also help us correct the structure of our spine improving the function of the CNS. If we can start there then we will be able assess sleep variables that inhibit us to Sleep Right.
      It must start with the alignment of a similar premise. If we can not get there, then we will not get anywhere.

      1. Justin Goldberg says:

        Peter,

        I thought you would want to know that even ancient egyptians slept with a hard, crescent shaped neck raising type of thing. Some are still around – just google ‘ancient egyptians pillow’

      2. Justin Goldberg says:

        Also, I have noticed some stories in Google where people have said that they were in situations where they had to sleep on a hard floor with little cushioning (new city, etc…) and that their back problems improved, after they had gotten used to it.

        I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, perhaps on a later episode of Ben’s podcast.

  12. CJ Danger says:

    Seriously? This guy, although well intentioned I’m sure, is a hack. There is absolutely no science behind what he is proposing. He is N=1. He really is not a sleep expert, he has just experimented a bunch on himself and has found what works for him. I cannot believe he is basing his back sleeping and neck pillow theory off something he saw in a fictional movie. How do/did indigenous people sleep, what is the natural position for babies and small children? I seriously think this guy missed the point when Ben suggested “take your computer to bed and do the program”.

    Here’s a quote from the podcast, “I have NOT done any research…I’m theorizing that when you degenerate the spine you atrophy the dermis”, then two sentences later he agrees with Ben as he tried to make sense of what he said, “without a doubt, absolutely, 110%” Since when is a theory 110%? Also, there is no such thing as “hip scoliosis”. Scoliosis is a condition of the spine.

    1. Justin Goldberg says:

      Look at any chiropractor recommended pillow – they have the same support

  13. Gavin Sibbald says:

    Did what he said last night. Deep Sleep went from usual 11% to 18%. 10 – 2am were almost perfect with 1hr 35m in deep sleep. I have wide shoulders and this has always been the issue with me waking up with a dead arm or shoulder pain…
    Thanks Ben.

  14. Nicholas Vizoukis says:

    $20 not working?

  15. Nick says:

    I wish there was some discussion on sleep apnea as it relates to sleeping on back. I used to sleep on my back until I got tested for sleep apnea. I now sleep on my side. I have a narrow airway and it gets smaller if the head is tilted back. My hips are out of alignment and side sleeping could be one of the reasons.

    1. Justin Goldberg says:

      That’s interesting. I’ve heard that sleeping on the right can improve sleep apnea but I could not determine any improvement on myself.

  16. David says:

    People who snore don’t do well sleeping on their back.

  17. Steve says:

    Ben,

    I’m a big fan of the OURA ring , however, after listening to Dr.Rhonda Patrick’s podcast with Dr. Mathew Walker he was very careful about not mentioning names but stated the best personal sleep trackers out there were only about 60% accurate especially when it comes to deep sleep. I’ve also been seen at the Stanford sleep lab and they too said don’t trust the OURA /Fitbit etc. Without measuring brain waves the accuracy of these sleep cycles can’t be measured very accurately. I believe there has been a few PubMed articles that discussed the OURA ring and it’s accuracy of the sleep cycles which was around the 50-60% range depending on what cycle. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28323455/
    I guess what I’m saying is be careful using the OURA as the end all be all as it’s very cool but has its limitations.

    1. Brandon says:

      100% agree. I am on call and was up more then half the night. Exhausted today. Oura gave me 7.5 hrs sleep and a high sleep score. I got maybe 3 hours.

      1. John says:

        Yeah being “on call” stinks for sleep. My oura ring listed 3 hours a couple nights ago and very sleep deprived during day at work.

        I haven’t read all the comments but believe there’s some data on side sleeping vs back sleeping as others mentioned. Unfortunately, not on humans to my knowledge. I also have a “zero gravity” bed but unsure of back vs side sleeping since too many variables to determine what’s best for me. X-rays/CT/MRIs of spine tend to worsen with age and I’m unaware of sleep position to alter degenerative changes or osteophytes of bones, although disc pathology can change and also unaware of sleep position for that to occur.

    2. Justin Goldberg says:

      What about sleep actigraphy, as used by the mobile app Sleep as Android? It uses both accelerometer or the microphone and speaker in a special way as a sonar (phone placed on your bedside table). It would interesting to see a study of these type of apps.

  18. Maddy says:

    I have used a barley husk pillow for the last 12 years – it forms to my neck – I had a serious degeneration of my neck from several accidents and was told it was unresolvable. I used Nucca chiropractic treatment which focuses on C1-3 (it is a gentle repositioning of the upper spine – no dramatic cracking thank you ) along with massage to retrain my muscles /ligaments to stay in position and my husk pillow. Amazing. I have not had neck pain in 12 years.

  19. Will says:

    Ben,

    I’m very interested in the neck nest with your code. However, this podcast page says use code “GREENFIELD”, the landing page at necknest.com says “GREEN2019” is the code, and the checkout page says use code “GREENFIELD2019”. Using any of those doesn’t appear to update the order and the next step is to place the order. Do you know if this matters? Thanks for all you do.

    1. Rhonda Parker says:

      I just put in the order and it does add the pillow case in notes after placing order

      1. Rhonda Parker says:

        Use the code they provide GREENFIELD2019

        1. Will says:

          Thank you!

        2. Andrew says:

          I used both codes on the “ Canadian orders only “ section and they do not work. I think I’m going to try and invent my own pillow hack… too bad really wanted two of these. 😑😑😑

      2. michael knowlden says:

        GREENFIELD2019 didnt add the coupon after the purchase for me, couldve ordered off amazon for $9 shipping instead of $20. for anyone wondering

  20. Brian says:

    Ben,

    Patrick Mckeown of Oxygen Advantage stated that sleeping on your left side was the preferred way to sleep from a breathing standpoint. Moreover, he stated that sleeping on your back is the worst method. How are you reconciling these two viewpoints as they both make great points?

    1. Mike says:

      I’m not Ben, but I keep my mouth shut and breathe through my nose. If you have trouble doing that, put a little piece of tape on your lips. Search “mouth taping”. And if your nostrils are constricted you can put apply a nasal strip that opens up your nose. It’s completely safe and I’ve been doing it for years.

      1. Brian says:

        I have been taping my mouth shut for a while now as well. My question was regarding the best way to sleep: either on your back or your side. Mckeown stated on this podcast and in his books that is your side, while Martone says it is your back. Only one of them can be right.

  21. Eric says:

    Hey Ben, where can I get legit CBD oil? It’s so hard to find legit companies online

  22. Ben,

    You always make me laugh (with you), I love your introductions haha

    You should have this guy on your podcast: John MacArthur

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pXnwB97fBj8&t=507s

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