What Is the Healthiest Position for Sleep?


When is the last time you had a good night’s sleep? Turns out, it’s been a while for many of us. More than one-third of American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The position you adopt for sleeping not only affects the quality of your sleep, but it also may be influenced by your health, concerns about your appearance and even the generation into which you were born.

Best Sleeping Position

The best sleeping position is the one in which you sleep deeply and soundly. However, a “one size fits all” approach doesn’t work in determining the best position for sleep.

“There are a few positions that are generally considered better for your health than others,” says Robert Pagano, co-founder of Sleepline, a sleep product review site.

Sleeping on your back with your arms placed alongside your torso is one of the better options, he says.

“The best position for sleeping is, by far, sleeping on your back,” agrees Derek Hales, founder and editor-in-chief of NapLab.com, which uses quantitative measurements, original research and expert analysis to test mattresses. “By sleeping on your back your spine can more easily stay in correct alignment. Many aches and pains caused by sleeping result from your spine being out of alignment due to a less-than-ideal sleeping position, which creates pressure points around the body — the lower back, shoulders and neck especially.”

Hales recommends an adjustable bed foundation that raises the head and foot of the mattress, reducing pressure on the spine, lower back and neck. For some, an adjustable bed foundation will make it easier to become a back sleeper.

“[Sleeping on your back] is a position that allows your head, neck and spine to rest in a neutral alignment and minimizes the chances of experiencing pain in those areas,” Pagano agrees.

Sleep Conversion

If you’re not a person accustomed to back-sleeping, can you train yourself to sleep that way? According to Pagano, there are a few things you can do to make the transition to sleeping on your back easier.

“Start with laying on your back for short periods of time to get used to it,” Pagano says. “Try using a body pillow or large rectangular pillow to support your head and neck, and place a heavy book or two on your stomach when you are trying to sleep on your back. This will discourage you from rolling onto your side or stomach during the night.”

Sleeping on your back can help avoid excess wrinkle formation, too. When facial skin is compressed against a pillow, wrinkles form along the skin’s “fault lines.”

However, there are certain conditions that preclude sleeping on one’s back, such as pregnancy, snoring or sleep apnea. If you have any of these conditions, experts agree the second-best sleeping position is side sleeping.

Side Sleeping

Nearly half of all surveyed Americans sleep on their sides, according to the Better Sleep Council.

“Side sleepers can maintain proper spinal alignment; however, it’s more difficult compared to sleeping on your back,” says Hales. “The key is to keep your neck, spine and lower back in a single, continuous line. To achieve this as a side sleeper you often need a more supportive, medium-height pillow. Fluffy or overly soft pillows often fail to provide the support that many side sleepers need for their neck and head, resulting in spinal misalignment.”

Sleeping on your side obviously gives you two options, left and right, but each have drawbacks for people with certain medical conditions.

Pagano suggests placing a pillow between your knees when side sleeping to help properly align the spine. According to the Sleep Foundation, this sleeping position, when paired with a pillow between the knees, can help alleviate low back pain.

For most people, sleeping on their left side will work best. Why? Sleeping on the right side puts pressure on internal organs and can increase sleep interruptions from acid reflux, so sleeping on the left side is particularly important for people with acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). But, people with conditions such as heart failure, might experience discomfort on their left side and instead prefer to sleep on their right side. If you have a heart condition, it’s best to check with your doctor, who can give you specific advice on the best sleeping position for you.

Accoring to the Sleep Foundation, side sleeping is best for pregnant women, because the heart can more easily pump blood through the body in this position. It also keeps the fetus from putting too much pressure on the vein that carries blood from the mother’s legs back to her heart.

Stomach Sleeping

Sleeping on your stomach is sometimes referred to as “freefall” sleeping, and it may be a position to reconsider.

Sleeping on your stomach is generally the least healthy way to sleep, as it forces your body out of alignment.

“Stomach sleeping is the worst position to sleep in simply because it’s the most difficult to get and keep your spine in correct alignment,” Hales says. “Your feet are a chief problem. Regardless of their position, they are going to put pressure on the lower back. Your pillow can be problematic as well. Stomach sleepers need the thinnest pillow, because that helps bring the head and neck closer in alignment to the spine.”

Whichever position you sleep in, the key factor to success is getting comfortable. In order to drift into deep sleep, variables such as health conditions, injuries, sleeping partners and mattress/pillow combinations should be taken into account.