Guide to Sleep Positions
A good night’s sleep is important. It restores your mind and body, giving you adequate rest to recover from the day and get ready to tackle the next one. But if you’re sleeping in the wrong position, you may not be getting the restorative sleep you need.
Everyone sleeps in their own way, and you will naturally gravitate to the position that your body feels most comfortable in, whether that’s side, back, or stomach. However, sometimes the healthiest choice is not the position you most enjoy sleeping in. This is especially true if you suffer from snoring, sleep apnea, or digestive issues including heartburn and acid reflux.
In this guide, you’ll learn which sleeping positions are healthiest, offering a good night’s sleep while avoiding or alleviating back pain and pressure points. You’ll also find how how sleep positions can aggravate or help symptoms of breathing problems like snoring or digestive issues like heartburn. We’ve also included information about the best sleeping positions for couples and pregnant women.
Whether you prefer to sleep on your back, side, stomach, or somewhere in between, this guide will help you make the most of the position you sleep in — and find the right mattress for the way you like to sleep.
Side sleeping is the most popular sleeping position, and that’s a good thing. For many people, it’s a healthy way to sleep, supporting the natural curvature of the spine, improving your circulation and even reducing the risk of conditions including heartburn, sleep apnea, and even Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
People who sleep on their side tend to do best with soft to medium firmness mattresses. They need good conformability and support to keep the spine in proper alignment. Memory foam mattresses are often the most straightforward choice for side sleepers, as they curve with the body while offering support.
- 56 percent of the population sleeps on their side, making it the most popular sleeping position.
- Left side sleeping is recommended for pregnancy, acid reflux, and heartburn
- You’re less likely to snore on your side, as it keeps airways open.
Side Sleeping Variations
- Fetal position: The most popular side sleeping position, the fetal position curls both the legs and arms inward.
- Log position: You really can sleep like a log. The log position involves sleeping on your side with both arms down and legs stretched straight down.
- Yearner position: The yearner position looks similar to the log, as the legs are stretched straight down. But yearners keep both arms out in front of the body.
- Sprinter position: Sprinters look similar to the fetal position, but have one leg straight and one leg bent.
Pros and Cons of Side Sleeping
- Side sleeping supports the natural curvature of the spine: Unlike back or stomach sleeping, side sleeping tends to keep your spine in good alignment when supported properly.
- Left side sleeping can alleviate heartburn and acid reflux: Research indicates that sleeping on the left side tends to calm heartburn, while sleeping on the right side can aggravate it. Sleeping on an incline can also make a difference.
- Side sleeping can reduce snoring: Side sleeping keeps airways open, helping to alleviate snoring. This position is recommended for those with sleep apnea.
- Side sleeping may delay the onset of Parkison’s and Alzheimer’s: A recent study suggests side sleeping is the most efficient sleeping position for flushing fluid and waste products from the brain, reducing the chemical debris buildup that can lead to progression of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
- Side sleeping is healthy for organs: Sleeping on your side encourages drainage of the lymph system, improve circulation, and improves digestion.
- Right side sleeping can aggravate heartburn: While left side sleeping helps heartburn and acid reflux, right side sleeping has the opposite effect, increasing suffering for those with nighttime heartburn and acid reflux.
- Side sleeping can lead to wrinkles: With half of your face resting on a pillow all night, side sleeping can introduce new wrinkles you might not have otherwise.
- Curling up too tightly can strain your body: Curling up into a tight fetal position can restrict breathing and leave you feeling sore in the morning.
- Side sleepers can feel arm numbness: Sleeping with your arm behind your head can lead to numbness and a pins and needles feeling.
- Side sleepers usually need to flip: To avoid soreness on one side or the other, side sleepers typically need to flip once or more at night. Many do it in their sleep without waking up, but some become uncomfortable on one side and wake up to move to a new position.
Choosing a Mattress for Side Sleepers
What Side Sleepers Need
Side sleepers need proper support that will contour to the curves of the body. Pressure points on the hips and shoulders can become painful if they are on too firm of a mattress. Softness, conformability, and support are essential for side sleepers.
What to Look for in a Mattress for Side Sleepers
Soft to medium firm mattresses are best for side sleepers. These firmness levels typically allow the body to sink into the mattress enough to conform to curves while effectively supporting the spine.
It’s important to look for a mattress that contours to your body shape, which is curvier against the mattress when you’re sleeping on your side than it is on your back or stomach. A mattress that stiffly pushes against your body will cause your spine to become misaligned and cause back pain and pressure points.
Memory foam mattresses are a popular choice for side sleepers, as they typically offer good conformability with adequate support and softness. Waterbeds and airbeds can also be a good choice, as their adjustable firmness allows side sleepers to dial in to the perfect support level. However, it’s important to chose a waterbed or airbed with good comfort layers for conformability, as they may be too firm without them.
Mattresses Side Sleepers Should Avoid
Overly firm mattresses can be very uncomfortable for side sleepers. These mattresses do not allow the body to adequately sink into the material, pushing back against the hips and shoulders to create pressure points and misalignment of the spine.
