What Is The Best Sleeping Position?

How Your Sleeping Position Can Affect Your Health

March 5, 2019
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Find out how your sleeping position affects your health and how to sleep better in a healthy sleeping position.

Is There a Best Sleeping Position?

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?

Best Sleeping Position

It’s not a simplistic answer in that you could tell someone to “only sleep facing left or right.”

The real answer is: The best position is one in which you keep your spine in a neutral position.

A neutral spine will ensure that your neck, upper back, and lower back are not put under stress and that your posture isn’t negatively affected.

This is most easy achieved by sleeping on your back or side and supporting key points of your body with pillows.

For this reason, the back and side sleeping positions are often considered the best for your body.

If sleeping on your back:

  • Place a pillow under your knees to keep the natural curve of your spine intact and to reduce stress on your lower back. 
  • To support your head and neck, use a pillow that won’t push your head forward too much nor let it loll backward uncomfortably. Ideally, your ears should be aligned with your shoulders and hips.

If sleeping on your side:

  • Your head and neck should be aligned with the rest of your spine, parallel to the mattress, so use a pillow (or two) to make sure that your head is properly supported.
  • Place a pillow between your knees to keep them together. This prevents the pelvis from tilting in any one direction.
  • Depending on your mattress, you may need to support your waist, too; a rolled towel or small throw pillow can be used effectively—just make sure that it isn’t firm enough to push your spine out of alignment with your neck and lower back.

The Worst Sleeping Position

Most experts 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.)

If you must sleep on your stomach:

  • Place a flat pillow under your lower stomach and pelvis to support the natural curve of your spine.

It’s important to get a good night’s sleep, so in the end, keep the above advice in mind and sleep in whichever position you feel most comfortable. 

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Which Health Conditions Can Sleeping 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 (click the links to learn about the relation between sleeping position and each condition):

If you’re at risk for (or already have) one of the conditions listed above, do a little of your own research, and ask your doctor for more information on the possible effects of sleeping 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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How to Change Your Sleeping Position

If you find that you’re stuck sleeping in a way that exacerbates one of the conditions listed above, you might try changing your sleeping position. Experts have a few things to say about doing so:

  • 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 (e.g., a tennis ball) or front (a dried pea) to provide just enough of an irritant to prevent yourself from sleeping that way. There are also various devices on the market and bed/mattress manipulations intended to “train” sleeping posture.
  • Similarly, if you’re trying to avoid sleeping on a particular side, stack a few extra pillows behind your back to prevent yourself from easily rolling over in the night.
  • Most of us don’t stay put while we sleep anyway, changing position on average about a dozen times each night.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, consult your health care professionals to learn more about ways your can help yourself get more sleep. You may find some help from natural sleep remedies. And find out how to prevent nighttime leg cramps. Discover some fun facts about sleep.

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, ideas to make your home a healthy and safe haven, and the latest news on health. Our goal is also to encourage self-sufficiency, whether it's relearning some age-old skills or getting informed on modern improvements that help us live better, healthier lives.

Reader Comments

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Sleeping positions

I've had problems getting a good night's sleep but now, I think I've found my solution.
I've get 6hrs' sleep each night by going through a ritual. The most important element is to religiously go to bed the same time, each evening. Mine is 11pm.
I have to repeat this ritual of reciting a dialog with myself . . ." that I will lie on my back several minutes, then turn to the right side. I talk pleasant thoughts about the next day's activities.
I'm a firm believer to stop eating and drinking liquids by 10pm.

Sleep Positions vis-a-vis Direction

Both sets of grandparents--originating from post WWI Europe & becoming 1st generation Americans--have consistently practiced sleeping head to East, feet to West, regardless of left-side/right-side dogmas in this country. They argue that if that direction is good enough for the earth's rotation, why buck the system? My wife & I sleep like the dead at night & feel energized when we get up with the Sun.

Sleep

I heard on the radio once that you don't have to remember your dreams. We all must dream, but don't need to remember. I tell myself over and over before I go to bed that I don't have to remember my dreams. It works. I rarely remember dreams and when I do I tell myself again. I sleep soundly.

SLEEP

Nightmares have been linked to a low vitamin B deficiency. You might try taking nutritional yeast (non-fortified) to see if that helps.

Sleep

I have noticed over the years that when I lay on my right side, my brain seems more active which makes it hard to fall asleep. When I switch to my left side, I seem to have far fewer thoughts and I fall asleep with relative ease. Right brain / left brain thing? My brother experiences this exactly as I do. If worries keep you from falling asleep, try this simple change and see if it helps. Once asleep, I change position quite often I think because my old age aches and pains force me to. Lay in one position too long and something is going to start hurting so time to roll over.

Left

If one were to study human anatomy, one would see that sleeping on one's left side perfectly aligns the skeletal system as well as the organs. Majority of heart attacks occur between 0300-0600 hrs and are usually found sleeping either on their stomach or back.

Lifestyle

I'd wager that sleep position is VERY low on the risk scale for heart disease... which side you sleep on will not overcome poor diet and sedentary lifestyle choices.

Sleeping well

When my daughter was born, I watched her sleep and she looked so peaceful. Yes, she was in a fetal position but her head was bent so far backwards, I wondered how she could breathe. So that night I tried it and I've slept that way many times since.

