Top Health Benefits Of Different Sleeping Positions

Young man peacefully sleeping in bed

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Most of us have a favorite sleeping position. It’s just a habit we acquire during childhood and we usually end up keeping it our whole lives. The position we sleep in however can affect many different things, including back and neck pain, our overall health, and even the wrinkles on your face. In this article, you’ll learn about the pros and cons of each sleeping position and whether a change might be in order for you.


1. On Your Side

This is the position most people pass out on the couch in. This is distinct from the fetal position (described below) in that the torso and legs are more or less straight, rather than curled up. This position can be good for people with neck pain, since it keeps the spine elongated. It is important however that you use a pillow or something else to prop the head up and keep it aligned with the spine, otherwise it can actually make pain worse. Keeping the neck straight is also beneficial for people with acid reflux disease. Sleeping on your side is also great for people who snore or have sleep apnea, a condition where a person will stop breathing while asleep. This is because laying on your side causes your airways to remain open and allow air to flow in and out unobstructed.

Be careful if you sleep like this, because it can cause back pain. This is because the spine can curve downward with gravity into the cushion. Luckily there’s an easy fix: Just put a firm pillow between your knees and this will keep your spinal columns more in alignment with one another reducing the pressure between them and preventing pain.


2. On Your Stomach

This is probably the worst position, because it puts pressure on blood vessels, nerves and joints, which increases the chances of a charlie horse, pain, and stiffness in the morning. There is also the specific issue of the neck. Assuming you aren’t sleeping facedown (you will not stay asleep very long if you’re not getting any air), your head will be turned to one side or the other. This can lead to stiffness and pain the next day if you maintain this position for a long time. Try turning your head to the left or right and holding it there for 5 minutes. After about 30 seconds, maybe less, you’re probably going to start feeling uncomfortable. Now imagine doing that for 6 or 7 hours. That’s basically what you are doing to your neck when you are sleeping on your stomach.

The one good thing about this position is that it seems to reduce snoring as it keeps your airways open. You can try sleeping facedown with a pillow or forearm propping up for forehead which will give you some room to breathe.

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3. The Fetal Position

This position is the most common among adults according to with 41 percent opting for it each night. In this position, you lay on your side, with the torso curled over slightly and the knees pulled up, producing a somewhat “hunched over look”. This position is good for people who have problems with snoring.

The fetal position is, as the name might suggest, also a good sleeping position for women during pregnancy. This is because it improves blood circulation in both the mother and the growing fetus. For pregnant women, it is better to sleep on the left rather than the right side because the reverse causes the uterus to put more pressure upon the liver. One disadvantage of this position is that it can cause some pain in the joints and backs of people with arthritis. It can cause back pain in anyone, actually, due to how the spine curves with the body as it presses down into the mattress. As with sleeping on the side, try putting a pillow between your legs to prevent the downward curvature of the spine during sleep.

Also- this rarely happens, but if you roll over in your sleep from your side into a facedown fetal position, it can produce a massive charlie horse in your legs. This term refers to the intense numbness caused by compressed blood vessels. It can be painful as the blood flow returns to normal and as the sensation in your legs and the ability to move them slowly returns. Again, unlikely to happen, but something to be aware of.


4. Laying on Your Back

This might be the healthiest position to sleep in. It keeps your airways open, reduces pressure on the spine and joints, and prevents stomach acid from travelling up the throat, assuming you are using a pillow. Another advantage is that unlike the other positions, sleeping on your back does not contribute to wrinkle formation and skin sagging on your face, since the sleep surface is not making contact with skin nor is gravity exerting any effect. It also thought to help prevent breasts from sagging. Women who sleep on their backs are less likely to experience this over time since the weight of the breasts is fully supported and so is their bodyweight.

The one downside about sleeping on your back- and it will be a big one for some people- is that it is the most likely to produce snoring.  There are snoring strips and other solutions to this, but this is something to keep in mind.


READ ALSO: Pros And Cons Of Each Sleeping Position Infographic


Experiment with each and see how you feel the next morning. You might feel better after switching it up. There are of course other factors which affect quality of sleep, such as lighting, the time of day/night, noise level, and the amount of stimulants you ingested that day. However, changing your position is one of the easiest ways to begin hacking your sleep. Pleasant dreams!