The Best (and Worst) Sleeping Positions May Depend on Your Health
There's nothing worse than waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to get back to sleep. If this happens often, you might start trying to isolate the culprit. Is your sleeping position one?
According to experts, the best sleeping position is the one that allows you to get the highest-quality rest. (Not a huge shocker.) For some, that might be the widely criticized stomach sleeping position. For others, it may be sleeping on your side or on your back. The best sleeping position really comes down to your health and personal preferences.
So, what's the best sleep position for you?
What determines your sleeping position?
"Factors such as breathing disorders, pain and illness determine sleeping positions," explained Chelsie Rohrscheib, a sleep expert, neuroscientist and sleep consultant for Wesper.
For others, though, your sleeping position may be a long-term habit developed early in life. If you started stomach sleeping as a child, you're likely to continue it into adulthood.
If your habitual sleeping position isn't helping you get the restful sleep you need, perhaps it's time to switch things up. Here are some positions to consider.
1. Sleeping on your stomach
Sleeping on your stomach is known as one of the worst sleeping positions because you have to place your head on one side to breathe, which puts the neck in a twist. You're also probably turning your head throughout the night, which can impact the quality of your sleep.
"It puts the spine in an unnatural, straightened position," explained Martin Reed, a certified clinical sleep health educator (CCSH) and the founder of Insomnia Coach.
However, the stomach sleeping position has benefits for people with certain health issues.
"Stomach sleeping can be a great calming sleeping position for people with anxiety," Rohrscheib said. "If you get the best rest on your stomach and don't experience negative effects on your breathing or body, you should continue doing so."
It can also be a good position if you suffer from indigestion or if you snore, Reed noted.
If you notice headaches, back or neck pain, though, it may be time to break the habit of sleeping face-down. Transitioning to side or back sleeping positions can put less stress on your body.
2. Sleeping on your side
In general, people find side sleeping the most comfortable, which includes the fetal position. According to a 2017 study by the Nature and Science of Sleep, the side is the predominant sleep position for adults.
"Sleeping on your side helps to keep the airways open," Rohrscheib said.
"This can be a better option than back sleeping for people with sleep apnea or chronic snoring," Reed added. "Sleeping on your left side can also reduce symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux."
When side sleeping, ensure your ears and head align with the rest of your body. Having a head pillow at an appropriate height can also help with this alignment. Having a pillow in between your knees can reduce pressure from the spine.
If you have chronic pain in your neck or suffer from spinal issues, Rohrscheib doesn't recommend side sleeping. Unlike back sleeping, it doesn't support the spine or neck and can increase pressure and spinal curvature.
3. Sleeping on your back
Both Reed and Rohrscheib agree back sleeping can be a relieving sleeping position for people who experience back or neck pain, as the position makes it easier to have proper spinal alignment.
"Aside from making it easy to keep sleepers in a relatively straight line, back sleeping also promotes even weight distribution and pressure," Rohrscheib explained. "This creates less tension and makes it less likely to develop muscle aches or pinched nerves."
If you have backaches, you can slightly bend your knees and place a pillow underneath them to take the stress off your back. You should avoid using too many head pillows, since they can make your head come forward too far and throw off alignment.
Even for back sleeping's benefits, there are drawbacks. If you are overweight or have sleep apnea, back sleeping can increase the risk of snoring.
"Gravity increases the likelihood of the tongue falling back and obstructing the airway," Reed said.
For a good night's sleep
Whether you sleep on your back, side, stomach or a combination of all the positions, what matters most is you're getting at least eight hours of deep, restorative sleep. As with most things in life, the best sleeping position is not set in stone.
If you're looking for general rules, people who snore and suffer from sleep apnea would do better if they slept on their side, whereas anyone with chronic neck and back pain might be more comfortable sleeping on their back. If you're someone who likes sleeping on your stomach and it works for you, keep up the good work as long as it's not causing any issues.
For sleeping positions, it's important to listen to what your body is telling you. If you wake up to any kind of pain, discomfort or poor sleep quality, maybe it's time to try a new position and simply relax.