Innerspring and pillow top mattresses can be good initial choices for side sleepers, as they are soft and conforming, but they are not always comfortable long term. These types of mattresses are prone to sagging with time, which can cause back pain for side sleepers. Another mattress side sleepers should be cautious of: latex mattresses. While they tend to be comfortable for most sleepers, they are often on the firmer end of the scale and may be too firm for side sleepers. However, softer latex mattresses are available, and they can be adequately conforming.
Tips for Better Side Sleep
- Never sleep without a pillow for your head: On your side, you’ll need to have support for your head and neck that can’t be met with a mattress alone. Your head will need to be propped up with a pillow to keep it in line with your spine.
- Consider a pillow between your legs: Placing a pillow between your legs can improve the alignment of your spine.
- Try side sleeping positions that keep your spine in alignment such as the fetal, yearner, or log. The sprinter may feel comfortable at first, but is not ideal for alignment as it causes pelvic rotation.
Back sleeping is the second most popular sleeping position. This position is most often recommended by doctors, as it evenly distributes weight across the widest surface of your body, alleviating pressure points. It can relieve pressure and reduce the risk of acid reflux. However, it can be dangerous for people who suffer from sleep apnea and lead to increased snoring.
Back sleepers typically prefer a firm, supportive mattress. Medium to firm mattresses with good support and density are a good choice. Latex mattresses, airbeds, and adjustable mattresses often deliver a good night’s sleep for back sleepers.
- Eight percent of people sleep on their back at night.
- Back sleeping effectively balances body weight and keeps internal organs aligned.
- Back sleeping is the safest position for babies.
Back Sleeping Variations
- Soldier position: The soldier is the classic back sleeping position, lying on your back with arms at your sides. This position is good for keeping your body neutral and aligned.
- Starfish position: The starfish is similar to the solder, except with your arms near your head. It can sometimes lead to shoulder pain.
Pros and Cons of Back Sleeping
- Back sleeping offers a neutral position: When you sleep on your back, your spine, head, and neck are in a neutral position, avoiding pressure on these points.
- Back sleeping can reduce back pain: In a neutral position, many back sleepers enjoy less back pain.
- Back sleeping can alleviate acid reflux: When elevated and facing the ceiling, back sleepers can reduce or avoid acid reflux
- Back sleepers can avoid sleep related wrinkles: Unlike side or stomach sleepers who press their faces against a pillow, back sleepers can enjoy fewer facial wrinkles from sleeping at night.
- Back sleeping can be dangerous for sleep apnea: While sleeping on your back, the tongue can block your breathing, making this a dangerous position for sleep apnea sufferers.
- Back sleeping can exacerbate snoring: People who snore often find that their snoring is more severe when sleeping on their back. Doctors often recommend that snoring back sleepers switch to a side position instead.
- Back sleeping is not good for pregnant women: Pregnant women who sleep on their back can suffer from a decrease in circulation as the abdomen pushes on major blood vessels. The digestive system can also suffer from the pressure on intestines.
Choosing a Mattress for Back Sleepers
What Back Sleepers Need
Back sleepers need a firmer mattress than side sleepers. Support is especially important, particularly consistent support. Those who suffer from snoring, sleep apnea, and other sleep breathing issues need a mattress with good airflow as well. Latex mattresses, airbeds, and adjustable beds are good choices for back sleepers.
What to Look for in a Mattress for Back Sleepers
Back sleepers need good support above all else. While some conformability is needed, it is not as important for back sleepers as it is for side sleepers. Medium to firm mattresses typically offer the best support and comfort for back sleepers.
Often, back sleepers have sleep breathing issues including snoring and sleep apnea. That makes breatheability and airflow important for back sleepers. Back sleeper mattresses should sleep cool and use breathable covers that improve airflow.
Latex mattresses are a good choice for back sleepers, as they offer dense, medium to firm support while still conforming moderately. Airbeds can also be good for back sleepers, as they can be very supportive and adjusted to the specific needs of sleepers. Adjustable beds are also a consideration, especially for those with back pain, acid reflux, or snoring. They can increase blood flow, relieve pressure points, ease breathing, and put the body in a better position for digestion.
Mattresses Back Sleepers Should Avoid
A too soft mattress can be painful for back sleepers. These mattresses may be too conforming, making back sleepers sink deeply into them and creating pressure points. They may also sleep too hot as the entire backside of the body presses deeply into them.
Waterbeds, even though they offer adjustable firmness, may not be firm or supportive enough for back sleepers. Innerspring mattresses may prove to be too saggy over time to consistently support back sleepers. And pillow top mattresses are typically too soft and conforming for back sleepers to feel comfortable.
Tips for Better Back Sleep
- Consider sleeping without a pillow: A bed without a pillow sounds uncomfortable, but it can be more comfortable for back sleepers. Without a pillow, your neck will be in a more neutral position in line with the rest of your spine. If you can’t go without a pillow completely, consider cutting down on the number or thickness of the pillows you use while sleeping on your back.
- Add a pillow under your knees: Another pillow option is simply adding a pillow under your knees. This can help maintain better alignment of your back.
