How To Choose the Best Sleeping Position for You

How To Choose the Best Sleeping Position for You


Adults need at least seven hours of sleep for a good night’s rest, but you also need good quality sleep. Sleep quality measures the amount of time you spend sleeping, how long it takes you to fall asleep, and how many times you wake up at night. Sleep disorders, health conditions, and lifestyle habits linked to caffeine and blue light exposure can all lead to poor sleep quality. Your sleep position can also affect your sleep quality—for better or worse.

Your best sleep position largely depends on your health status and preferences. However, experts often agree side or back sleeping is better than stomach sleeping. Side and back sleep positions do the best job of aligning your spine, which can help reduce pain and disrupted sleep.

People are typically divided into stomach, side, and back sleepers. Many people are combination sleepers, which means they move into different sleep positions throughout the night. However, you likely favor one position while you sleep.

Finding the right sleeping position for you depends on your preferences and health. Ultimately, the best sleep position helps you achieve restful, uninterrupted sleep that leaves you pain-free.

Sleeping on Your Side

Sleeping on your side can promote healthy spinal alignment by keeping your hips and head in line. As a result, this sleep position is the least likely to cause back pain. However, side sleeping can exacerbate shoulder pain and make your shoulder sore or tight if your mattress is too firm. Side sleeping may also increase facial wrinkles as your face presses into the pillow.

Also, sleeping on your left side helps take pressure off internal organs and opens your airway, which may help reduce heartburn and snoring.

Sleeping on Your Back

Back sleeping keeps the spine aligned as if you’re standing up, while evenly distributing body weight. This helps reduce pressure points on your neck or back that can lead to pain.

Propping yourself up on your back can also help relieve congestion by allowing more air to enter your nasal passages. This position also doesn’t press on the face, which could lead to wrinkles.

However, sleeping on your back can make breathing more difficult as gravity presses on the body, worsening sleep apnea and snoring. Some people also find that back sleeping causes lower back pain if there is a gap between the mattress and their lower back.

Sleeping on Your Stomach

Stomach sleeping can open up your airways to help relieve snoring. However, sleeping on your stomach increases pressure on your spine and provides the least amount of back support.

Twisting your head and neck to sleep can also put your head out of alignment with your spine. As a result, stomach sleeping often causes neck and back pain, which can contribute to frequent wake-ups and poor sleep quality. Pressing your face into the pillow may also contribute to wrinkles. 

Besides your personal preferences, the best sleeping position may depend on your health. Sleep positions can affect your spinal alignment, breathing, and blood flow—meaning one sleep position may be a better choice for certain health conditions. 

Sleeping on Your Side

Side sleeping is best for people with back pain, neck pain, acid reflux, or sleep apnea.

Sleeping on your side helps align your vertebrae and tailbone, which can help avoid spinal pressure that increases lower back pain. The position also reduces pressure on the cervical spine (the neck area), which can help relieve neck pain. 

People who snore or have sleep apnea may benefit from side sleeping. This position takes the pressure off their airways, improving airflow. These conditions are often related to airway obstruction. 

Sleeping on your left side may be more beneficial than sleeping on your right side. Studies show sleeping on the left side helps reduce stomach acid that can travel up your esophagus (the tube connecting your throat to your stomach) and cause acid reflux or heartburn. As a result, people with gastroesophageal reflux (GER) and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may benefit from left-side sleeping.

Experts also recommend sleeping on your left side during pregnancy. This position helps keep pressure off the vena cava vein, which supports blood flow later in pregnancy.  

Sleeping on Your Back

Back sleeping is also good for people with lower back and neck pain since it reduces spinal pressure and promotes good alignment. It is often ideal for people experiencing congestion or recovering from an injury.

If you’re sick with a stuffy or runny nose, sleeping flat on your back can cause mucus to back up into your nasal passage. Elevating your head with a few pillows can help reduce sinus pressure and postnasal drip (mucus running down your throat)—two symptoms that can increase congestion and coughing at night.

If you’re experiencing any swelling of the feet or ankles (edema), sleeping in an elevated back position can help relieve swelling. This effect may also be beneficial if you’ve recently had surgery or are experiencing an injury.  

Sleeping on Your Stomach 

Sleeping on your stomach is more likely to misalign the spine, which isn’t ideal for people experiencing back or neck pain. Studies show that stomach sleeping often contributes to more pain. 

However, sleeping on your stomach may be beneficial for people who snore. Research on people with sleep apnea found stomach sleeping helped open the airway and reduced snoring. 

You may have chosen your current sleep position based on comfort, but many people sleep in positions based on habit. To help choose the best sleeping position for you, here are some additional factors to consider:

  • Pain points: If you have back or neck pain, stick to back or side sleeping. Sometimes, sleeping on your back is better if you have lower or mid-back pain. Sleeping on your side may be better to help alleviate neck pain. 
  • Breathing issues: If you snore or have sleep apnea, sleeping on your side is best to help open the airway or avoid collapsing the airway. However, sleeping on your stomach may also help you breathe easier.
  • Body type: People with larger bodies may have trouble sleeping on their backs as lying down adds more pressure to the hips and abdomen. Sleeping on your side with your knees slightly bent and placing a pillow between your knees may help improve alignment and relieve pressure.  
  • Skin aesthetics: If you’re concerned about acne or wrinkles, sleeping on your back helps prevent your facial skin from touching your pillow. Side and stomach sleeping can crease and stretch the skin as you sleep. These positions may also transfer more bacteria from your pillowcase to your face. 

Beyond sleep position, other ways you can improve your sleep quality include:  

  • Use more (or fewer) pillows: If you’re a back sleeper with back pain, place a thin pillow under your lower back or your knees. A small pillow between the knees and hips can improve spinal alignment during side sleeping. When sleeping on your stomach, place your head on a thin pillow to avoid neck tension.
  • Consider replacing your mattress: Sometimes, sleeping on an old, worn-out mattress can contribute to poor sleep quality and back pain. A supportive, medium-firm mattress can improve spinal alignment and pain relief for people with lower back pain.
  • Avoid electronics at least 30 minutes before bed: Scrolling on your phone exposes your eyes to artificial blue light. Blue light can lower melatonin levels and trick your body into thinking it’s daytime—increasing the time it takes to fall asleep. 
  • Get your bedroom sleep-ready: The ideal sleep environment is quiet, dark, and cool. Shut your blinds or get blackout curtains to keep light out and use a white noise machine to drown out outside noise. Set the thermostat to 65–70 degrees Fahrenheit (18-21 degrees Celcius) for a comfortable sleeping temperature.
  • Move your body during the day: Thirty minutes of exercise five days a week can help improve your sleep—but avoid workouts right before bed. Gentle stretching exercises can also help relieve back pain and set you up for better sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed: Drinking caffeine five hours before bed can disrupt sleep. Alcohol also disrupts your sleep pattern and makes it difficult to get enough quality sleep.
  • Avoid smoking: Smoking increases your risk of insomnia, sleep apnea, and other sleep disorders. Nicotine, a chemical found in tobacco, is also a stimulant that can make you feel more awake.

The best sleep position depends on your needs, pain, and health conditions. However, side and back sleeping are generally considered the best sleep positions because they help align the spine. Stomach sleeping is more likely to cause pain and disrupted sleep because it can misalign the spine—but it may help reduce snoring.

Experts recommend side sleeping, usually on the left side, for back pain, neck pain, acid reflux, pregnancy, and sleep apnea. Back sleeping is also beneficial for people with back pain, neck pain, congestion, or swelling.  

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