Sleep Position And Personality: Is There A Tie? Experts Not So Sure

Sleep Positions Personality

First Posted: 10/24/12 EDT Updated: 10/24/12 EDT

Side. Stomach. Back. Fetal: Most people have a preferred sleeping position. But can the way you get shut-eye say something about your personality?

Several news outlets including the Daily Mail, the Telegraph and Fox have recently cited research that asserts a direct connection between sleeping positions and psychological characteristics.

But some experts say there is little evidence to back up the claims. And as it turns out, the recently cited "research" is actually a survey -- conducted by a hotel chain -- about the most common sleep positions.

Robert Phipps, a U.K.-based body language specialist, then gave an analysis he says was akin to a horoscope.

"Yes, it was never meant to be taken seriously and there was no research on my part," Phipps told The Huffington Post in an email.

The analysis in question linked sleep positions with different personality characteristics. As the Telegraph reported:

People who sleep in the fetal position are "worriers." (The tighter they curl up, the more comfort they're supposedly seeking.) Those who sleep on their stomachs, with their arms stretched are "free fallers. (They reportedly feel their lives are out of their control.) "Yearners" -- those who sleep on their sides, with their arms outstretched -- have a dream-chasing nature about them. And "Logs," those who sleep straight, have rigid personalities.

Despite the idea of a "sleep-o-scope" sounding somewhat far-fetched, this isn't first time personality types and sleep positions have been linked.

According to Dr. Chris Idzikowski of the Edinburgh Sleep Centre, in the 1940s, there was an article by a psychiatrist who claimed side-sleepers lacked moral fiber. The article prompted Idzikowski's decision to research whether there was any link between personality traits and sleep position, he told HuffPost in an email.

Idzikowski surveyed 1,004 British subjects about their preferred sleeping positions and asked them to check boxes with adjectives they felt described their personalities. Through factor analysis of the data, Idzikowski found an association between certain sleep positions and certain psychological traits.

The BBC reported on the results in 2003: Those who sleep in fetal position were said to be tough on the outside but sensitive on the inside, for example. "Log" sleepers were found to be easy-going and social. "Yearners" were open, cynical and slow to make up their minds. "Free fallers" were outgoing but thin-skinned and did not like criticism.

Still, Idzikowski's research relied on self-evaluations, and he said that when the survey was conducted among a group of Southeast Asians, the archetypes no longer held up.

Philip Gehrman, a professor of psychiatry and a member of the Penn Sleep Center, expressed doubts over whether there's deep meaning behind how people sleep.

"You can't argue with the fact that they did in fact find a correlation between sleeping position and personality," Gehrman told HuffPost. "[But] the link between sleeping [position] and personality is unlikely to be anywhere near strong enough to make those kinds of statements."

So what does influence the way people sleep? According to Gehrman, it's simply personal preference.

"It's really just a matter [of whether] you are comfortable," he said.

According to Dr. Stuart Quan, a professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School, it would be difficult for people to have their personalities tied to one sleep position, because most people move around in their sleep.

"They will toss and turn. They're naturally switching positions," Quan said. "People who say 'I only sleep on my side, my left side,' they tend to move."

On the other hand, correlations between sleep positions and quality of sleep can exist, according to Quan, but such ties are likely the result of pre-existing health conditions.

Sleep apnea, for example, a disorder in which people experience irregular breathing during sleep, can be made worse by sleeping on one's back, Quan said. Heartburn, too, is another condition that could be made worse by the position a person sleeps.

What can influence the quality of sleep, according to Quan, is what people do while they are awake.

"Nicotine is a stimulant. If you exercise right before you go to sleep, you tend to be hyped," Quan explained. "Even if you get into an argument with your partner and then you try to go to sleep, those are obviously things that affect people trying to go to sleep."

Caffeine, medications and exposure to certain light -- like that of a laptop -- can all sabotage the potential for a good night's sleep. As a result, Quan discourages people from checking emails or watching television right before bed.

"We tell people the bedroom is for two things and they both start with S," said Quan. "The other things should be omitted and should be done somewhere else."

Can't sleep? Michael Decker, Michael Decker, Ph.D., an associate professor at Georgia State University and spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, breaks down which old-fashioned remedies really work.

