While sleeping on your back or side is generally considered to be the best sleep position for most people, the truth is that getting a perfect night’s rest all depends on a number of factors that are personal to you.
Meanwhile, things such as pregnancies recovering from surgery, and even your age may actually influence the way you choose to sleep in order to give your body the rest and recovery that it needs.
So yes, it can be a little challenging to work out the right way to sleep, but if that’s a challenge you’re facing right now, we’ve got some good news for you.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll outline what the experts say about finding the best sleeping position for you so that you can finally get that perfectly peaceful night’s sleep once and for all.
We’ll also answer your key questions about whether it’s better to sleep on your side, stomach, or back, as well as explain everything you need to know about why finding the right sleep position is so important.
What is the Best Sleeping Position for Quality Sleep?
Ultimately, the best sleeping position is any that allows your spine to maintain its natural curve. This way, you get to enjoy quality sleep so that your body can recharge, recover, and repair itself.
As you’ll read in our guide to sleep quality, what we really mean by this is how much time you spend in bed actually sleeping without waking up multiple times in the night.
How much time is that? According to a review of scientific literature on sleep quality, age plays a big role in determining how much sleep we really need.
Recommended Sleep Length Based on Age
- Newborns: 14 – 17 hours
- Infants: 12 – 15 hours
- Toddlers: 11 – 14 hours
- Preschoolers: 10 – 13 hours
- School children: 9 – 11 hours
- Teenagers: 8 – 10 hours
- Adults: 7 – 9 hours
- Older adults: 7 – 8 hours
Still, the number of hours you spend in bed is only one factor that makes up a good night’s rest. It’s more about what happens in those hours than the hours themselves, and there are other tell-tale signs that you’re getting quality rest.
- Falling asleep within 30 minutes of going to bed
- Waking up only once or not at all during the night
- Being able to fall back asleep within 20 minutes if you do wake up
- Feeling well-rested and recharged when you wake up in the morning.
If you’re already getting the recommended number of hours, you’re spending at least 85% of your time in bed actually sleeping, and you’re waking up feeling pretty good in the morning, then congratulations; you may have already found the perfect sleeping position for you.
That said, you clicked on this guide for a reason, so we’re going to guess that you’re not quite enjoying the kind of quality sleep that you’d like.
If that’s the case, one of the best positions you can adopt is to sleep on your left side with your knees slightly bent and a pillow between your legs.
The pillow helps you maintain that all-important natural spinal curve throughout the night, while sleeping on the left-hand side of your body can help reduce things like snoring and heartburn and improve digestive functions.
If you struggle with finding a comfortable position for your top arm while side-sleeping, it may also be a good idea to hug a pillow close to you.
Of course, all this is based on the assumption that you’re relatively fit and healthy, but what if you’re struggling with pain, pregnant, or living with a condition that makes it more difficult to sleep than the average person?
If that’s the case, you’ll find our sleep position recommendations for your condition below.
What is the Best Sleep Position for Pain?
There are few things more likely to disrupt a good night’s rest than physical pain.
Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to help alleviate that pain by adopting the most suitable position to help with whatever it is that you’re struggling with.
Best Way to Sleep for Lower Back Pain
According to The Global Burden of Disease Study, lower back pain is the biggest cause of disability in the world.
While it can make sleeping uncomfortable in itself, lower back pain is frequently brought on by things like poor sleeping positions and bad posture throughout the day.
So, what can you do about it?
Experts recommend that sleeping on your side is the best way to alleviate lower back pain.
Ideally, you’ll want to bend your knees and place a pillow between them. The pillow is the real hero here, as it helps you to keep your spine, pelvis, and hips in alignment throughout the night.
This results in less discomfort while sleeping and can also reduce your usual level of pain throughout your waking day. If a standard pillow just isn’t cutting it for you, you can also invest in pillows that are specially designed to help side-sleepers maintain an optimum sleeping position.
Best Way to Sleep for Upper Back Pain
One of the best sleeping positions for upper back pain is to actually sleep on your back, as it ensures your spine maintains its natural alignment throughout the night.
If you do decide to opt for this position, you might also find it helpful to place a thin pillow underneath your head, neck, and knees for added support and comfort.
The Drawbacks of Sleeping on Your Back
Sleeping on your back may be great for your spine, but if you snore, there’s a good chance that sleeping on your back will only exacerbate your snoring.
Likewise, this isn’t the best sleep position for sleep apnea as it could cause your breathing tube to get blocked by your tongue while you sleep.
So, what are the alternatives?
Sleeping in a Reclined Position
A major cause of back pain is a spinal condition known as isthmic spondylolisthesis, in which one of your vertebrae slips over the other one.
