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What’s the Best Sleeping Position?

Dr. Nayantara Santhi, PhD

Dr. Nayantara Santhi, PhD

Dr. Nayantara Santhi is an associate professor of psychology at Northumbria University in Newcastle. Santhi’s body of work includes numerous articles on how circadian rhythms regulate an individual’s sleep-wake cycle. Santhi’s articles have also focused on related elements such as bright light exposure and melatonin production.

Sleep Tips
Read Time: 8 minutes

Sleeping positions play a crucial role in the quality of sleep you get each night. Whether you choose to lie on your back or stomach, your choice can have good or bad consequences in the morning. Sleep is supposed to heal the body, and without proper conditions, you may be limiting your sleep quality and duration.

In this article, we discuss how your sleeping position affects and benefits your nightly rest.

Common Sleeping Positions

“The importance of posture in facilitating good sleep is often neglected,” notes Dr. Nayantara Santhi. “Just as we all realize the importance of good posture while engaging in daily activities so it is worth paying attention to body posture when sleeping. Back and side sleeping positions are recommended. But each can benefit from a slightly different mattress firmness.”

Each sleeping position has its pros and cons, but there are a few positions that can actually improve your sleep and promote better health.

Side Sleeping

Researchers suggest right-side sleeping as a healthy option, especially for those with cardiovascular conditions since lying on the right side creates more space in the chest cavity and reduces pressure on the heart muscle.

In addition to its benefits to your heart health, sleeping on your right side also helps your body clear waste from the brain. Efficient detoxification of brain waste may help reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other neurological diseases.

The disadvantage of sleeping in this position is that it can lead to stiff shoulders and tightness in the jaw, and if you aren’t sleeping on a pressure-relieving soft mattress, you may experience hip pain while sleeping on your side.

The Fetal Position

The fetal position is the most common side sleeping position, with the majority of adults choosing this option. In this position, you are lying on your side with your legs curled up underneath. Sleeping this way is a good option for improving posture because your spine is in its natural alignment.

There are a few consequences of the fetal position. Lying curled up tightly can limit the amount of oxygen that reaches your lungs and diaphragm. Stretch out a bit and keep your abdomen relaxed, so you can breathe while you rest.

To find a comfortable mattress for side sleepers, look at mattresses made with cushioning materials, such as memory foam and latex, and choose a bed that’s medium or medium-soft in firmness to ensure your hips and shoulders are adequately cushioned.

Back Sleeping

Back sleeping is a less common sleep position, with only around 8% of people sleeping on their backs. However, it’s often considered the ideal position for back comfort. When lying on your back, your spine stays neutral, reducing knee pain and improving posture. A medium-firm to firm mattress for back sleeping keeps the spine in alignment.

The downside of sleeping on your back is that it can contribute to snoring and sleep apnea. If your head is resting too low,  it can be tough for oxygen to move through the airways.

Propping yourself up with two or three pillows keeps your airways open and can make it easier to breathe, although this isn’t the most comfortable setup. When it comes to the number of pillows you should sleep with, one pillow is best.

Instead of relying on multiple pillows, we suggest a mid-loft pillow for back sleeping.

Stomach Sleeping

Stomach-sleep alters the natural curve in your spine and strains vertebrae in your neck. Sleeping in this position puts you at risk of spinal disc herniation.

A herniated disc occurs when one of the soft cushions (discs) between your spinal bones pushes out. Herniated discs are known to weaken or irritate nearby nerves and result in pain and numbness in an arm or leg. Mattresses for herniated discs do exist, but it’s best to do all you can to avoid medical complications.

It’s common for stomach sleepers to experience jaw tightness in the morning. Part of your mouth is usually pressed into your mattress when in this position. Adding an extra pillow under your neck or head for support will ease some of the tension in your jaw, along with choosing a firmer mattress for stomach sleeping.

Best Sleeping Positions

Believe it or not, huge milestones in life can have an impact on our sleeping position. If you just moved in with your partner or recently found out you are expecting, you’ll probably run into some bedtime hardships.

