Our sleeping position is important to our health, it affects our body functions such as digestion, gut health, brain waste removal, and even respiration. The more you know about the best sleeping positions, the better your sleep will be. If you’re wondering which side should you sleep on - this post will explain the best and worst sleeping positions to help you change your body posture to achieve healthy sleep.
A recent study was conducted on over 600 participants and it found that sleeping on your side was the most common sleeping position. The results showed that up to 54.1% of the participants are side sleepers, 37.5% are back sleepers, and 7.3% are stomach sleepers. It is difficult to come to a conclusive agreement on what the best sleep position is because this varies for different people.
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Different Sleeping Positions
There are three main sleeping positions, and they are, side sleeping, back sleeping, and stomach sleeping. However, there are also combination sleepers that combine more than one sleeping position throughout the night.
If you have a medical condition, like heart disease or sleep apnea - the right sleeping position can make all the difference in your sleep by alleviating some of the symptoms. Additionally, your sleep position can affect other aspects, such as heartburns, acid reflux, and body aches like back, neck, or shoulder pain. As a result, finding the best sleeping position for you is crucial.
1. Sleeping On Your Side
Side sleeping is a popular sleeping position because most of us are side sleepers, but some people sleep better on their stomachs or backs. There are multiple ways to sleep on your side, and they are, one arm under your head and the other stretched out, like a log with both arms aligned on your sides, or the most popular position - the fetal position. An average of 41% of side sleepers sleep in the fetal position, which is curling up and slightly having your legs bent towards your chest. This position can relieve back pain and reduce pressure on your joints.
Side sleeping offers the most health benefits, some major benefits include:
- Improves Gut Health - When you’re asleep, this is a chance for your body to detoxify, ease bowel movement, and improve your digestive system. Sleeping on your side helps the body transfer waste to the colon, which encourages you to go to the bathroom when you wake up. The small intestines easily move waste to your large intestines and then to the colon - promoting healthier digestion. However, sleeping on your back won’t aid in this process, it’ll actually slow it down. Side sleeping can help relieve symptoms of constipation, bloating, and inflammatory bowel disease.
- Relieves Back Pain - Side sleeping reduces the pressure placed on your spine, this is especially useful for people who suffer from arthritis or chronic pain. If you have lower back pain, sleeping on your stomach or back can make it worse. It is recommended to sleep on your side and place a pillow between your knees to promote hips alignment and maintain a neutral position. You can use a body pillow to ensure you stay in place while sleeping, by hugging it or placing it behind you for support.
- Reduces Snoring and Sleep Apnea Symptoms - Side sleeping keeps your tongue from blocking your airway, which helps you breathe easier. If you’re a loud snorer, this position is great for you. Side sleeping reduces snoring up to 50%, compared to those who sleep on their back. Also, it helps relieve symptoms of sleep apnea, which is a sleep disorder that frequently makes your breathing pause while you’re sleeping. Sleep apnea can be dangerous if the proper attention is not given, especially obstructive sleep apnea - it can lead to diabetes, insomnia, or heart issues. One study found that participants with obstructive sleep apnea experienced less sleep interruptions and were more focused the next day when sleeping on their side. Signs of sleep apnea may include not getting deep sleep because it’s difficult to breathe, waking up in the morning with a sore throat, feeling tired during daytime. In this case, side sleeping can help you breathe better while sleeping, but it is still advised to see a doctor.
- Reduces Heartburn and Acid Reflux Symptoms - If you have GERD or experience acid reflux, especially at night - side sleeping is the best sleep position for you. Research has shown that side sleeping improves digestion - as a result, it reduces heartburn and acid reflux symptoms that can disturb your sleep. Additionally, a recent study indicated that you’ll experience less heartburns when sleeping on your left side, rather than on your right side.
- Enhances Brain Health - In comparison to back sleeping and stomach sleeping, side sleeping helps the brain clear out interstitial waste more efficiently. This process is done properly when sleeping on both sides, the left and right side. Getting rid of brain waste will allow your brain to function optimally - it may even help prevent neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.
- Healthiest Position for Pregnancy - If you’re pregnant it’ll be very difficult for you to sleep on your stomach or back. In fact, doctors highly recommend avoiding sleeping on your back during pregnancy, as this position can increase the risk of complications. Sleeping on the left side is the healthiest and safest option during pregnancy. This position doesn't put pressure on your spine or organs and it improves blood flow to the heart, fetus, uterus, and kidneys.
Which side should you sleep on?
Sleeping on your left or right side, are both healthy positions for sleep apnea, snoring, and back relief. However, experts suggest sleeping on your left side and then shifting between both sides throughout the night. Sleeping on one side may cause arm numbness as well as shoulder pain, so shifting between both sides can prevent this. If you still experience shoulder pain, then you may need to switch to another position. Sleeping on your left side relieves pressure from your organs, this is particularly beneficial for pregnant women or those who suffer from heartburn.