If this is what you’re struggling with right now, you may find that one of the best ways for you to sleep is in an upright, reclined position, almost like sleeping in a comfortable chair. If your budget allows for it, upgrading to an adjustable bed would be a smart move as it allows you to create a more comfortable reclined position for sleeping, though if a new bed is a little out of your price range right now, you can also use pillows to support yourself.
Sleeping on the Stomach
Sleeping on your tummy is rarely a good idea for back pain sufferers as it can actually cause more distress and discomfort.
However, if your back pain is caused by degenerative disc disease, you may find that sleeping on your stomach with a pillow underneath your lower abdomen is the most comfortable position as it can alleviate the stress placed on the space between your spinal discs.
What is the Best Way to Sleep for Neck Pain?
According to Harvard Medical School, the two are on your side or on your back.
For back sleepers, choosing a rounded pillow that supports your neck’s natural curve and combining it with a flat pillow under your head will provide ample support and alleviate pressure on the sorest parts of your neck while you rest.
If you’re sleeping on your side, opt for a pillow that is lower under your neck than it is under your head to help maintain the correct spine position while you sleep.
If you are struggling with neck pain, you should certainly avoid sleeping on your stomach as this forces the back to arch and the neck to turn, which can only amplify your pain.
In fact, almost 30% of people in the US suffer with neck pain, and a major contributing factor is poor quality sleep, including stomach sleeping.
So, if you’ve been a life-long stomach-sleeper and you’re struggling with neck pain, you may well find that switching to a different position from here on works wonders for you.
What is the Best Way to Sleep for Hip Pain?
Hip pain affects around 7% of the US population. While that may be a relatively low number, it’s not something to be taken lightly, as a sore hip can be incredibly disruptive to a peaceful night’s sleep and may even prevent you from nodding off in the first place.
If this is something you’re currently dealing with, your pain might be a symptom of arthritis, tendonitis, bursitis, or sciatica.
Alternatively, it could be as a result of a poor-quality mattress (check out our comprehensive mattress guide to help you find a better one) or simply an unsuitable sleeping position.
So, what can you do about it?
Contrary to what you might think, sleeping on your side can actually be one of the best sleep positions for hip pain as you’ll have less pressure on your hips as well as your back, thanks to maintaining proper spinal alignment.
Obviously, it’s important to sleep on your good side, and you may find it even more comfortable to curl into the fetal position with a pillow between your knees to eliminate pressure on your hips even further.
If both hips are bothering you, you may find it preferable to sleep on your back.
Experts from the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio say that sleeping flat on your back evenly distributes weight across your body, meaning there’s less pressure on your sides.
Again, you can use a pillow to help maintain your spinal’s natural curve. This time, place the pillow underneath your knees so that they’re raised slightly.
Unfortunately for those who prefer stomach sleeping, this is another no-no.
Spending a lot of time on your tummy puts lots of pressure on your back, neck, and spine, and we certainly recommend avoiding it if you can.
However, if you find that stomach-sleeping is the only position that usually works for you, you can help yourself by placing a flat pillow beneath your lower abdomen to improve spinal alignment.
What is the Best Way to Sleep for Shoulder Pain?
If you’re a side-sleeper and you suffer from shoulder pain, it might be the case that your sleeping position is causing your discomfort in the first place as the weight of the thorax can cause prolonged pressure on the shoulder, leading to strong pain.
With that in mind, any side-sleeper who suffers from shoulder pain would do well to consider switching to their back with a small pillow tucked underneath the shoulder blades.
You may also find it helpful to place a second small pillow or a folded towel under your elbow on the side that hurts. This raises the elbow, which, in turn, creates a much better position for your shoulder’s ball and socket joint, resulting in less strain and pressure on the shoulder.
If sleeping on your back just isn’t working for you, you can always sleep on the side that doesn’t hurt while at the same time holding a pillow to your chest as though hugging it.
This stops the painful shoulder from moving too far forward in the night and thus stops it from pressing down on the joint.
What is the Best Way to Sleep for a Toothache?
If you’ve ever tried to get a good night’s rest while your teeth are hurting, you’ll know what an impossible task it can be.
Of course, changing the way you lay in bed isn’t enough on its own to eliminate that agonizing pain, and there are certainly a few things you can -and should- do before hitting the hay to minimize that pain as much as possible.
Taking over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen and Acetaminophen can help to reduce inflammation at the source of your sore tooth while wrapping a towel around an icepack and holding it to your face on the affected area will help to numb the pain if done repeatedly before bed.
However, that’s not to say that changing the way you sleep isn’t a good idea too.
When you do get in bed, the best sleep position for toothache is to sleep sitting up, or at least with your head lifted higher than the rest of your body, as this will help to improve circulation, reduce the swelling and reduce the pain to some degree.
