What Are The Best Sleeping Positions For Your Body? [Infographic]

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We spend about one-third of our lives sleeping. That means if you live to be 75, you’ll have spent 25 of those years asleep.

Rest plays a substantial role in our physical and mental well-being, which is why it is necessary to get quality sleep. You may not have paid much attention to how you snooze, but your sleeping position could impact how well-rested you feel. This is particularly true for those with certain health conditions.

This article will help you discover the best sleeping position for you according to your personal needs, in order to improve your sleep quality.

Our Best Sleep Positions Infographic

Infographic Most Common Sleep Positions

The Most Common Sleeping Positions

On Your Back

Health experts say sleeping on your back is the best position for your spine[1], as this is the most neutral posture. Back sleeping should help evenly distribute weight throughout the body and avoid uncomfortable or unnatural curves in the spine. While some individuals struggle with snoring in this position, it’s generally considered to be safe and even preferred by chiropractors.

Some individuals find they’re more comfortable in this position with the help of a small cylindrical pillow behind their neck to support the spine. When choosing a head pillow, keep in mind, while you want something fluffy, it shouldn’t be overly stuffed, otherwise, this can put excess pressure on the spine.

Get More Info: How to Sleep Properly on Your Back

On Your Stomach

Many people prefer stomach sleeping position. Who doesn’t love to cuddle into their mattress after a long day? However, in this position, your head is forced to rest to one side while the rest of your body lies flat on the mattress. Cleveland Clinic officials say this strain could eventually cause neck pain from the poor spinal alignment.

Further, what’s challenging about snoozing on your stomach, is how the spine rests in his posture. While comfortable for many people, this often places unnatural pressure on the lower back, leaving it vulnerable to strain or discomfort. Ideally, we want our spines to be in a neutral position so as not to over-extend our spines.

Given the length of time we spend in bed, it’s wise to be sensitive to any back pain and adjust accordingly if necessary.

On Your Side

Side sleeping – or sleeping in the fetal position – is considered the most popular position[2]. Cleveland Clinic adds that while sleeping on your side, your head should remain in a neutral sleep posture with your chin straight ahead.

Some people who rest on their side prefer sleeping with a body pillow or head pillow for additional support. You can do this by laying your leg over a head pillow, or tucking it between your legs, which should foster healthy spinal alignment. Body pillows can also be used this way, and can also provide the arm which is facing up more support, so you can avoid letting it flop limp.

Need more info? Check out our guide to sleeping on your side here.

What Position Should I Sleep In?

For those with certain health conditions, whether temporary or chronic, experts recommend specific sleeping positions over others. We’ll examine some common issues and how changing your sleep position could help.

Best Sleep Position for Neck Pain

For those experiencing neck pain[3], you should rest on your back or side.

Back sleepers also need to be mindful of the pillow they’re using. You should choose a pillow that won’t interfere with your neck’s natural curve and will be higher under your neck than your head.

animated man trying to ease neck pain by massaging painful spot

Kyphosis

While it’s natural for the spine to have a small curve, Kyphosis[4] refers to when the top of the spine appears to be more rounded than normal. This can result from age, abnormal vertebrae, improper spine development in the womb, and poor posture. Symptoms associated with Kyphosis include back pain, stiffness, spine tenderness, and tiredness.

Since Kyphosis is directly correlated to the spine, you’ll want to sleep in a spine-friendly position, such as on the back or the side.

Anxiety

When dealing with anxiety, you’re likely focused on getting quality and restful sleep, regardless of the position you rest in. However, other factors could worsen your anxiety, such as waking up with neck or back pain. In this case, you should consider sleeping position that reduces your risk of developing anxiety triggers like pain.

In addition to your sleep position, find other ways to make your bedroom more comfortable, whether it be new sheets, a better mattress, or a more supportive pillow.

How does Anxiety target your Sleep Animation

Snoring and Sleep Apnea

When someone has sleep apnea, their airways collapse and become restricted while they’re asleep. This causes pauses in breathing, which could lead to disruptive noises such as gasping for air or snoring. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine[5], frequent snorers or folks with sleep apnea should rest on their side or stomach to help the airways stay more open.

Nasal Congestion

When dealing with a stuffy nose, you’ll want to use gravity to your advantage. In this case, you should sleep on your back and use pillows to prop up the top half of your body. The incline should help drain your nasal passages.

If sleeping on your back or propped up isn’t comfortable, side position sleeping should help as well. This is known for allowing drainage in part of the nose as well and should help you breathe easier.

llustration of a Man Sleeping on His Back

Heavier Individuals

People who weigh significantly more typically find that the core of their body tends to sink further into a mattress, which can lead to an awkward spine posture and pain. You are likely to feel the least amount of sinkage by sleeping on your side. Those who are overweight[6] are also at an increased risk of developing sleep apnea, and a side sleeping position should help open the airways.

Additionally, heavier individuals should invest in a firmer mattress designed to support more weight.

