Why are some adults and children naturally drawn to sleeping on their stomachs if it's not a good sleep position (according to many articles)? I understand it's not good for babies because of the increased SIDS risk, but I think I also recall hearing or reading that it would cause them to sleep deeper than on their back which, aside from SIDS risk, sounds like it has potential to be beneficial for people?

EDIT: Here are some example articles which speak negatively about stomach sleeping.

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    Hm....I know of know disadvantage to sleeping on the stomach in adults (actually would cure most sleep apnea if people could manage it consistently). Could you cite a source you read that was making that claim (“according to many articles”)? – Susan May 26 '15 at 6:45
  • @Susan I edited my post to include some links. Good point about sleep apnea - someone I know with apnea has had multiple sleep studies done and had the least occurrence of apnea events when on their stomach. – g491 May 26 '15 at 15:44
  • Thanks for adding the references! One other thing: I think there are really two questions in here: 1) Is stomach-sleeping bad? and 2) Why are people drawn to something bad? The second seems to be either a teleological or evolutionary question that might be better on (in the first case) a philosophy or religion site or (in the second case) on biology.SE. The first question, on the other hand, is eminently on-topic and answerable. Could I convince you to narrow it accordingly? – Susan May 29 '15 at 11:32
  • @Susan I guess the reason I put both in the question is I'd like to see any answer to #1 account for the fact that people seem to be drawn to stomach sleeping, even from a very young age where societal influence if anything seems to steer towards the opposite (e.g. "back is best" SIDS campaign). I suppose I could just reply in the comments to any answer which didn't address that, but I figured might as well put it in the question itself. – g491 May 29 '15 at 15:05

Sleeping in a prone position is not bad. However there are some complications of it that can be negative. A simple example is drooling. A more important problem with sleeping in a prone position is poor posture. Most people don't have a bed like a chiropractic table that allows them to breathe with their face straight down while maintaining a neutral spine. Due to this lack of beds designed for the prone sleeper they have to turn their head to the side. This extreme rotation held for 8 hours can cause neck pain. Most people who sleep that way also use a pillow under their head and/or upper body causing excessive and prolonged lumbar extension. This can lead to low back pain. J Amer Chiropr Assoc 2011 May-June;48(4):17-18

The textbooks and the research I've seen always say the best sleep position maintains a neutral spine. That means on your back with a pillow supporting your neck and one supporting your knees. Alternatively you can sleep on your side with a pillow supporting your neck, head, and the top arm as well as a pillow between the knees. This will keep the spine in a neutral position. I always tell my patients that the best way to sleep is the one that gives you a good, full nights sleep. You can probably improve your sleep with a few modifications, but if you are a side sleeper, you'll have a difficult time trying to force yourself to your back because, you're not conscious at the time. The Mayo Clinic has some excellent images that can help with modifications.

People tend to sleep in positions that are comfortable for them. If all day long they sit or work in a flexed posture then their body may crave the extension of their low back that comes from prone positions. In fact they may sleep prone because of back pain caused by excessive flexion. We've all seen this phenomenon before as we squirm in our chair or our legs ache to stretch when on a long flight or car ride. Motion and proper posture affects every aspect of our life. More research can be found here (No Affiliation).

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  • Interesting comment you made about sleeping prone because the body craving extension of the low back. I sit for long periods during the day so that may be why I gravitate to sleeping prone. – g491 Aug 23 '15 at 23:47
  • I once had to sleep on my stomach due to an injured tailbone. The pain was cringing for 3 whole weeks and I could not sleep on my back at all and sleeping on my side hurt as well. But sleeping on my stomach was comfortable. Ironically this lead to me waking up on my back, the most painful position for an injured tailbone. Even when the pain significantly decreased, I still slept on my stomach until my tailbone was fully healed and then I started sleeping on my side again. – Caters May 21 '17 at 1:28

Short answer: It's in many peoples genes.

Long answer: Sleeping with the frontside down or sidewards in a fetal curl has 2 major evolutionary advantages:

1) the frontside, which is most vulnerable while sleeping, is better protected this way. Nowadays we are safe during sleep anyway but in the far past when we were still living in caves that maybe wasn't always the case.

2) it's better in terms of warmth preservation. Our guts need to be well-temperated but sleeping with the frontside up and stretched out will let the environment drain warmth energy out of the body faster than the other 2 positions (considering that one is sleeping on a properly insulating material).

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    Welcome to Health.SE Matt! Since health is an important topic, the site has a strict policy that all answers should be backed up with reliable references, in order to provide the community with the means to assess the merit of the answer, regardless of the reader's background. See this list of reliable sources. If you still have trouble with this, feel free to visit the help center. – Narusan Nov 29 '17 at 12:39

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