While we sleep, our bodies work hard to restore and repair themselves. Your sleep position can either help or hinder that process, so it’s worth knowing which positions would be most helpful for you. Different sleep positions suit different needs, though a good sleeping position is usually one that supports the natural curvature of your spine.

If you’re struggling with pain, injury, health issues, or simply have trouble getting to sleep, then you may benefit from switching up your sleep position. It may take longer than one night to work out which position is right for you, but it’ll be worth it if you start getting better, more restorative rest.

In this article, we’ll run through various sleeping positions, including what they’re good for, when they should be avoided, and how you can modify them.

What makes a good sleeping position?

The best sleep position is one that supports the natural curvature of your spine, from your hips all the way to your head. What this looks like will change from person to person, depending on personal health and preference.

Nevertheless, there are some sleeping positions that are naturally healthier than others. For example, sleeping on your back or side is considered better than sleeping on your stomach because it’s easier to keep the spine supported and balanced. This reduces pressure on spinal tissues and allows muscles to relax and recover overnight.

Having said that, if you feel comfortable sleeping on your stomach and wake up feeling rested, then there’s no reason to feel that you have to change it. The most important thing is to do what feels best for you. Plus, positions can be adjusted to help to minimize the risk of pain and improve spinal alignment. We’ll cover these below.

What are the best and worst sleeping positions?

1. Fetal position

The fetal position is the most popular and widely used sleeping position. To get into this position, you should carefully roll onto one side, place your pillow under your head and neck, and bring your knees up toward your chest until your back is relatively straight.

The fetal position brings several benefits and is especially great for relieving lower back pain, reducing snoring, and feeling more comfortable during pregnancy.

It’s important to ensure that your posture remains fairly loose in the fetal position, otherwise it has the potential to limit deep breathing while you sleep. It can also leave you feeling sore in the morning, particularly if you suffer from joint pain or stiffness.

If you’re struggling to perfect the fetal position or don’t feel comfortable, you can first try to modify it by working on relaxing your posture into a looser position. It’s also worth sleeping with a pillow in between your knees, as this can help you align your hips, pelvis, and spine.

2. Sleeping on your stomach

Not many people would be likely to rank lying on their stomach as one of the best sleeping positions. While it’s a good position to prevent snoring or sleep apnea, the benefits don’t stretch much further beyond that, and it’s usually not particularly comfortable either.

Unfortunately, sleeping on your stomach can cause a lot of unnecessary strain on your muscles and joints, and cause neck, jaw, and back pain. If you’ve been waking up from this position a bit sore and tired recently, this could be why.

Research shows that sleeping on your stomach can worsen symptoms of temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ) because it encourages teeth grinding and increases pressure on the head, neck, and jaw. Sleeping on your back, on the other hand, is much better.

If however, you like sleeping on your stomach, you can try modifying it in ways that can reduce any potential downsides. For example, sleeping with a thinner pillow (or no pillow at all) can help to reduce any stress to your neck. Similarly, placing a pillow underneath your lower stomach can sometimes help to reduce back pain.

3. Lying flat on your back

Of all sleeping positions, lying flat on your back offers the most health benefits. Sleeping on your back helps to protect your spine by keeping it well aligned, which can help to reduce unnecessary pressure on your back or joints.

Lying on your back, however, is not recommended for anyone who struggles with snoring or sleep apnea. It can also be uncomfortable for anyone already struggling with back pain.

You can help to reduce back pain by placing a pillow underneath the back of your knees as this will help to support the natural curve of your back. If you’re feeling congested or are a frequent snorer, propping yourself up with another pillow can help make breathing easier.

4. Sleeping on your side

Sleeping on your side is actually pretty good for you. It can help to reduce snoring, aid digestion, and can even improve symptoms of heartburn. Sleeping on your side differentiates from the fetal position because the knees are not tucked up. Interestingly, it’s especially good if you sleep on your left side. This study found that when people slept on their right side it significantly increased acid reflux and heartburn symptoms.

In certain cases, however, sleeping on your side is not always the best position. It can sometimes cause stiffness in the shoulders and jaw tightness.

Research also suggests that it can contribute to wrinkles, due to the skin being pressed up against the pillow for long periods of time. Plus, cotton pillowcases also cause friction against the skin which can lead to irritation and accentuate the appearance of wrinkles, lines, and creases. Silk pillowcases on the other hand, are great for your skin and hair.

If you like sleeping on your side, then it’s worth putting a pillow between your knees because this will help to align your hips better and avoid any onset of back pain.

It’s also important to sleep with a good pillow to avoid neck and back pain – and if you’re worried about wrinkles and creases, you might also like to invest in a silk pillowcase. You can read more about choosing the right pillow on the Healthline website.

Final thoughts…

Different sleep positions are good for different things. If you’ve been struggling to sleep or have woken up feeling unrested or sore recently, it might be worth experimenting with a new position.

However, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to change your sleeping position if you’re not having any issues – you should do what feels best for you. The key thing is that you’re waking up being well rested and full of energy to face the day.

If you’ve been getting good sleep recently but are still feeling tired throughout the day, then you may be lacking in a form of rest other than sleep. Have a read of our article The 7 types of rest you need to be your most productive self to find out what rest you might be missing.

What is your favourite sleeping position and why? We’d love to hear from you. Join the conversation on the Rest Less community forum, or leave a comment below. 

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