Below, we talk about the healthiest sleep styles for specific needs so you can determine the best sleeping position for you.

Improving Health and Wellness

If you have been recently diagnosed or are suffering from a medical condition it may be a great idea to change up your position. Sometimes all it takes is a new sleeping position to improve chronic pain and wellness.

Heart Failure

People with congestive heart failure should avoid sleeping on their backs. This position may interrupt your heartbeat and disturb your sleep. Right side sleeping may protect people with heart failure. The right side creates more space in the chest; it helps regulate blood flow, stabilizing your heart rate, and blood pressure.

Sleep Apnea and Snoring

Sleep apnea causes the airways to collapse during sleep, leading to pauses in breathing. When you sleep on your back  it is more likely for your tongue and soft tissues to obstruct your airway. Some people only experience sleep apnea while lying on their backs, but it is possible for this condition to occur in every position.

Positioning yourself on your side or elevating your head can open up your airways and lessen your chances of snoring or having an episode of sleep apnea. Note that sleep apnea can occur in any position, and if your snoring continues, you should consult with a physician for further treatment.

Chronic Pain

If you are suffering from chronic joint pain, you should try sleeping on your back. Lying on the back takes the strain off your shoulders and hips. Your spine is in its natural position, making on your joints less likely. If this brings discomfort, try placing a wedge pillow under your lower back to reduce the pressure on your spine.

Shoppers who really want to invest in their comfort can also consider an adjustable bed, as custom setups can ease pressure on the body. This tension can otherwise build up into pain, so an adjustable bed is an excellent way to increase sleep quality.

Easing Discomfort During Pregnancy

Second and Third Trimester

During pregnancy, many women find it harder to fall and stay asleep. Finding the best sleep position during pregnancy can ease some of your prenatal stress and benefit the health of your baby.

Sleeping on your stomach is not recommended, as is uncomfortable and nearly impossible after the first few weeks of pregnancy. You should also avoid sleeping on your back after 20 weeks of pregnancy. When you lie belly-up, your body weight can compress a major blood vessel, called the vena cava. If this occurs, it will disrupt blood flow and decrease the circulation to you and your baby’s heart.

By far, the best sleep position during pregnancy is sleeping on the side. Side sleeping will increase blood flow and the number of nutrients that reach the placenta.  It also enhances kidney function, resulting in better elimination of waste and less swelling in your feet, ankles, and hands. Many of the best mattresses for pregnancy have a softer feel to enable easy and enjoyable side sleeping.

If you are having trouble sleeping on your side while pregnant, there are some ways to make your transition easier. Try placing a pillow between your legs and under your abdomen. Supportive body pillows for pregnancy will provide you with extra comfort, making it easier for you to fall asleep each night

After Giving Birth

Getting shut-eye once your baby arrives is a common concern for new mothers. After the delivery, your body will need to recover for several weeks, and sleeping in a better position will contribute to postpartum recovery.

Doctors have discovered that the diameter of a woman’s upper respiratory tract increases when propped up 45 degrees after she gives birth. This translates to improved quality of breathing and will help you recover after your delivery. You will most likely be lying on your back in the reclining position while in the delivery room,  so the transition will be a bit easier once you go home.

If you give birth through a Caesarean delivery (C-section), you should sleep on the back or side. You’ll probably experience soreness from your incision for at least six weeks and sleeping on your stomach will irritate it. When you sleep on your side or back it lowers the strain on your abdomen.

To Improve Comfort Amongst Couples

If you and your partner struggle to sleep in harmony each night, you are not alone. Sleeping next to someone can be difficult. Sometimes we hog the bed or toss and turn, disrupting each other’s sleep. Lack of sleep can impact our day-to-day lives and our relationship. Luckily, some positions can make sleep better for couples. (And investing in a motion-isolating mattress for couples never hurts, either.)

One common position among couples is lying side-to-side with backs facing each other. Lying back to back, will provide an adequate amount of space. Also, it allows both of you to enjoy resting on a comfortable mattress without interruptions from one another. You can also try sleeping on your sides and lying face to face, as well, since sleeping face to face can provide some couples with more room to stretch out.