However, it is recommended for people with heart failure to avoid sleeping on their left side because it’ll be uncomfortable and can affect the heart functions. A potential con for side sleeping is that it can lead to sleep wrinkles because your face is pressed against the pillow all night. In order to avoid wrinkles, it is best to sleep on your back or regularly switch between both sides.
Tips for Side Sleepers
- Mattress: Picking the right mattress type can make a significant difference in your comfort while sleeping. For example, if you’re a side sleeper, a mattress that is too soft can be your worst nightmare. It won’t provide the right support and it’ll make your shoulders or hips sink into the mattress. This will promote spine misalignment and may cause shoulder, hip, or lower back pain. On the other hand, a mattress that is too firm will be uncomfortable and will create a gap between your waist and the mattress. The best mattress for side sleepers will be a medium-firm mattress that isn’t too soft or too firm. It’ll relieve pressure from your hips and shoulders by providing the right amount of contouring and comfort.
- Pillows: Finding the right pillow will differ from one sleeping position to another. The best pillow for side sleepers will be a thick pillow that fills the gap between your head and shoulders. It should promote healthier spinal alignment and relieve strain on your neck muscles. A soft pillow won’t be as supportive and may cause neck pain as your head sinks into it. It is also recommended to place a firm pillow between your knees to avoid adding pressure on your knee joints and hips. Additionally, you can hug a body pillow to stay in the same position and to have a cushion to place your arm on while sleeping. Pregnant women may also benefit from adding a pillow under the abdomen for extra support.
- Sleeping Position: Symmetrical side sleeping ensures your spine’s in a natural position and that all of your body parts are aligned. A few things to consider when side sleeping are: keep your shoulders aligned with your hips, your chin shouldn’t be bent towards your chest, your neck shouldn't be twisted to the side. Additionally, you can slightly curl your legs towards your chest to relieve pressure on your lower back.
2. Sleeping On Your Back
Back sleeping is well-known for being the best sleeping position to keep your spine aligned. Sleeping on your back will promote your head, neck, and spine to be in a neutral position. It will reduce the pressure on your neck, shoulders, hips, and knees. This sleep position is ideal for eliminating pain from those pressure points. However, if you have an unsupportive mattress, your spine will curve inwards and you may experience back pain.
People with heart failure should avoid back sleeping because it’ll add pressure on their lungs, which can weigh on the heart - this can be uncomfortable. The same goes for those with sleep apnea - while sleeping on your back, your tongue can shift in your mouth and create a blockage of airways. This promotes snoring and makes it hard to breathe. It is recommended to sleep on your side if you have a heart condition, sleep apnea, or a snoring problem.
Tips for Back Sleepers
- Mattress: The best mattress for back sleepers will be a medium firm or firm mattress. A high-density memory foam mattress will offer efficient back support and prevent your back from sinking into the mattress, misaligning your spine.
- Pillows: For back sleepers, it is recommended to sleep on a supportive soft pillow that cradles your head and supports the natural curve of your neck. You should also wedge a thin pillow under your knees to fill in the gap between your knees and the mattress for extra comfort. If you’re a back sleeper that suffers from a breathing problem or snores a lot, try and slightly elevate your head with an extra pillow. An adjustable bed base will allow you to elevate your head position, which will be very advantageous if you have sleep apnea, a stuffy nose, or heartburn.
- Sleeping Position: The most common way of back sleeping is the starfish position, which is evenly distributing your body weight by spreading out your legs and arms. If you were instructed to sleep on your back for a medical purpose, you can wedge a thin pillow under your lower back for added comfort or around your midsection and hip to stop you from shifting to other positions.
3. Sleeping On Your Stomach
Stomach sleeping is the least common sleeping position and the worst position for your health - if you’re a stomach sleeper, it may be time to consider changing this habit. There are many risks that come with stomach sleeping like neck, back, and hip pain. Your neck will be twisted in an awkward angle to breathe, which can strain your neck muscles and cause neck pain. As for your back, if your mattress is too soft, your midsection will sink into it, adding pressure on your spine and putting it in a harmful curve that will generate lower back pain.
Your spine won’t be aligned with the rest of your body. If you’re worried about wrinkles, stomach sleeping isn’t the best option. Your face is mostly pressed against a pillow which can stress your skin and lead to wrinkles.
One positive outcome of stomach sleeping is that it lessens snoring and helps clear the airways - reducing the chance of developing sleep apnea or another breathing problem. However, you can get this benefit from side sleeping, which is a healthier sleep position.
Tips for Stomach Sleepers
- Mattress: In order to prevent your stomach from sinking into the mattress, the mattress needs to be firm to properly support your weight. This will help your spine stay in a neutral position.