Simply prop your head up on a couple of pillows, or adopt a sit-up position with your back also supported by pillows.
What is the Best Way to Sleep When Pregnant?
Of all the questions we’re asked here at Sweet Island Dreams, those concerning the best way to sleep when pregnant are by far the most common.
On the face of it, this is hardly surprising at all.
According to research carried out by The American College of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, almost half of pregnant women suffer from sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea.
This is partly due to the general discomfort that comes with being pregnant, partly due to fluctuating hormone levels, and also partly because of all the myriad other problems that come with being pregnant such as nausea, vomiting, and needing to go to the bathroom a lot, all of which can keep you up at night.
Whatever the case may be for you, it’s important to take care of the sleep problem as effectively as possible since getting a good night’s rest is so essential for a healthy mother and child.
The Best Sleeping Positions for Pregnancy
The best sleep position for pregnancy is to sleep on the left side of your body with your legs curled up.
Doing this improves blood flow to the uterus as well as the heart and kidneys while at the same time enhancing oxygen and nutrient delivery to your unborn child.
If you do prefer to sleep on your back, there’s certainly nothing wrong with this, but if you can sleep on your left, you’ll undoubtedly see much greater benefits.
Sleeping Positions to Avoid When Pregnant
If you’re a natural back-sleeper, you’ll probably find that this gets more and more uncomfortable the further into your pregnancy you get.
As the uterus gets bigger, back sleeping puts more pressure on a vein known as the vena cava. Ultimately, this can disrupt blood flow and make you feel dizzy.
Add that to the back pain that can be caused when sleeping on your back while pregnant, and it’s definitely a wise move to switch to your side.
Once again, it’s advised not to sleep on your stomach while pregnant as it becomes more and more uncomfortable and simply inconvenient the more your baby grows.
What is the Best Sleep Position for Sleep Apnea?
We’ve already discussed that sleeping on your back simply isn’t ideal if you suffer from sleep apnea, so what is the best way to sleep if you struggle with this condition?
Generally speaking, it’s best to sleep on your left-hand side as this can help to minimize the apnea and reduce snoring while also helping to prevent some of the causes of apneas, such as acid reflux.
If you prefer to sleep on your right side, this will also help to encourage blood flow and reduce snoring.
To do this effectively, you’ll want to avoid the curled-up fetal position we’ve recommended elsewhere in this guide and spread yourself out across the bed to enjoy maximum lung capacity while you sleep.
Why Sleeping On Your Back is Bad for Sleep Apnea
As we discussed earlier, the one thing you don’t want to do is sleep on your back if you can help it.
Back sleeping causes the tongue to become really relaxed and drop back into the mouth, obstructing your airway. This results in reduced oxygen delivery which triggers a response in the brain that snaps you awake, often desperate for air.
If you absolutely can’t sleep any other way, opt for a firm mattress to support your spine and raise your knees by placing a pillow under them.
Sleeping on Your Stomach for Sleep Apnea
So many times throughout this guide, we’ve recommended avoiding stomach sleeping at all costs.
This time, it’s a little different.
If you suffer from sleep apnea, sleeping on your stomach may be one of the best things you can do. Lying on your belly forces the tongue to fall away from the airway, leaving it open and improving airflow. This is also one of the best ways to prevent snoring.
What is the Best Way to Sleep When Recovering from Surgery?
Recovering from any kind of surgery can be challenging enough without the added difficulty of finding a comfortable position to sleep in.
Since a solid night’s rest is so essential to the recovery process, it’s important that you get this right.
The general consensus in the medical community is that sleeping on your back is the best way to sleep when recovering from most types of surgery, though there are things you can do to modify your position depending on the surgery you’ve had.
Rest a pillow between your knees with your legs straight or bent while sleeping on your back if you’re recovering from back surgery.
If you find it too hard to sleep on your back, sleep on the opposite side to the one you had operated on. Again, place a pillow between your knees and keep your legs straight rather than bent.
If you’ve just had knee surgery, you’ll again want to be on your back with a handful of pillows propping up the affected leg.
The best sleeping position after back surgery ultimately depends on what you find most comfortable.
Many people prefer to sleep sitting up or reclined with their head, shoulders, and upper back propped with pillows. If you do this, it’s also a good idea to place a pillow under your knees to help maintain proper spinal alignment.
If you find this too hard going, try switching to your side with that ever-important between-the-knee pillow in place.
The best sleep position after kidney surgery depends on the type of surgery you had.
If you just had a kidney biopsy, doctors will recommend that you sleep flat on your back with your hands by your sides and your legs facing up.
If you’ve had your kidney removed, the best way to sleep is upright. In fact, you may find it beneficial to set yourself up in a reclining chair.
