Understanding Sleep Posture
Jake Comfort | Updated: June 2022
Jake Comfort | Updated: June 2022
We have an affiliate relationship with and receive compensation from companies whose products we review on this site. We are independently owned and the opinions expressed here are our own.
Sleep is an important part of life. However, the way you position yourself while you sleep can have important impacts on your overall health. This positioning is known as sleep posture. This guide will help you understand what sleep posture is and go over the three most common sleep postures. We’ll also give pros and cons for each sleep posture and give you some advice to help you get the best possible sleep no matter what your sleep posture is.
What is Sleep Posture?
Sleep posture refers to the way you position your body as you sleep. Everyone likes to sleep differently, and the way you sleep can have a huge impact on the quality and quantity of sleep you get. Additionally, people with different sleep postures have different sleep needs. One of the biggest ways that sleep posture affects you is the way you experience your mattress. We’ll go through each of the different sleep postures below, along with some pros and cons of each type of sleep posture and some tips on how to get the best rest.
Different Sleep Postures
There are three primary sleeping postures that people use. The three postures are the back sleeping, side sleeping, and stomach sleeping. Each posture comes with its own set of pros and cons and each has different needs when it comes to what kind of mattress works best for you.
It’s important to note that most people don’t sleep in a single position over the course of the night. Many people will change positions at least a few times while they sleep. However, if your mattress isn’t right for your preferred sleeping style, then you could find yourself constantly changing sleep positions. The result is a constant tossing and turning that prevents you from becoming fully rested. This tossing and turning can also lead to aching joints and muscles, back pain, and other complications.
The next three sections will cover the different primary sleeping postures.
Back sleeping is widely considered to be the healthiest of all sleeping postures. However, only about 14% of people sleep on their backs. Moreover, many back sleepers spend part of the night on the sides. However, back sleepers rarely sleep on their stomachs.
People that sleep in multiple different positions over the night are known as combination sleepers. Everyone is a combination sleeper to some extent, but sleep experts and doctors recommend trying to sleep on your back as much as possible.
There are several major benefits to sleeping on your back. That’s one of the reasons why doctors and sleep experts consider it to be the most ideal way to sleep. The primary benefits are:
- Alignment is the biggest pro of back-sleeping. Sleeping on your back keeps your neck, spine, hips, and head aligned in a neutral position. As a result, your muscles don’t have to do any work to keep your body comfortable as you rest
- Orthopedic comfort is another benefit you get from sleeping on your back. That’s because sleeping on your back evenly distributes the weight of your body and minimizes pressure points. That means you’re less likely to have orthopedic pain, muscle and joint stiffness, or random aches when you wake up
- Beauty rest is a phrase that everyone has heard, and people that sleep on their backs really do get beauty rest. Sleeping on your sides or on your stomach causes your face to rest against your pillow. That can produce lines in your face from the constant pressure of your pillow against your skin
Just because sleeping on your back is the healthiest way to sleep doesn’t mean it has no downsides. There are actually several drawbacks that come from sleeping on your back. While the pros outweigh the cons on this one, it’s important to know what the possible risks are. The primary cons of sleeping on your back include:
- Snoring and sleep apnea. These conditions can be made worse by sleeping on your back because of the way your tongue and muscles of the throat and palate are positioned. Sleeping on your back can allow your tongue to fall back into your throat or allow the muscles of the palate to collapse. Either of these events can block your airway and cause problems breathing while you sleep.
- Acid reflux is another issue that can be made worse by sleeping on your back. That’s because the way the esophagus is positioned allows acid to flow into the throat while you’re sleeping on your back. This isn’t usually an issue for most people, but for those with acid reflux or heartburn issues, it can be a serious impediment to sleeping with the best possible posture.
- Comfort can also be affected by sleeping on your back. Even though sleeping on your back provides many benefits for your back, spine, joints, neck, and muscles, many people have a problem laying on their back for an extended period of time.
- Pregnant women are encouraged to avoid sleeping on their backs. Back sleeping can cause a drop in circulation in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. That’s why many specialists encourage pregnant women to sleep on their sides instead.
Tips for Back-Sleeping
There are some things you can do to get the most out of the pros and minimize the cons of sleeping on your back. These helpful tips will ensure that you get the best possible rest while back-sleeping.
- Your pillow selection is important. You should choose a pillow that’s specifically designed for back or combination sleeping. This will help you rest comfortably while keeping your head, neck, spine, and back in the proper alignment.
- Many back sleepers benefit from placing a pillow below their knees. This action reduces the pressure on your lower back and helps you maintain a good posture.
- Elevate your head while you’re sleeping on your back. A wedge-shaped pillow or memory foam can help you keep your head in a comfortable position while you sleep on your back.
