What Is the Best Sleeping Position?

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What is the best sleeping position? Find out how your sleeping position affects your health and how to sleep better in a healthy sleep position.

What position do you find most comfortable for sleeping? 

Front, back, right side, left side?  Curled up, straight as a log, one leg over the other, splayed out across the entire bed?  One pillow? Two, three, none? Pillow between legs, under knees, under feet, under stomach? Head and chest elevated, or legs above head?

A year ago, I suffered a life-altering concussion. Though I’ve mostly recovered, erratic sleep patterns remain one long-term consequence. I got to wondering if my sleeping position might have something to do with my sleep/wake patterns.

What Health Conditions Can Sleep Position Affect?

Turns out, there’s a robust body of clinical research (and professional advice) on the topic of sleeping position. How you arrange yourself during sleep may increase or reduce your risks of these conditions:

  • Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases
  • Sleep apnea
  • Death from epilepsy
  • Acid reflux
  • Nighttime tooth-grinding
  • Vertigo
  • Glaucoma
  • Snoring
  • Debilitating back or neck pain
  • Sudden death for infants

If you’re at risk for (or already have) one of the conditions listed above, do a little of your own research, or ask your doctor for more information on the possible effects of sleep position. If you suffer from more than one condition correlated with sleep position, be forewarned; a better position for one of them may prove to be worse for the other.

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What Is The Best Sleep Position?

While sleep experts say there’s no single best sleep position for everyone, most agree that sleeping on your stomach is the worst position of all.

Sleeping on the stomach strains the neck and spine, which in turn may lead to joint and muscle pain, or numbness and tingling. (There’s one notable exception: sleeping prone may be the best position for people with sleep apnea.)

How to Change Your Sleep Position

Experts have two things to say about changing your sleep position:

  • It’s difficult to change the way you sleep. One recommendation for avoiding either the prone or supine sleep position, involves strapping or taping an object to your back (tennis ball) or front (dried pea) to provide enough of an irritant to prevent sleeping that way. There are also various devices on the market and bed/mattress manipulations intended to “train” sleeping posture.
  • Most of us don’t stay put while we sleep anyway, changing position on average about a dozen times each night.

I didn’t find any research suggesting a correlation between sleep position and concussion. But after years of sleeping on my back (first necessitated by a broken collarbone, later by knee-replacement surgery), I seem to have returned to mostly left-side sleeping.

And yes, I seem to have many more nightmares than usual, especially in the early morning hours. Since looking into the medical literature on sleeping position, my own sleep continues to improve slowly, so I think I’ll stay put.

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Get some more help with natural sleep remedies. Plus, find more fun facts about sleep. And find out how to prevent nighttime leg cramps.

What have you learned about your sleep position?  Please do share below. We’re always learning.

About This Blog

"Living Naturally" is all about living a naturally healthy lifestyle. Margaret Boyles covers health tips, ways to avoid illness, natural remedies, food that's good for body and soul, recipes for homemade beauty products, and ideas to make your home a healthy, safe haven. Our goal is also to encourage self-sufficiency, whether it's re-learning some age-old skills or getting informed on modern improvements that help us live better healthier lives.

Reader Comments

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restless sleep

I would suggest seeing an acupuncture doctor. Restlessness and sleeping problems can be caused by numerous body imbalances. For myself a big part of my sleep restlessness very similar to yours was a liver issue which can be treated by acupuncture and diet.

sleep problems

Over a year ago I read something about waking up with an apple and getting better sleep by eating a banana, I tried it and it worked. You don't need to have an apple in the morning but, I found that even half a banana before bed lets me sleep straight through the night.