Sleeping flat on your back is also another option you and your partner can try out. Many sleepers prefer this position, but the downside is that back sleeping worsens snoring and sleep apnea.

Keeping yourself elevated with an adjustable bed or wedge pillow can keep your airways open, but if sleep disturbances persist, you should try a different position.

Transitioning to a New Sleep Position

Changing your sleep position may seem difficult, but it’s all about providing your body with the best comfort. The best way to make your bed more relaxing is by providing your joints with extra support.

If you are transitioning to back sleeping, you should try placing a pillow under your knee once you lay down. The knee support will keep your spine in alignment and offer you more comfort while asleep. You’ll most likely feel less pain in your lower back area with a knee pillow.

If you are a stomach sleeper transitioning to side sleep you should think about sleeping with a body pillow. People who sleep in this position usually like to hug their pillows while sleeping. Pressing a pillow against your abdomen will resemble the feeling of a mattress, providing you with some nostalgia.

Another way you can change your position is by minimizing your movements during sleep. Creating a barrier of body pillows or towels on either side will keep you from moving too much at night. Barriers will also feel more secure while you’re sleeping. This trick works well for those who are trying to sleep on their backs and side.


Where do I put my arms when sleeping on my side?

Try to keep your arms around your waist. Many people also like to keep their hands in front of them or close to their head in this position. Do not put your arms flat under your body as you will likely put a strain on your shoulder. Sleeping with your arms raised or around your pillow can add tension and pinch your lower shoulder.

What is the best sleeping position to help posture/fix posture?

Back sleeping promotes better posture and lessens tension on your joints since lying flat on your back allows your body to distribute weight evenly and keeps your spine in alignment. It is important to support the natural S-curve of your spine while laying in this position. If there is too much pressure on your spine can cause pain or numbness in your joints.

What’s the best sleeping position when having a stuffy nose?

If you have a stuffy nose, sleep on your back and if possible, keep your head elevated while you sleep. Using a wedge pillow or adjustable bed frame to keep yourself propped helps gravity drain your nasal passage and keeps your airways open so it’s easier to breathe.

You should avoid sleeping on your side when you’re congested. In this position, mucus can drain to one nostril, causing more pressure and discomfort, or even worsening the congestion on both sides.

What is the best sleeping position?

Experts believe the best sleeping position is on your back. Sleeping on your back allows your head, neck, and spine to rest in a neutral position. There is no added pressure on your joints so you’re less likely to experience pain.

Is it bad to sleep in one position all night?

It is actually better for you to sleep in one position. Tossing and turning interrupts your sleep and keeps you from a good night of rest. Also, you may end up snoozing in an unhealthy position, such as on your stomach, if you toss and turn. Poor sleep postures put added pressure on your spine and often cause you to wake up with joint pain.


Finding the best sleep position begins with trying out solutions that work best for you. Start by investing in the best mattress, and pair your bed with supportive pillows for your neck and back. One of the best mattresses will make it easier to switch sleep styles and get comfortable in your new sleeping position.

It may feel uncomfortable at first, but we suggest sticking with it and remaining consistent. After a while, your new sleep position will feel more natural. You can even improve your comfort by taking one of the best sleeping positions on an adjustable bed.

Meg Riley Certified Sleep Science Coach

Meg Riley is a Certified Sleep Science Coach and a full-time writer focused on sleep and mattresses. She is currently the Editor-in-Chief of Sleep Junkie.

Meg started to focus on the sleep industry in 2018. Since then, she has written over 70+ articles on sleep hygiene, product reviews, and the newest trends in the mattress and bedding industry.

A non-exhaustive list of some of the topics she has written on: the effectiveness of alarm clocks, how to prevent jet lag, the NREM & REM Sleep Cycle, and causes and treatments of Restless Legs Syndrome.

Meg Riley has her undergraduate degree from Pennsylvania State University where she studied Advertising and Public Relations and wrote articles on the student experience for College Magazine.

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