Whether you’re a side sleeper, a stomach sleeper, or a back sleeper, each sleeping position has specific benefits and drawbacks that can affect the overall quality of your sleep. Determining which you are and what you could most benefit from are vital to optimizing how you sleep at night.
What Constitutes a Good Sleep Position?
A good sleep position aligns the spine from the hips to the head, and how this is achieved may vary from person to person depending on their own health conditions and what they find comfortable.
For instance, someone with chronic pain may be looking for a sleep position that helps alleviate their pain. There is some ambiguity in claiming one position is superior to another, however. Those with neck pain may argue that sleeping on their side exacerbates their neck pain, but somebody with lower back pain may find that sleeping on their side works to ease their pain.
Side sleeping is the most popular position, with more than 60% of people sleeping on their side. Side sleeping becomes more prevalent in adults because as people age, their spines become less flexible, making side sleeping more comfortable than the mid-sleep sprawl many children find themselves in.
As a result of this lack of flexibility, side sleeping is often preferred by older adults and may work best for preventing back pain. Additionally, side sleeping works well to curb the effects of heartburn and snoring, making it an optimal sleeping position for people who:
- Are pregnant
- Have acid reflux
- Have back pain
Side sleeping is not a cure-all, however, as there are drawbacks to the standard sleeping position. People with shoulder pain are advised not to sleep on their sides as it can cause tightness in the shoulders. If they must sleep on their side, however, it is best to ensure their mattress can sink enough to allow both the hips and shoulder to rest lower than the spine. Additionally, it is advised that pregnant women and those with GERD sleep on their left side specifically to combat acid reflux and heartburn.
The second most popular position is back sleeping, and for good reason. Sleeping on one’s back can work to alleviate a myriad of issues, such as neck pain and congestion, and maintain a clearer and blemish-free complexion.
Back sleeping is the best position for distributing weight across the entire body, keeping the spine aligned, and preventing unintentional aches in the neck or back.
When cold & flu, as well as allergy season, rear their heads, back sleeping is also an excellent method to ease the associated symptoms, such as congestion, so long as the head is elevated. In these cases, sleeping with an extra pillow under the head is typically enough to help drain mucus and ease sinus pressure.
When it comes to cosmetic concerns, back sleeping can also prove to be beneficial, as keeping the face away from the pillow can help prevent both wrinkles and acne blemishes due to less face-to-material contact.
Conversely, back sleeping is not always the best option for people who snore or are pregnant, as it can exacerbate existing issues such as breathing problems and acid reflux.
Stomach sleeping is the least popular sleeping position, with less than 10% of people routinely sleeping on their stomachs, but there are certain benefits to doing so.
The most significant benefit to sleeping on the stomach is the ability to relieve snoring due to opening the airways, but stomach sleeping also leaves sleepers susceptible to less restful sleep as this position makes the ribs work against gravity in order to sleep in this position.
There is no one correct way to position oneself for sleeping, but there are certain factors to consider, such as existing aches and pains and certain medical conditions such as GERD. So long as these considerations, as well as ones regarding spinal alignment, are kept in mind, there are several different avenues to explore when determining what works best for you.