- Pillows: If you have a supportive mattress, you may not even need a pillow. If you are going to use one, make sure it is a flat pillow, less than 3 inches thick. You don’t want to elevate your head too much to avoid neck pain and to try and maintain proper alignment. Additionally, consider trying to add a thin pillow under your abdomen as extra support for your midsection to avoid sinkage.
- Sleeping Position: Experts suggest that it is best to avoid this sleeping position entirely. However, if you are going to sleep on your stomach, it is advised to not tuck your arms under your pillow to avoid numbness or pain and to regularly shift the direction of your head to prevent neck stiffness.
When To Consider Changing Your Sleep Position?
Is your mattress working for you? The support of a mattress is a big factor in making you comfortable in your sleeping position. The wrong mattress will give you back pain, no matter how often you change your sleep position. As a result, it is important to ensure your mattress is optimized for full-body support and conforms to your body.
The Puffy Lux mattress is a hybrid memory foam mattress that contours your body and targets key pressure points. This mattress includes a 101-night sleep trial to try it out in your home to make sure it’s a right fit for you.
Alternatively, which side should you sleep on? If your current sleeping position is giving you body aches and or causing you other health issues - you need to change your sleep position. For example, if you’re a back sleeper but wake up in the middle of the night gasping for air, you should consider starting to sleep on your side.
Switching positions isn’t going to be easy and it’ll require time to get used to a new position. You’ll need to train yourself to sleep in this position until it’s natural. Pillows can assist you in maintaining a new position. For example, if you’re a new side sleeper, you can place a body pillow behind you to prevent you from sleeping on your back or if you were a stomach sleeper, you can hug a pillow instead to get a familiar soothing effect.
Tips For A Good Night’s Sleep
Now that you understand which sleeping position is right for you, what else can you do to get a better night’s rest? You may not notice what is disturbing your sleep, but you will notice the impact it has on you the next day. Here are a few tips to optimize your sleep quality in order to feel refreshed when you wake up:
- Get an Adjustable Bed Base for customized support: With an adjustable bed foundation, you can easily adjust the head and leg height to your comfort. For example, if you’re a back sleeper that suffers from sleep apnea or GERD, you can adjust your head height to be slightly elevated as you sleep. This base is ideal for anyone with back pain, sleep apnea, and even heart conditions. Raise the leg height so that your feet are slightly higher than your heart level to reduce the risk of heart failure. Puffy’s adjustable base has a one click Zero-G position, which stands for zero gravity as you experience weightless comfort and pain relief after a long day.
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule: It may be tempting to sleep for an extra few hours on the weekend, but it is actually doing you more harm than good. Waking up and going to sleep at different times every day will disrupt your circadian rhythm, which governs your sleep wake cycle and the quality of sleep you get. It is recommended to aim for an average of 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night.
- Prepare your bedroom for sleep: Whether it is being awakened by noise outside, light, or night sweats - there are small changes that you can make to prepare your room for bedtime. You can upgrade to a cooling mattress to avoid overheating and make sure your room is dark, quiet, and a comfortable temperature, when you go to sleep.
- Adopt healthier sleep habits: Before going to sleep, it is best to avoid things that’ll interrupt your sleep like heavy meals or too much screen time. Research has proven that the blue light that emits from phone and TV screens is harmful before bed and can reduce melatonin production, which is the sleep hormone. Try and avoid your exposure to screens for at least an hour before sleeping.
You should also consider having your last meal at least 3 hours before bed to give your body enough time to digest the food. Instead, if you get hungry at night opt for sleep-inducing snacks that can increase melatonin and reduce stress levels.
What is the healthiest way to sleep?
Sleeping on your side is considered the healthiest sleeping position because it includes many benefits such as improving gut health, cleaning brain waste, reducing back pain as well as symptoms of sleep apnea, GERD, or heartburn. Sleeping on your back is also a healthy option that promotes spinal alignment.
Why should you sleep on your left side?
Sleeping on your left side is highly recommended, especially if you’re pregnant or suffer from acid reflux, because it relieves pressure from vital organs allowing them to function better. However, sleeping on your right side is recommended if you have a heart condition.
Which position is not good for sleeping?
Sleeping on your stomach is the unhealthiest sleeping position because it puts pressure on your spine and promotes spinal misalignment, which can lead to lower back pain. You’ll also need to twist your neck in an uncomfortable angle to breathe which will strain your neck muscles. It is recommended to try to shift your sleep position to sleep on your side or back.
Achieving a better night’s sleep is easier than you think! Now that you know which side should you sleep on, you can get the various health benefits of this position and enhance your sleep experience. If you’ve switched positions and are still experiencing body aches - it may be time to consider changing your mattress.
Which side are you sleeping? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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Disclaimer. We love sleep and we want you to get the best sleep possible. But we do not provide medical advice. This blog is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical info, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our blog.