When you're trying to fall asleep, the position you lie down in can affect how quickly you drift off and how rested you feel the next morning. The best sleeping position is the one that lets you rest soundly throughout the night — but it isn't the same for every person.
Most people sleep in a few different positions throughout the night, adjusting the body to get more comfortable. Some of the most common sleeping styles include:
In the prone position, you are flat on your stomach with your head facing down or to the side. This sleeping preference can sometimes cause neck pain because your spine and neck aren't naturally aligned in a neutral position when you're face down. Propping up your forehead with a pillow can put your neck in a more natural angle.
Sleeping on your back puts your head, neck and spine in a neutral position, which can help reduce the likelihood of unwanted pain and soreness in the morning. Your comfort level during back sleeping might depend on where your arms are. Sleeping in soldier posture, with your arms down at your sides flat on the bed, may spread the pressure of your body out evenly to keep your spine comfortable but could cause airway constriction that leads to heavier snoring. The starfish position, on your back with your arms up above your head, also could help relieve pressure on the spine but might cause tightness in the shoulders for some sleepers.
Side sleeping can mean sleeping on your right or left side, and the specific side you choose can make a difference in how comfortably you sleep. In general, the left side is a better choice because of the positioning of organs inside your body.
Some side sleepers curl up tightly into a fetal posture, which keeps your spine in a natural, curved state and may help improve breathing throughout the night.
Your personal sleeping position preferences and needs might change over time. Many people develop issues such as back pain or stiff joints as they age, and specific sleep postures can alleviate the soreness or make things worse.
People often develop a regular sleeping position during childhood, so changing can be difficult. You might go to sleep in what you think is the best sleeping arrangement for you and wake up in a completely different position. Using pillows to support specific parts of your body might help you maintain the orientation you're in when you fall asleep.
If you have certain health conditions or concerns, a specific sleeping position might help.
Individuals with sleep apnea might find side or stomach sleeping more comfortable than back sleeping. Back sleeping can cause the airways to constrict, making it harder to breathe freely during the night.
Side sleeping also helps with snoring for the same reasons it helps prevent sleep apnea. Sleeping on the side opens up the airways to let your breath flow smoothly and evenly, reducing the constriction that causes snoring.
Pain in your lower back means that your lower spine requires support during sleep, so you might find that back sleeping helps. Placing a pillow under the knees while back sleeping improves spine alignment as well. Some people also find it useful to slip a rolled towel beneath the small of the back for additional support.
The best position for neck pain may vary depending on the cause of the pain. Some people with neck soreness may prefer back sleeping, while others feel their best after side sleeping. Pillow choice also matters for sleepers with neck pain, so opt for a feather pillow or memory foam pillow that offers neck support.
If you frequently experience heartburn at night or have been diagnosed with GERD, sleeping on your left side could ease your symptoms. Another sleep solution for heartburn is to elevate your head during sleep by using an adjustable bed or a wedge that lifts your upper body.
Pregnant women often experience difficulty getting comfortable at night. As your body changes, your favorite sleep position might become impossible to achieve. Sleeping on your left side is often the most comfortable position during late pregnancy. Because of the location of the uterus, left-side sleeping also ensures good blood flow to the developing baby.
There is no one sleep position that is perfect for every person or situation. If you're trying to figure out the best sleep position for a particular condition or just want to improve the quality of your rest, talk to your doctor or sleep specialist about which orientation might be right for your needs. You might also try out a different mattress or adjust the configuration of pillows on your bed to sleep better.
© 2021 American Sleep Association.