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.
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):
- Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases
- Sleep apnea
- Death from epilepsy
- Acid reflux
- Nighttime tooth-grinding
- Debilitating back or neck pain
- Sudden death for infants (Note: While pediatricians recommend always putting your baby to sleep on her back, they also stress the importance of adequate “tummy time” while she’s awake and active.)
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.
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.