A lot of people are pretty consistent about sleeping in just one or two positions every night.
We’re creatures of habit—we find something that’s comfortable for us, and we stick with it.
The problem is, though, not all sleep positions are created equal.
Sometimes, the position we’re the most familiar with can actually be causing some of our worst health problems.
And while there isn’t any one sleep position that’s right for every kind of sleeper, every sleep position does come with its own set of pros and cons for your health.
If you’re having pain while trying to fall asleep at night or upon waking up in the morning, you might want to take a look at what your sleep position might be doing to your body.
Read on to find out more about the position that will work best for you!
Side Sleeping Position
Side sleeping is by far the most popular position, and there’s good reason for this.
Although there are a couple potential issues, as a whole, sleeping on your side can eliminate a number of problems other sleep positions tend to bring.
The Fetal Position
The fetal position is the more popular of the two side sleeping options.
According to one study of 1,000 people, approximately 41% of all people sleep curled up on the side with their knees bent toward their chest.
It’s more than twice as popular among women than men.
While it does have its drawbacks, this is overall a pretty solid way to spend your night.
It lets your spine rest in its natural alignment, and according to WebMD, it might actually help you ward off certain diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, since some studies suggest that sleeping on your side can help your brain better clear out waste that may lead to these diseases.
Side sleeping can also help with people who snore, but can be painful for people with arthritis.
ly good for pregnant women, since it allows for better circulation between the mother and her fetus.
Sleeping on your left side can help with this even more, since it will increase the amount of nutrients that can flow through the placenta to your baby.
Curling Too Tight?
Although the fetal positions avoids a lot of the problems that come with sleeping on either your back or your stomach, you do run a couple risks if you tend to pull your knees in too close to your chest while you sleep, or if your upper body tends to lean forwards.
Too tight a ball, and you risk restricting your diaphragm—meaning you won’t be able to breathe as deeply.
Remember to always keep your fetal position nice and relaxed, allowing your spine to fall into its natural “S” shape.
The Log Sleeping Position
The other side sleeping posture is referred to as the “log position.”
About 15% of all people sleep this way, with both arms pressed up right against their body.
Like the fetal position, the log is good for preventing things like sleep apnea and neck and back pain.
If they’re comfortable with it, all side sleepers might want to consider sleeping with a pillow, blanket, or folded towel in between their legs.
This will ease some of the pressure off your hips, helping to prevent pain.
Of course, t
hat all depends on the sleeper and their mattress.
If you’ve settled on the right kind of mattress, you might not even have to worry about that sort of thing!
Which Side Should You Lie On?
Believe it or not, the side you lie on when going to bed can actually have a major impact on the quality of your sleep.
Sleeping on your left side is definitely the way to go, here.
There are a couple different theories as to why this is, but the bottom line is that sleeping on the left side can reduce acid reflux and heartburn, while sleeping on the right side can aggravate these symptoms.
Left side sleeping may also aid in digestion and improve circulation.
Unfortunately, though, it can also put extra pressure on the stomach and lungs—so it might be best to switch it up every now and then.
Additionally, if you’re experiencing shoulder pain while sleeping on your side, it’s definitely time to change something up.
Consider trying another sleep position, or invest in a more comfortable topper, pillow, or mattress.
The Freefall Sleeping Position
If you don’t find yourself sleeping in either or the two side positions, you might be one for the freefall position—something you share with about 7% of all people.
In this position, the sleeper lies on their stomach with both arms either tucked under their pillow or on either side of their head.
Comfortable as this might be while falling asleep, though, it can unfortunately lead
to a few problems on waking up in the morning.
So freefallers, it might be time to rethink the way you sleep.
On many mattresses, stomach sleeping will flatten the spine and lead to lower back pain.
Additionally, you might also find yourself waking up with a stiff neck that comes from sleeping all night with your head cocked to one side.
It might also take you longer to find a comfortable position on your belly than in some of the other positions.