Sleeping positions

I personally cannot sleep in one position, I toss and turn several times a night which causes me to not sleep well. Each position I am in causes some kind of pain, so I roll another way. I sleep best when I have heat, so I started sleeping with an auto shut off heat wrap under my sheets and a beanie on my head. I seem to fall faster asleep this way, but constantly wake up. By the time I do get out of bed, I can tell if I slept good or not by the way the hair looks and if the beanie is on or not. I am groggy mostly since sleep is not restful. I have done the warm lavendar bath, the dark lights, the quiet music, the sleep aides, and massages...nada. I prefer to sleep with natural products instead of sleep medications that doc prescribed since I get really awful dreams from them. I tried reading and fall asleep in pain since my book causes my neck to kink. I do not use the computer nor cell phone much at all since I have noticed this is getting worse. I have has a sleep study done and all is ok, but they did notice I have restless legs in my sleep but I do not notice when I am awake. Just curious, any other possible suggestions people have out there. I also do exercise during the day and yoga at night. I do have insomnia and have tried to keep a sleeping schedule which doesn't work because by the time I do feel like I fell asleep, it is time to wake up. I do not eat late at night and just not sure what else is going on. Any feedback is gladly appreciated. The doc is stumped, too. Thanks.

I can relate to your sleeping

I can relate to your sleeping problems, Lydia, as well as to your preference for natural solutions to solve them.

I find falling asleep much easier in my comfortable, old recliner, with a couple of microwave-heated “banbags”* for company. I place one beanbag behind my neck and another across my lap, lie back, pull up my light fleece comforter, and turn out the light.

For some reason, I don’t find the recliner as comfortable once I’ve woken up during the night, which I generally do at least once or twice, sometimes more often. So, after I wake up, I visit the bathroom, grab a few sips of water, and traipse upstairs to bed, hoping for a couple of stretches of restful sleep.

I’ve also begun donning a pair of cheap, blue-light blocking safety glasses after sundown. They definitely help, though they do look pretty hokey. 

I purchased mine online, but you might find a pair at a hardware or copntractor-supply store locally.

You say your sleep study turned out “ok.” If I were you, I’d press your primary-care doctor or the sleep-study professionals to dig a little deeper into the possible causes of your sleeping problem.

One thing I noticed is the

One thing I noticed is the room should be pitch black, which means not even having a digital clock on. I did read somewhere that the red lights are horrible and mess with your head so I unplugged my clock because the numbers were red and it has helped. I also sleep with blackout curtains, I love those.

Good suggestion!

We just installed blackout curtains here, too. A good decision! No moonlight, starlight, light from passing cars. No digital devices or nightlights, other than the light from digital watches if we need to wend our way into the bathroom at night. 

At some point, I’ll do more writing about insomnia, its causes and possible cures. It’s a big topic.

Magnesium

You may be magnesium deficient (or another vitamin deficient). You can get your levels tested by a doc. Mag deficiency can cause hypertension, insomnia, restless legs. I have had this problem and since switching to tea instead of coffee (excessive caffeine robbing me of minerals and too harsh on my adrenals), magnesium supplements, and sleeping with an eye mask and ear plugs, my sleep is astronomically better. Oh and not eating sugary foods past 7. Try looking up magnesium deficiency and sleep in the search engine. Good luck! Hope this helps!

Sleep position

What did I learn nothing! This article didn't go into any of the studies details.

So sorry!

Brief blog posts like mine can’t possibly examine the details of scientific research or medical studies, Anna.

I aim only to share my own experiences or bring ideas or unusual perspectives on various topics to readers’ attention.

As with this post, I generally try to include links to quality online information so interested readers can explore the topics further on their own.

Sleep position

I'm left handed, and sleep on my left side. I've heard this is quite common (vice versa with the right).

Interesting. I’ve never heard

Interesting. I’ve never heard that, but it seems possible. I’m right-handed, but I usually start off sleeping on my left side. However, I often wake up on either my back or my left side. Most of us tend to move around a lot!

Sleep positions

My chiropractor said sleeping on your back with no pillow or a neck roll or an almost flat pillow is the best position and the worst is on the stomach, with or without one leg pulled up. He said most Chinese sleep on their backs with a neck roll instead of a pillow and have the least problems with their backs and necks. He gave me a neck roll and frankly I can't sleep with it. I told him I turn onto my stomach with a leg pulled up while sleeping and he said to put a pillow between my legs to stop that from happening but I end up tossing the pillow.

Tossing & turning

Yep, Karen, your comment reinforces the general understanding among sleep experts that changing one’s sleeping position is hard to do, and that most of us change position several times a night anyway.

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