Tart or Bing Cherries;

I have read "Cherry Pie Filling";(canned cherries);can be used; Prunes also contain "Melatonin"; many dark fruits or veggies contain Melatonin; for "sleep"(Eggplant; figs etc.); the worst action for insomnia is to "turn on bright kitchen lights and or TV"; I put nightlights around my place; In the "old days"; Eggplant was called "The Poor Man's Protein"; Potatoes are Poor Man's Vit. C.

Sleep problems.

Listening to "The Doctors" show and Dr Oz they both recommend sleeping on the left side with a pillow between the knees to keep from getting knee and leg rubbing together pain. They both recommended that position if you have heartburn to keep the stomach acid more contained because of the way the stomach is positioned in the body. If you sleep on the right side the stomach flask will spill more easily up into the throat.

Sleep Positions

I sleep this way too, on my left side, legs bent, with a small pillow or padding between my knobby knees. Apparently I don't move much, because I often wake up in the same position, well rested, six hours later. When the weather is warm, I will sprawl out more toward a face-down position. This pattern was altered for 2-3 years when I successively tore the rotator cuffs in both shoulders, forcing me to sleep on my back. I never slept well on my back when I was young because my bedroom ceiling had a patch of loose plaster directly above my head, and I was afraid it would fall in my face.

Sleep position

Exact opposite for me. Sleeping on left side always kicks in heartburn. Even if only for short time to relieve back and hip pain. Never get heartburn on right side.

Sleeping position for a healthy nose and throat

I find that sleeping on my side with my nose pointing slightly downward keeps mucous from flowing into my throat and keeps my throat healthy. If my nose plugs up on one side, I turn to the other side. Also find that a warm drink with 1/3 teaspoon of dried ginger and an overflowing tablespoon of homey with hot steamy water can heal my throat. I put my hand over any part that is sore, picture light coming from my hand and picture waking up healed.

Sleep Positions

I have experienced some of the same problems mentioned here, and sometimes they have been compounded because of medical reasons or situations of life. I think, from my experience, the issue of insomnia and or inability to return to sleep sometimes is due to a subconscious or conscious thinking about issues. I have found great help through reading the Bible and praying at night, asking the Lord to help me have a good night's sleep. If, and when, something tries to come into my thoughts and keep me awake, thinking, I recite some things to my self that I have memorized. For me, that is usually a passage from the Bible. It helps to apply the principles of the Serenity Prayer to our lives.

Prayer and Bible reading

I found your post contains the most excellent of all those posted. Often, it's the absence of mental serenity that contributes to not being able to get a good night's rest. Keeping a Bible next to my bed, as well as a little booklet called "Examining the Scriptures Daily" are the two things I rely upon when being unable to sleep. (you can find the "Examining the Scriptures Daily" online at jw.org). Relying on prayer is also excellent, as nighttime is a nice quiet time to spend talking with our Creator and Father...who knows us well and understands our trial. Throwing our burden on Him allows a sharing of the load and lifts it from our heavy hearts and brains. I once read of a lady who had sleep issues and said she found she often drifted off to sleep during her nightly prayer, but when asked what she had prayed for, she said "a good night's sleep". Prayer answered.

Can't Sleep?

One of my favorite sayings about sleep (or lack thereof) is "If you can't sleep, don't count sheep, talk to the Shepherd".

sleep positions

I have COPD, asthma, 3 Degenerated disk and 2 are herniated and spinal stenosis in my neck. Can't sleep on my back (for the weight feeling on my chest , the COPD) and I sleep on my side (kinda, on my stomach and side with a leg pulled up to keep me from rolling over). But the pain and my breathing (or wheezing and gurgling in my windpipe) wakes me and can't get comfortable for hours with my tossing and turning. I haven't slept for over 4 hours straight in the last 15 years. Also my Restless Leg Syndrome crap keeps me awake. If I can get to sleep within about 15 to 20 minutes, I can sleep until I have to go to take a leak. Then can't get back to sleep. I start laying on my right side, but wake up on my back or left side and can't breath or in pain. My Percocete "Perks" me up and I can't get to sleep for hours. So now, I self-medicate. Drink a few beers just to relax (or help me NOT pass out but go to sleep). I'm so tired and lethargic that i can't even get out and do things I did before. I guess I'll just wait for my "Permanent Sleep" to catch up and give me some rest from pain and lack of sleep and I'd DARE ANYBODY TO WAKE ME UP. HAHA

Tart or Bing Cherries;

Tart or Bing Cherries eaten at night contain high levels of Melatonin; "the relax/sleep supplement"; I have been eating "reconstituted dried Tart Cherries for a few months; I have been sleeping better; there is also the Cherry Jucie Concentrate (mix with water) at Health Store; I would go with the plain dried Tart Cherries: (I add water to my Cherries and set in refrigerator; they plump nicely);; I mix mine with Yogurt.;

Sleep Positions

Yes, Mel, I have COPD, degenerated disks and RLS also. It is really hard to get to sleep. Sometimes I am up tossing, turning, and moving my legs all over the place till 5 am. So tired everyday. I have to sleep in a separate bed from hubby now, me with my problems and he with his CPAP. Boy we are a pair, lol. I had a heart attack 11 years ago, and have been sleeping on my left side since. Was doing fine till I had total knee replacement in Nov., had to sleep on back, now can't get comfortable on side again.

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.

I was thinking the same...

I was thinking the same...

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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