why do I sleep with my arms above my head?
Sleep Positions

Why Do I Sleep with My Arms Up in The Air? (Starfish Position)

Last Updated on April 3, 2024 by Louise Carter

Sleeping with your arms above your head is comfortable for some, but not others. Back sleepers are likelier to adopt the starfish position due to breathing and respiratory difficulties.

Back sleeping narrows or blocks the airways. Raising the arms upward opens the lungs, allowing you to inhale more oxygen than you could with your arms by your side.

Resting with your arms above your head can sometimes harm your health. For some, it can disrupt their sleep cycle and exert more pressure on the nerves in the shoulders.

Why Do I Sleep with My Arms Above My Head?

According to the journal Sleep, most people sleep with their arms above their heads because it makes breathing easier. Back sleepers are likelier to have sleep apnea and other respiratory issues.

This study found that most adults with obstructive sleep apnea sleep on their backs because back sleeping can sometimes obstruct the airways, hence why so many are heavy snorers.

Raising the arms above your head expands the lungs, allowing you to breathe more easily.

Why Not Another Position?

While asleep, the brain is active and keeps track of the body. According to PLOS One, you may not awaken if you have trouble breathing, but the brain will try to get you into a better position.

Muscle movement is limited during sleep (less so during the non-REM stage). For this reason, raising the arms over the head is faster than flipping onto your side.

Even if you don’t sleep on your back, you can still end up in the starfish position.

According to Nature and Science of Sleep, factors that can result in troubled breathing at night include:

  • Obesity.
  • A large tongue.
  • Neck size.
  • Large tonsils.
  • Narrow airways.

Raising your arms above your head may alleviate respiratory issues temporarily. However, some lifestyle choices can exacerbate the situation, leading to obstructive sleep apnea and other sleep disorders.

is it bad to sleep with your arms above your head?

Why Do I Raise My Arms While Sleeping?

Aside from trouble breathing, common reasons why people sleep with their arms up include:

Comfort

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 bed now.

Raise your arms and stretch if you’ve been sitting down for a long time or lying with your arms down.

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 to your sides.

Family History

If you sleep in the starfish position, ask family members if they do the same. Sometimes, hereditary traits:

  • Skip a generation.
  • Are passed down to one gender.
  • It only happens at a certain age.

Many of us wonder if sleeping in the starfish position is due to our personality.

While there are studies, none are conclusively peer-reviewed. Thus, there’s no science-backed correlation between personalities and sleeping positions.

Some sleep medicine doctors suspect those who rest in this position don’t like to be the center of attention, but this is just an unproven theory.

The most accepted explanation in the scientific community is that sleeping position has less to do with personality and more to do with lifestyle, comfort, and family history.

Is It Bad to Sleep with Your Arms Above Your Head?

Sleeping on your back with your arms above your head can lead to neck and back discomfort.

Back sleeping can also cause breathing issues due to the way the throat and tongue press in on themselves due to gravity. There’s little risk of suffocating, but it can trigger or worsen snoring.

The brain ensures we wake up when it senses something is wrong. However, waking up in the middle of the night is never what we want. An interrupted sleep cycle can result in the following:

Sleeping on your back can lead to spinal problems if you have the wrong mattress and pillow.

Sleeping on the back can alleviate some back and shoulder pain, but it’s easy for the back to stay misaligned while you sleep, especially if you have a bed partner who needs room.

Likewise, sleeping with your arms raised is harmful due to back and shoulder pain.

The back and shoulder nerves are compressed when sleeping in this position. While short-term nerve compression isn’t damaging, long-term nerve compression can lead to pain and loss of sensation.

why do I raise my arms while sleeping?

How To Stop Sleeping with My Arms Above My Head

Ensure your mattress and pillows aren’t too soft or firm for your body type. The type of pillow required depends on the length of your neck and the angle of your shoulders.

To reduce stiffness while sleeping, position pillows underneath your legs. This method is effective for people 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 the back to arch.

When you raise your arms above your head, it stretches the spine and re-aligns it slightly with the position of your pelvis, which is why it feels so comfortable to sleep this way.

Spinal and pelvic alignment with a pillow under the legs means you’re less likely to raise your arms.

Where Should You Put Your Arms When Sleeping?

While sleeping, place your arms away from the body at a slightly lower angle.

The best position to sleep is on your side (lateral recumbent) with your arms out. Keeping your arms low is the preferred way to sleep because it reduces shoulder and nerve pain.

When sleeping with your arms up, you risk compressing the nerves around your neck, back, and shoulders, causing pain. Avoid placing your arms underneath to avoid feelings of numbness.

Avoid extending the arms and letting them hang off the bed. The weight of your hand and arm can exert pressure on your joints, so keep them within the bed’s parameters.

If you have trouble sleeping with your arms out because it’s too uncomfortable, put a pillow underneath your arms.

When sleeping with your arms out, always position them with your wrists straight and relaxed. According to HAND, sleeping with a flexed wrist increases the likelihood of nocturnal paresthesia.

Nocturnal paresthesia is a feature of carpal tunnel, which causes the joints to tingle or burn at night.

The above study highlighted how people who sleep on their side experience fewer symptoms of carpal tunnel at night, even if they experience symptoms during the day.