Loading Slideshow...
  • Lullabies

    Soothing music before bedtime can really do the trick. A 2005 study found that older people who listened to 45 minutes of soft tunes before hitting the hay reported a <a href="http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/nursing/news/news.asp?id=124" target="_hplink">35 percent improvement in their sleep problems</a>. But it doesn't have to be Brahms, if that's not your style. As long as the music was soft and slow -- around 60 to 80 beats per minute -- it can spur <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4228707.stm" target="_hplink">physical changes known to promote sleep</a>, like a slower heart rate and breathing, the BBC reported. "We know that when a person closes their eyes they induce a certain frequency of brain waves," says Decker. Slow music may have a similar effect, he surmises, leading to sleep onset. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/llimaorosa/112246369/" target="_hplink">Llima</a></em>

  • Warm Milk

    It was once thought that a glass of warm milk at bedtime would help send you off to dreamland because of the tryptophan, <em>The New York Times</em> reported, but milk and other protein-rich foods actually <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/04/health/04real.html" target="_hplink">block tryptophan's sleepiness-inducing effects</a>. However, there might still be a psychological benefit to that warm milk, the <em>Times</em> concluded, calling it "as soothing as a favorite old blanket." "There have been some studies showing that when infants receive warm milk before bed, they'll dream a little bit more," says Decker, but the results don't hold true in adults. "It may be one of those myths that because it happens in children, adults think it may be true for them, too," he explains. However, many adults are actually at least slightly lactose intolerant, he says, meaning a warm mlik at bedtime may just lead to discomfort. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/julianrod/152930252/" target="_hplink">julianrod</a></em>

  • Counting Sheep

    If your goal is to bore yourself to sleep, you might try counting sheep, or counting backwards by multiples of three or any of a number of other counting-related mind-numbers. But a 2002 study found that <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11863237" target="_hplink">imagining a more relaxing scene might be more effective</a>. The study observed 41 people with insomnia over a number of nights and asked them to try a variety of different sleep-inducing techniques, like counting sheep. On the nights they were told to imagine relaxing scenes like a beach, a massage or a walk in the woods, <a href="http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/53137" target="_hplink">they fell asleep an average of 20 minutes sooner</a> than on the nights they were told to count sheep or were given no instructions, Mental Floss reported. Decker agrees. "Counting sheep in and of itself may not help," but can act as a ritual that prepares us for sleep, making it not unlike meditation. Counting sheep -- or more relaxing guided imagery -- helps us "focus on something other than life's stressors," he says. "Thinking about a soothing environment may be more restful than the way you spent the last eight hours!" <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/narciss/3716241331/" target="_hplink">Kr. B.</a></em>

  • Breathing Exercises

    Focusing on the breath, whether it's as part of a pre-bed yoga sequence or just a tuned-in awareness, can also have meditation-like effects in preparing for bed, says Decker, like lowering the heart rate. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/perfectoinsecto/2363255713/" target="_hplink">Perfecto Insecto</a></em>

  • Warm Bath

    Your body temp <a href="http://www.health.com/health/condition-article/0,,20189095,00.html" target="_hplink">dips about two hours before bedtime</a>, <em>Health </em>magazine reported, a natural change that "triggers our brain for sleep onset", says Decker. Soaking in a warm bath beforehand boosts your temperature temporarily, but results in a dramatic, rapid cooldown after you get out that relaxes you and eases you into sleep. It's not necessarily the bath that lulls you to sleep, it's that resulting cooling of your body temperature, Decker emphasizes. Research shows that people who take a warm bath before bed not only <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2578367" target="_hplink">fall asleep more quickly</a>, but also report better quality of sleep, he says.

  • Alcohol

    Many people swear by a drink to unwind at the end of the day, but alcohol before bed can actually <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/04/fourth-of-july-sleep_n_1644627.html#slide=1176662" target="_hplink">disrupt your sleep</a>. You'll be more likely to wake up more often in the early-morning hours, wake up and not be to fall back to sleep or have disturbing dreams. "As alcohol is metabolized by the liver, it has a disruptive effect," says Decker. It takes a few hours to metabolize, he says, so a drink with dinner shouldn't be a problem, but anything too close to bedtime can be counterproductive. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/rob-qld/2889139445/" target="_hplink">Rob Qld</a></em>

  • Get Out Of Bed

    It sounds crazy -- how will you ever get to sleep if you're not even in bed?! -- but it works, says Decker. "When a person stays in bed and they can't sleep, the bedroom can induce a certain level of anxiety," he says. "We say after 15 or 20 minutes, get out of bed, sit in another part of the house until you feel a little groggy, then go back to sleep," he says. "Staying in bed can condition you to become anxious in bed." A small 2011 study published in the <em>Archives of Internal Medicine</em> found that among the <a href="http://healthland.time.com/2011/01/27/cant-sleep-it-may-help-to-get-out-of-bed/" target="_hplink">adults studied who reported trouble sleeping</a>, those who spent <a href="http://www.thirdage.com/news/insomnia-cant-sleep-get-out-bed_1-26-2011 " target="_hplink">less time in bed had better sleeping habits</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/perfectoinsecto/3948115802/" target="_hplink">Perfecto Insecto</a></em>

  • Related Video