What Your Sleep Position Says About Your Health

Learn more about what your sleep position might say about your health.

Young man side sleeps for a restful night.

Getting enough sleep is important for your overall health and well-being. What you may not realize, however, is that your sleep position can play a role in how you feel each day.

Learn more about what your sleep position may say about your health.

Related: Why Sleep Is Important at Any Age

Stomach sleeping

Stomach sleeping is the least common sleep position, according to a study published in the “Nature & Science of Sleep.” Of those surveyed, only 7.3% reported sleeping on their stomach. It’s also the position that is least recommended by healthcare professionals for several reasons.

When you lie on your stomach and place your head on a pillow, your body positioning becomes strained. You may find that you wake up with neck and back pain.

Since the midsection of the human body is one of its heaviest parts, sleeping on your stomach can cause your spine to overarch. This problem can lead to nerve and pain issues, which can present as a tingling sensation or numbness in the fingers and toes. Since you have to turn your head to one side when laying on your stomach, this position can also reduce the size of your airway and decrease circulation.

If you don’t want to stop sleeping on your stomach, try modifying your position slightly. Choose the flattest pillow you can find and place only your forehead on it to keep your neck straighter. You might also add another thin pillow beneath your pelvis to alleviate some of the pressure placed on your lower back.

Side sleeping

Experts say that sleeping on your side is the optimal position. When you’re properly supported with a high-quality mattress, you can ensure that your spine remains neutral and elongated while you sleep. This position can reduce shoulder, back, and neck pain.

It’s best to keep your chest and legs as straight as possible and use a medium-height, slightly firm pillow or ergonomic cushion beneath your head and neck. Some side sleepers also place a pillow between their knees to reduce pressure on the lower back.

Sleeping on your side allows your airway to remain as open as possible, so it can minimize snoring and reduce symptoms of sleep apnea. Those with existing back and neck pain, arthritis, and acid reflux are commonly recommended to sleep on their sides.

If you’re pregnant, sleeping on your left side can contribute to improved kidney function and reduce swelling in your feet and legs.

Back sleeping

Back sleeping falls in the middle of the three main positions in terms of its popularity. The aforementioned study reported that about 38% of people sleep on their backs.

Lying flat on your mattress can help maintain the natural, neutral positioning of your spine, reducing back pain. Those with acid reflux may find that this position reduces symptoms they experience, particularly when sleeping on the back with a pillow elevating the head.

If you snore or have sleep apnea, sleeping on your back can exacerbate either condition. As you relax and fall asleep, the soft tissues in your throat and your tongue will relax. Gravity naturally pulls them down into the airway, which can restrict airflow and cause apnea episodes or an increased snoring volume.

You can modify the position when sleeping on your back by placing a cervical cushion or low pillow under your neck and a larger rolled cushion to prop up your knees. Both of these additions can reduce lower back strain.

If you’re having trouble getting good rest or find that you wake up feeling discomfort or pain in your body, you may want to adjust your sleeping position. You can also talk to your healthcare provider or a sleep specialist to get more insights into how your sleep may be impacting your health.

Related: 5 Tips for Getting a Better Night's Sleep

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