- Many people have a problem switching to back-sleeping from other sleeping positions. However, many people want or need to make the switch because of the benefits you get from sleeping on your back. It can take time for your body to adjust to the new sleeping position. One good way to keep yourself on your back while you sleep is to place pillows on other side of you to prevent you from rotating to your stomach or your sides.
Sleeping on ones side is the most popular sleep posture around. Some people sleep on their left, others on their right. Some sleep in a fetal position, while others sleep with one or both legs extended. No matter what variation of side sleeping you use, there are important pros and cons to consider.
- Sleeping on your side is great for your digestion – as long as you sleep on your left side. That’s because your body can use gravity to help move waste material through your colon instead of having to do all the work itself. That’s one of the reasons why people with digestive issues are advised to sleep on their left side.
- Acid reflux can also be minimized by sleeping on your left side. However, sleeping on your right side can make acid reflux worse by relaxing the passage between your esophagus and stomach. However, when you sleep on your left side your gastric sphincter is held above the level of stomach acid, preventing it from going into the esophagus.
- Snoring and sleep apnea also benefit from sleeping on your side. Unlike digestion benefits, you get the benefits of side-sleeping for snoring no matter what side of the body you sleep on. That’s because sleeping on your side keeps your tongue and muscles of the throat and palate from falling into the throat. As a result, your airways stay open and you snore less.
- Brain health also benefits from sleeping on your side. Studies indicate that side sleeping helps your body clear toxic proteins from the brain. As a result, sleeping on your side is associated with a lower risk of neurodegenerative diseases like dementia and Parkinson’s disease.
There are some drawbacks to sleeping on your side. It’s important to consider the drawbacks against the benefits when you’re deciding which sleeping posture is the best option for you. The main cons of sleeping on your side are:
- Shoulder and arm pain can be a big problem for people that sleep on their sides. That’s because the pressure from the mattress can cause your arm and/or shoulder to rest out of position. This can result in numbness or even impaired circulation to your limbs.
- Jaw pain can also result from sleeping on your side. That’s because of the pressure your jaw experiences when you sleep with it pressed against a pillow or mattress
- Wrinkles are also more likely to form for side sleepers. When you sleep with your face pressed against the pillow or mattress, you’re putting pressure on your skin. This pressure can cause sleep lines which can lead to wrinkles or saggy skin.
Tips for Side Sleeping
There are several ways to get the most out of the pros of side-sleeping while minimizing the drawbacks that come with sleeping on your side. Following these tips is a good way to ensure you’re getting the best rest possible.
- Your pillow can make the difference – try to buy a pillow that’s designed for side-sleeping or combination sleepers to get the best results.
- You can use a pillow that supports your head and neck without putting pressure on your face to help avoid getting wrinkles from side sleeping.
- There are lots of mattresses that are designed to help side sleepers. These mattresses tend to be softer and have support zones designed to give you the support you need without creating excess pressure on your arms and joints
Stomach sleeping is the least common sleeping style, with only about 16% of the population primarily using it. It is generally considered the least healthy sleep position because of the pressure it places on your neck and spine.
There’s only a couple pros for people that sleep on their stomachs. They are:
- Comfort – people that sleep on their stomachs do so because the find it to be the most comfortable position. This level of comfort helps them fall asleep.
- Breathing is also helped by sleeping on the stomach because the tongue and muscles of your throat can’t collapse and block your airways
There are several drawbacks to sleeping on your stomach that you need to be aware of. The biggest cons of stomach-sleeping are:
- Spinal pressure and strain are huge drawbacks to sleeping on your stomach. Stomach sleeping causes bad alignment that is counter to the natural curve of your spine.
- Nerve and muscle pressure are also difficulties that come with sleeping on your stomach. This can create pain, tingling, and numbness.
- Facial lines and wrinkles are more common with stomach sleepers. That’s because their face spends the entire night pressed into the pillow, causing sleep lines and wrinkles over time.
- Lower back pain is common for people that sleep on their stomachs because the position puts more pressure on the lower back.
Tips for Stomach Sleeping
There are several things you can do to help make stomach sleeping a bit better for you. However, keep in mind that the best option is to try to train yourself to sleep on your side or back.
- Use a flat pillow or no pillow. This will reduce the tension on your neck because it won’t be forced to the side by the pressure from your pillow.
- Firm mattresses are ideal for stomach sleepers, as they help keep your hips in line with your shoulders. This prevents misalignment and helps your spine and neck
- Alternate the directions you turn your head to give your neck muscles a break. This will reduce neck stiffness and strain.
Understanding Sleep Posture
As you can see, there are a great many things that your sleep posture affects. While no sleep posture is perfect for everyone, there are a great many more benefits to sleeping on your back and sides instead of your stomach. If you absolutely need to sleep on your stomach, then you should make sure to follow our tips to get the best sleep possible.