If you’re trying to improve the quality of your sleep, one of the first things you’ll want to consider is the position in which you naturally snooze. Though it may seem inconsequential when compared to things like noise control, temperature, and caffeine intake, one’s sleeping position can do a lot to dictate how well (or not well) you slumber.
And that’s what we’re here to talk about! In this guide, I’m going to introduce you to the absolute best sleeping position in terms of spine alignment, gut health, and overall comfort. I’ll also provide you with a few tips and tricks you can employ to seriously step up your sleep game.
What Makes for Healthy Sleeping?
Before we dive into the different sleeping positions, let’s talk for a minute about what healthy sleeping actually entails. Everyone sleeps a little differently, based on their age, height, weight, and body chemistry. And that’s totally okay! Sleep is meant to be restorative, so it would make sense that every individual would have their own unique slumber practice. However, there are a few guideposts we can use to determine whether or not the way we’re snoozing is actually healthy, regardless of position.
To learn more about these factors, I spoke with Sleepopolis Expert and Physical Therapist Dr. Keith Poorbaugh, who focused on three major components of quality sleep: Alignment, Breathing, and Comfort.
- Alignment – According to Dr. Poorbaugh, alignment is all about setting the spine in a neutral line from the shoulders to the hips. A healthy alignment works to alleviate pain and encourage healthier sleep.
- Breathing – Neutral spine alignment also works to open the nasal and air passages, making it easier to breathe. This can be crucial for folks who struggle with snoring or sleep apnea.
- Comfort – Once you’ve worked out your alignment and your breathing, that’s when the comfort comes in. If the position in which you sleep doesn’t check all three of these boxes, it may be time to experiment with a new position.
Now that we’ve talked about what healthy sleeping is all about, let’s get into the different sleeping positions themselves. I’m going to go over each one, chat about their pros and cons, and then share a few tips and tricks you can use to make the position work for you.
Side sleeping is the most popular sleeping position by far. Whether stretching out straight in the “log” form or curled up in a “fetal” position, folks who doze on their sides experience a plethora of positive health benefits, including:
- Decreased risk of acid reflux
- Reduced pain at the neck and lower back
- Decreased chance of snoring (thanks to the airways being more open on your side)
- And a reduced chance of experiencing heartburn, especially if you sleep on your left side (which is generally considered to be best for gut health)
Though there are a lot of pros to side sleeping, there are obviously some cons as well. The main ones here are jaw tightness and shoulder pain, which can be exacerbated by a mattress that’s a little too firm.
Speaking of mattresses, side sleepers will want to go with a soft structure that provides plenty of cushiony pressure relief to the shoulders and hips. When it comes to pillows, side sleepers want a high-lofted pillow that sets the neck in line with the hips and lower back. This will help position the spine in a neutral alignment, which is the key to all-around good support.
For more product suggestions and tips, check out our round-ups of the Best Mattress for Side Sleepers and the Best Pillows for Side Sleepers. Also, if sleeping on your back is contributing to lower back pain, you may want to consider investing in a good mattress topper for back pain.
The next best sleeping position is on the back. While not as good for you as side sleeping, there are still plenty of fantastic benefits that come from slumbering with your face up to the ceiling, including:
- Relief of hip and knee pain
- Optimized alignment of the spine
- Reduced chance of getting wrinkles or creases on the skin
- And an overall reduction in pressure across the body
However, there are also some cons to back sleeping, namely:
- Increased chance of snoring or worsening symptoms of sleep apnea
- Irritation and pain at the lower back, especially if you already have back pain issues
- A general closing of the nasal and air passages
Though these cons can seem pretty drastic, a lot of these issues can be alleviated with the right sleep accessories. Back sleepers want to go for a medium firm mattress that provides pressure relief to the lower back while lifting the hips in alignment with the shoulders. When it comes to pillows, these folks will want a medium loft that doesn’t crane the neck too far up. As with side sleeping, it’s about using your mattress and pillow to set your spine in a neutral line all the way from the crown of your head to the very tips of your toes.
And now we come to the sleeping position that you should definitely avoid at all costs: Stomach sleeping. I don’t want to blow up your spot stomach sleepers, but you should probably consider switching up how you snooze. I know it can be comfy to stretch out in prone, but there are some significant cons that come with it, including:
- Increased neck and lower back pain as your body curves at the lumbar region
- Unnecessary strain at the joints, especially at the shoulders
- A general sense of soreness that comes from taking your spine out of its neutral alignment
All that being said, there is one very, very tiny, miniscule, itty bitty baby silver lining to stomach sleeping. According to some experts, it can reduce snoring. But still… that’s not really worth it for the toll it can take on the rest of your body.
But if you absolutely must sleep on your stomach, there are ways to make it healthier for you. Number one, you’ll want to snag an ultra-firm mattress. That way, your body will be positioned totally on top of the bed, which will help to prevent your hips from sinking out of alignment with your shoulders. You’ll also want a low-lofted pillow, like barely any pillow at all. This will further help to set your spine in a nice even line.
No matter the position in which you choose to sleep, there are a few tips you can employ to help improve your overall sleeping experience.
- Your mattress and pillow really, really matter! If you don’t buy bedding products that are going to actively support your body in your preferred sleeping position, you’re setting yourself up for failure. So, do some research to figure out what kind of accessories are going to work best for how you snooze. You don’t have to spend a fortune to snag high-quality products that will seriously up your sleep game.
- Experiment with different positions! Yes, you love snuggling down on your side, but why not try back sleeping for a little bit. It can feel weird at first, but you may notice some surprising new benefits.
- Get creative with how you use your pillows, because those fluffy little beauties definitely don’t have to go just under your head. Tuck them between your knees when dozing on your side and stick a thin one under your hips while back sleeping. The way you place your pillows at night can work to alleviate pressure as you sleep by setting your spine in a more neutral alignment.
- Pay attention to your body. If you’re waking up with aches and pains every day, it’s time to change something up. If you’re sleeping well and have positioned your spine into a proper alignment, you should wake up feeling refreshed and restored.
And lastly, you need to move enough during the day that your body wants to sleep when it’s finally time for bed.
To wrap up this video, I thought I’d answer some of the most frequently asked questions we get about sleeping positions here at Sleepopolis.
What is the right way to sleep?
The right way to sleep is whatever way works to set your spine in a neutral alignment. This means the neck is in line with the shoulders, which are in line with the hips and lower back. Aches and pains come from when this line is disrupted, so you’ll want a mattress and pillow that help lift the spine into a healthy posture.
What is the healthiest sleeping position?
In general, the healthiest sleeping position is on your side, preferably the left side. However, this isn’t going to work for everyone. Thankfully, there are ways to tailor each sleeping position to make it healthy and supportive.
What does your sleeping position mean?
Your sleeping position basically refers to how your body naturally sleeps! If you’re curious about what your natural sleeping position is, think about the position you favor when you’re first getting into bed. Or, you could think about it as the one you revert to whenever you want to feel extra cozy.
Is sleeping on your stomach bad?
While I wouldn’t classify it as “bad” per say, stomach sleeping is definitely not the healthiest way to snooze. Why? Because this position puts unnecessary tension and strain on the neck and lower back.