Sleeping with your arms above your head is known as the starfish position. It’s not a common pose, but it does bring people comfort when they use it. There are theories about the position being associated with certain personality traits, but this has yet to be proven.
Back sleepers are most likely to sleep with their arms in the air because they have difficulty breathing. Sleeping on your back narrows or blocks the airways, so raising your arms in an upward direction opens the lungs, allowing you to breathe in more air than you would with your arms down.
Unfortunately, sleeping with your arms above your head can be detrimental to long-term health. Sleeping this way can disrupt your sleep cycle and cause physical pain that affects your day-to-day life. This can start a cycle where your quality of sleep creates further problems.
Why Do I Sleep with My Arms Above My Head?
According to Sleep, the most common reason people sleep with their arms above their heads is to breathe better. When people sleep on their backs, they’re more likely to have sleep apnea and other breathing difficulties.
The above study shows that most adults with obstructive sleep apnea sleep on their backs. That’s because sleeping on your back can obstruct your airways, and raising your arms above your head expands your lungs, allowing you to breathe easier.
Why Not Another Position?
Even while asleep, your brain is active and keeping track of your body.
According to PLOS One, if you have trouble breathing, you may not wake up, but your brain will try to get you to a more convenient position.
Muscle movement is limited while you sleep (less so during the non-REM stage of sleep). Because of this, raising your arms over your head is faster and simpler than flipping onto your side.
You can still end up in the starfish position, even if you don’t sleep on your back. According to Nature and Science of Sleep, factors that can result in troubled breathing during the night include:
- A large tongue
- A large neck
- Large tonsils
- Narrow airways
Despite this, raising your arms above your head while sleeping isn’t a solution to the problem. In fact, it’s not even the most ideal position to sleep in.
Raising your arms above your head may alleviate respiratory problems for a while. However, certain lifestyle changes can worsen the situation, leading to obstructive sleep apnea and other sleep disorders.
Why Do I Raise My Arms While Sleeping?
Aside from trouble breathing, common reasons why people sleep with their arms up include:
Some people find it more comfortable to sleep on their backs with their arms raised, especially after being in the same position for a long time.
You can test this in your own bed. If you’ve been sitting down for a long time or lying with your arms down, raise your arms and stretch.
As you do so, your muscles—weary from being in the same position for a long time—will feel relieved. You’ll be more likely to keep your arms in that position than return them.
Sleeping positions are also hereditary. Humans pass down fears, temperament, and other personality traits to their children. Well, they also pass down sleeping habits. If you sleep in the starfish position, ask your family members if any of them do the same.
Sometimes, hereditary traits like these:
- Skip a generation
- Are only passed down to one gender
- Only manifest themselves once you’ve reached a certain age
Many people wonder if sleeping in the starfish position is to do with their personality. The truth is, while some surveys have been done on the issue, no conclusive peer-reviewed studies have been done. Thus, there is no determined link between personalities and sleeping positions.
Some sleep medicine doctors say that those who sleep in this position do not like to be the center of attention, but this is just a theory. The most accepted answer in the scientific community is that sleeping position has less to do with personality and more to do with:
- Family history
Is It Bad to Sleep with Your Arms Above Your Head?
Sleeping on your back with your arms above your head is not an ideal position. It may cause a lot of physical pain because you sleep on your back and your arms are raised.
Sleeping on your back can result in difficulty breathing because of the way your throat and tongue press in on themselves due to gravity. Of course, there’s little risk of suffocating in our sleep like this.
Our brain is skilled at making sure we wake up the moment it senses something is wrong. However, waking up in the middle of the night is still a negative.
An interrupted sleep cycle can result in:
- Sleep deprivation
- Daytime drowsiness
- Difficulty staying asleep
Sleeping on your back can increase spinal problems if you have the wrong mattress and pillow for your back. While sleeping on your back can alleviate some back and shoulder pain, it’s easy for your back to stay misaligned while you sleep, especially if you have a bed partner and need to make room for them.
Likewise, sleeping with your arms raised is bad for you due to back and shoulder pain. When sleeping in this position, your back and shoulder nerves are compressed. While short-term nerve compression isn’t too harmful, long-term nerve compression can lead to pain and loss of sensation.
If you wake up with pain in your shoulder, upper back, and neck area, you should consider finding a new position to sleep in. Waking up with body pain can really put a damper on your morning. If it persists all the way through to the night, you might have trouble falling asleep.
How to Stop Myself from Sleeping with My Arms Above My Head
You must ensure that you aren’t having difficulty breathing in your sleep.
- Check with your doctor to eliminate worries of sleep apnea or allergies.
- Optimize your bedroom to avoid breathing problems.
- If you sleep with fans on, make sure that they aren’t blowing dust in your face at night.
- If you live in a big city where dust and car smoke is always in the air, close your window at night.
Ensure that your mattress and pillows aren’t too soft but not too firm either. Find pillows that best suit your body type, as different people have different needs. This depends on how long their neck is and the angle of their shoulders.
To reduce stiffness while you sleep, place pillows under your legs. This method is effective for those who sleep in the starfish position for comfort because it aligns the back.
When you lay on your back, your pelvis tilts forward slightly, but that also causes your back to arch. When you raise your arms above your head, it stretches out your spine and re-aligns it slightly with the position of your pelvis, which is why it feels so comfortable to sleep like this.
Keeping your spine and pelvis aligned with a pillow under your legs makes you less likely to raise your arms.
Where Should You Put Your Arms When Sleeping?
When sleeping, place your arms away from you at a slightly low angle.
Ideally, the best position to sleep in is on your side (lateral recumbent) with your arms out. Keeping your arms low is the best way to sleep because it reduces shoulder pain.
When sleeping with your arms up, you run the risk of compressing the nerves around your neck, back, and shoulder, causing pain. You also don’t want to place your arms under you, as this can lead to numbness.
Be wary of extending your arms out too much and letting them hang off the bed. The weight of your hand and arm can put pressure on your joints, so it’s best to keep them within the parameters of the bed.
If you have trouble sleeping with your arms out because it’s too uncomfortable, it’s recommended that you place a pillow under your arm.
When sleeping with your arms out, always position them with your wrists straight and relaxed. According to HAND, sleeping with a flexed wrist increases your chances of experiencing nocturnal paresthesia.
Nocturnal paresthesia is a common feature of carpal tunnel that causes your joints to tingle or burn at night. The study highlighted how people that sleep on their side experience fewer symptoms of carpal tunnel at night, even if they experience some symptoms during the day.