Now, don’t freak out too much—you’re not outright doomed if you happen to like sleeping in the freefall position.
First of all, try avoiding hard pillows, since these can leave your neck stuck in an awkward, uncomfortable position.
Instead, trying putting a soft pillow under your forehead, and sleep with your face towards the mattress, rather than tilted to one side.
This can improve airflow.
Pregnant women, on the other hand… you might be out of luck on this one.
Especially as you get further along in your pregnancy, changes in your body are going to make it uncomfortable or impossible to lie flat on your belly.
Back Sleeping Position
Finally, back sleeping positions can avoid some of the problems associated with both side sleeping and stomach sleeping.
If you’re comfortable with it and you’re having some issues with your current sleep habits, there are some good reasons to seriously consider trying out back sleeping.
That said, there are a couple medical conditions that could make these positions entirely out of the question.
The Soldier Sleeping Position
If you tend to sleep on your back with your arms at your sides, you’re one of the 8% of people who sleep in the “soldier” position.
This is a really good way to evenly distribute pressure across all areas of your body.
You don’t risk numbing your arm the way you do when you sleep on your side, or hurting you back the way you do sleeping on your stomach.
You’re also less likely to experience acid reflux.
However, sleeping on your back can worsen preexisting conditions.
It’s more likely to increase snoring than the other positions, and it can exacerbate problems with sleep apnea.
Gravity pushes your tongue backwards toward your esophagus when you sleep on your back, which can obstruct breathing and lead to snoring.
You may also experience lower back pain while sleeping in the soldier position, especially if you’re sleeping on a mattress that’s past its prime.
Luckily, there is a solution to this.
Just place a pillow or blanket in between your knees, and you’ll reassert the natural curve of your spine.
This will reduce aches and pains upon waking.
The Starfish Sleep Position
The starfish position is similar to the soldier position, only instead of pressing your arms against your sides, you’re lying spread eagle, with your arms and legs out at odd angles.
The starfish has pretty much the same advantages and disadvantages as the soldier.
It just takes up more space, which might annoy your partner a little!
Speaking of which…
Couples Sleep Positions
In addition to your personal health, the way you sleep correlates with your intimate relationships, as well.
Sleeping gets more complicated with a partner than when you’re just sleeping by yourself.
There’s a lot more geometry to navigate, and new considerations like intimacy and mutual comfort come into play.
It also turns out that the way you sleep with your partner might say a lot about your relationship.
In a study carried out at the Edinburgh International Science Festival, 94% of couples who spent the night in physical contact with one another were happy with their relationship, compared to just 68% of couples who didn’t touch.
How close you sleep to your partner matters, as well.
If you’re sleeping more than 30 inches apart from your partner, you and your partner only about three-quarters as likely to be happy with your relationship compared to couples who sleep less than an inch apart.
To be clear, this is just correlation—nobody is saying that sleeping a few extra inches away from your partner is going to ruin your relationship.
But also, studies have shown that cuddling and physical contact release the chemical oxytocin, which has been linked to intimacy and overall good vibes.
So the way you sleep with you partner might really make a difference!
Conclusion About the Best Sleep Positions
In reality, changing up your sleeping position probably isn’t going to make or break either your love life or your health.
However, it’s still an important part of your life, and you really do want to be sure to get it right.
The typical person spends decades of their life asleep, so working out a comfortable position to sleep in is a pretty big deal.
And always remember: you shouldn’t have to wake up with pain.
If you’ve tried playing around with sleep positions and you’re still getting aches in your back, neck, or shoulders, it might be time to consider trading in your mattress.
After all, a bad mattress is a bad mattress, no matter what position you try out.
Above all, remember to take the time to get your sleep right.
It’s your body.
Take care of yourself.
Founder and Owner
Ted is the founder and owner of Mattress Guides and is an expert in his field. Ted believes that having the right mattress is key to getting a good night’s sleep and feeling well-rested in the morning.
Updated at November 9, 2020