These chairs can lean back enough to help you find a comfortable sleeping position, after which the mechanism of the chair itself can pull you gently back into a sitting-up position, helping you to avoid using your stomach muscles.
If a reclining chair isn’t available, grab a bunch of quality fluffy pillows and prop yourself up in bed in a comfortable reclined position.
The best position to sleep after C-section surgery is, you guessed it, on your back.
This can prevent placing any pressure on the incision, helping you to sleep more comfortably.
You’ll also want to grab your trusty side pillow to place between your knees so that your spine maintains its natural curve.
When waking up in the morning, avoid sitting straight up as this could hurt your abdominal muscles. Instead, roll onto your side with your knees bent, then slide your feet slowly off the bed and push yourself up into a seating position using your arms.
What is the Best Way to Sleep for Constipation and Hemorrhoids?
If you’re waking up multiple times a night due to health issues like constipation and hemorrhoids, then paying attention to your sleeping position may alleviate the discomfort as long as you’re taking any medication or treatment provided by your health practitioner.
If it’s being all backed up that’s keeping you up all night; then you’ll find that the best sleeping position for constipation is to sleep on your left side.
When you lie like this, natural gravity can play a significant role in helping waste shift more easily through your colon in the night, ready for a healthy trip to the bathroom in the morning. Interestingly, the much-maligned stomach-sleeping approach may actually prove to be one of the best ways to sleep for people with hemorrhoids.
Add a pillow under your hips to ensure you don’t roll onto your back in the middle of the night, and this should help to minimize anal pain.
How to Sleep on a Flight?
We’ve talked a lot today about the best way to sleep in a bed, but what about when you’re thousands of miles in the air and desperately need a good power nap or two?
It’s not going to be easy. Planes are notoriously bad places to power down, especially in economy class, but just because you may not get the kind of magical rest you’d enjoy in your king-size bed back home doesn’t mean you can’t get some decent rest.
Experts interviewed by air travel website Air Help recommend a number of positions to help you sleep, including tilting the seat back slightly with a pillow that won’t slip away placed behind your neck as this will provide the best support for your mid-air snooze.
Alternatively, other specialists recommend the good, old-fashioned method of laying the tray table down, placing a backpack or other comfortable item onto it, and using that item as your pillow.
Not only should this help you to get a good rest, but it can also prove invaluable in preventing you from accidentally lolling back onto one of your fellow passengers’ mid-doze.
Of course, none of those positions are perfect and aren’t exactly going to produce amazing quality sleep, but there are things you can do to improve that quality.
For one thing, be sure to pack your carry-on with a few essential items such as a comfortable pair of clothes to sleep in and even a miniature toothpaste and toothbrush.
Before closing your eyes for the night, head to the restroom, get changed, brush your teeth, and replicate your normal pre-sleep ritual as best as you possibly can. If you can ask the cabin crew to bring you herbal tea to help you relax, even better.
Frequently Asked Questions About The Best Sleeping Positions
Is it better to sleep on your front or side?
Sleeping on your side offers the most benefits, including reducing snoring and acid reflux symptoms, minimizing sleep apnea episodes, and reducing heart pressure.
Sleeping on your back can be great for helping maintain proper spine alignment. However, it can also cause or exacerbate snoring and sleep apnea episodes.
Is it better to sleep on your left or right side?
Though sleeping on either side will prove healthy and helpful, sleeping on the left side of your body is generally better for pregnant women and anyone who deals with acid reflux issues.
Is sleeping on your stomach bad for you?
Sleeping on your stomach can be bad for your health as it forces your back to curve, which isn’t good for maintaining your spine’s natural alignment. Snoozing on your belly also means that you tend to turn your head, which can cause pain in the neck and shoulders.
Choosing The Best Sleeping Position: A Final Piece of Advice
Throughout this guide, we’ve outlined what experts recommend as the optimum sleeping position for all manner of health issues.
Ultimately though, if you’re generally fit and healthy but simply struggling to get enough quality sleep at night, the best approach may be to simply switch things up and find what works for you.
If you’ve spent years naturally sleeping on your back, for example, then experiment with sleeping on your side.
As you’ve seen multiple times throughout this guide, laying on your left-hand side in bed generally has the most health benefits, but if that’s not working for you either, there’s nothing wrong with rolling to the right if that’s what helps you to get your recommended hours of shuteye.
And if you do find an ideal sleeping position that’s incredibly comfortable but doesn’t quite do the job in helping you achieve maximum quality sleep, there may be other issues relating to your sleep schedule and pre-bed routine that would be worth addressing. Check out our guide to the things you should never do before bed to not only help improve your nightly ritual but also ensure you get the kind of perfectly peaceful night’s sleep you both need and deserve.