Elderly

Back and side sleeping provide the most health benefits compared to stomach sleeping, and therefore are going to be better for older adults. Depending on your specific condition, you may benefit more from sleeping on your back rather than to sleep on your side.

Illustration of an Elderly Man Sleeping in a Nursing Home

Sciatica Pain

For those dealing with pain in their sciatic nerve[7], which reaches from your pelvis down to your leg, experts say the first step is to diagnose what specifically is causing the pain. This can help determine the right sleep position for you.

Next, you should try to lie on your back in a neutral position and adjust to what feels good. You may find that sleeping on your side alleviates pain better, or arching your back while sleeping on your stomach feels good.

Heartburn and Acid Reflux

Heartburn and acid reflux caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can be highly uncomfortable and impact rest. Experts with Johns Hopkins Medicine say the best sleeping position for this is to lay on your left side. They add that lying on your right side could worsen your symptoms.

How to Sleep When Pregnant

There is endless advice to be found on the internet for mothers, however, agonizing over what’s right or wrong might do more damage than not; as experts now say that pregnant women can snooze in any position that’s comfortable, however, opinions vary.

Many individuals in the medical field suggest that you avoid lying flat on your back, but then go on to say that if you wake up in this position, it’s nothing to worry about— as you can see, advice is often conflicting.

According to Stanford Children’s Health[8], the best sleep position during pregnancy is on your left side, as this provides optimum circulation to the fetus. Further, sleeping on the left side is believed to avoid pressure on the liver. Another major advantage of the side sleeping position is that you can support your belly and legs with pillows to reduce unnecessary strain and pressure.

Also, experts agree that sleeping with the knees bent is recommended for pregnant women, as this relieves pressure from the belly, and fosters blood flow throughout the body, fetus, uterus, heart, and kidneys. However, if you find the left side uncomfortable, switching to the right should help to relieve hip pressure. If you’re feeling especially tense, you may be able to find relief by tucking pillows under your belly, at the lower curve of your back, and between your legs.

Interested in exploring futher? Read our full guide for sleep during pregnancy.

Illustration of a Pregnant Lady Sleeping with a Pillow Between Her Legs

Frequently Asked Questions

Does sleeping on your stomach cause wrinkles?

You probably wouldn’t assume that the way you’re sleeping could have an affect on your appearance, however, research published in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal indicates that side and stomach sleepers are placing excess pressure on the skin near their face, which can result in lines around the eyes and mouth (so called “sleep wrinkles”).

Sleeping on your stomach may feel comfy, but according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, both this position and side sleeping can cause your skin to wrinkle or breakout.

How can I train myself to sleep on my back?

Whether you’re concerned about your complexion or want to improve your physical health, there are ways you can adapt to sleeping on your back.

Consider investing in a bed that’s well-made for back support to help you feel more comfortable if you’re not used to this position. Next, you can try placing pillows in areas such as under your knees or lower back to help support you if you’re feeling discomfort.

woman sleeping on her back illustration

Ensuring you’re tired before attempting to sleep is also key to changing positions since the more awake you are, the more likely you’ll notice discomfort and go back to your previous method. To help you feel sleepy, try out calming nighttime routines such as a hot bath, drinking tea, or reading a book.

Most importantly, though, you must be persistent and understand that it will take you some time to get used to a new sleep pattern, but once you do, you’ll be able to reap the benefits.

Sources and References:

  • [1] “Back, Side or Stomach: Which Sleep Position Is Best for You?”, Cleveland Clinic, 2021.
  • [2] Eivind Schjelderup Skarpsno, Paul Jarle Mork, Andreas Holtermann, “Sleep Positions and Nocturnal Body Movements Based on Free-living Accelerometer Recordings: Association with Demographics, Lifestyle, and Insomnia Symptoms”, National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2017.
  • [3] Say “Good Night” to Neck Pain”, Harvard Health, 2019.
  • [4] “Kyphosis”, NHS, August 3, 2018.
  • [5] Choosing the Best Sleep Position”, Johns Hopkins Medicine
  • [6] Sleep Apnea”, Mayo Clinic, July 28, 2020.
  • [7] “How to Get Better Sleep With Sciatica Pain”, Cleveland Clinic, 2021.
  • [8] “Sleeping Positions During Pregnancy”, Stanford Children’s Health
Content Writer | + posts

Jill Zwarensteyn is a content writer for Sleep Advisor and is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.

Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.

She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.

Orthopaedic Physical Therapist and Certified Early Intervention Specialist | + posts

Dr. Theresa Marko is an Orthopaedic Physical Therapist and Certified Early Intervention Specialist. She is the owner of Marko Physical Therapy, a private practice in New York City specializing in spine, orthopedics, adolescents, and pediatrics.

She has helped thousands of people to overcome injuries, optimize their movement, and return them to work and sports pain-free and stronger than ever.

Dr. Marko has shared her expertise as an adjunct faculty professor at Stony Brook University and through speaking engagements at Columbia and Duke Universities. She has been featured in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and Business Insider.

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