The least common sleeping position, stomach sleeping is typically not recommended. It can interfere with the natural curve of the spine and lead to lower back pain. Stomach sleeping may also strain the neck if you sleep with your head turned to one side. However, stomach sleeping can be the most comfortable position for some sleepers and it can ease snoring and sleep apnea.
Stomach sleepers need mattresses with good firmness and support. Often, memory foam mattresses or hybrid and innerspring mattresses offer the right mix of firmness, support, and slight conformability that stomach sleepers need.
- Seven percent of people sleep on their stomach at night.
- Stomach sleeping can be used to ease sleep apnea symptoms and snoring.
- Stomach sleeping puts pressure on muscles and joints.
Stomach Sleeping Variations
- Freefall position: Most stomach sleepers sleep in the freefall position with hands positioned on or above the pillow.
Pros and Cons of Stomach Sleeping
- Stomach sleeping can alleviate snoring and sleep apnea symptoms:
- Occasional stomach sleeping can alleviate lower back pain: Though stomach sleeping can cause back pain from spine alignment problems, it can also relieve pressure on disc spaces. If you’ve been leaning over all day, sleeping on your stomach can feel good and alleviate pain as you stretch out the opposite way.
- Stomach sleeping can improve digestion: Face down sleeping can aid in nighttime digestion.
- Stomach sleeping can restrict airflow: Sleeping on your stomach often forces you to sleep with your head turned to one side all night, which can cut down on your airflow.
- Stomach sleeping can get hot: With half of your body facing the bed and your face half covered by a pillow, stomach sleepers may feel hotter at night than those who sleep in other positions.
- Stomach sleeping pushes your spine out of alignment: This sleeping position flattens the natural curve of your back and distorts spine alignment in your neck.
- Stomach sleeping can introduce pressure points: Stomach sleepers often feel numbness and pins and needles upon waking as the position exerts additional pressure on nerves.
- Stomach sleeping can lead to nighttime wrinkles: Like side sleeping, stomach sleepers who sleep with their face turned on to a pillow may get more wrinkles than those who sleep on their backs.
Choosing a Mattress for Stomach Sleepers
What Stomach Sleepers Need
Stomach sleepers need medium to moderate firmness, good support, and cool sleeping mattresses. Support is especially important, as it can combat the natural misalignment introduced by sleeping on your stomach. Medium softness is also important to avoid creating pressure points, particularly along the torso. Stomach sleepers should be careful to find mattresses that aren’t likely to sag, as well as those that offer good airflow, especially if sleeping face down.
What to Look for in a Mattress for Stomach Sleepers
Support is essential for stomach sleepers, as stomach sleeping can intensify pressure on your torso and lead to lower back pain. Stomach sleepers need consistent support and pressure relief that conforms to the body’s natural curves.
Stomach sleepers should look for a mattress that offers medium to slightly firm firmness. A too soft mattress will typically be uncomfortable for stomach sleepers, as it can cause the pelvis to sink down farther than the rest of the body and misalign the spine, leading to lower back pain.
While stomach sleepers tend to keep a flat profile, they still need some conforming for comfort and adequate support. Mattresses with slightly conforming hugs will be the most comfortable for stomach sleepers.
As stomach sleepers face the bed for the entire night, it can get hot. Mattresses with a cooling top layer are a good choice. Stomach sleepers should also look for mattresses with a breathable cover to improve airflow, especially if sleeping face down.
Memory foam and latex mattresses are often a good choice for stomach sleepers, as they are typically made with advanced foam that offers excellent support without sagging or too much conformability. However, it’s important to find a model that is cool, as foam mattresses can sometimes sleep hot. With a variety of firmness options available, hybrid and innerspring mattresses may also be a good choice, but be careful to choose a mattress that won’t sag after a few months or years.
Mattresses Stomach Sleepers Should Avoid
Stomach sleepers should be careful to avoid mattresses that are too soft or too conforming. In this position in particular, it can be very uncomfortable and even painful to sink too far into a mattress.
Pillow top mattresses may prove to be too soft for stomach sleepers. And though innerspring and hybrid mattresses are often a good choice, look carefully for a medium to moderate firmness rather than a soft mattress. Mattresses that sleep hot, particularly some foam mattresses without cooling layers, should also be avoided.
Tips for Better Stomach Sleep
- Use a pillow to straighten out your spine: Putting a pillow under your hips and lower abdomen can better align your spine while stomach sleeping.
- Lie face down to keep airways open: It sounds counterintuitive, but lying face down instead of with your head turned to one side can help you breathe easier. Simply use a pillow to keep your forehead up and give yourself room to breathe.
- Avoid using a pillow: A pillow sounds more comfortable, but it can further push your spine out of alignment, causing strain on your back. If you can’t sleep without a pillow, consider thinning out the pillow you use so that your head and neck aren’t pushed up higher than they need to be.
The Five Best Sleeping Positions for Couples
One of the most popular and sexy positions for couples, spooning is also one of the healthiest. This position is somewhat sexual and also comforting as one partner takes a protective stance over the other. A variation on the spoon, the loose spoon, gives more space to partners while still offering comfort and intimacy.
Partners sleep on their side while spooning, which is the healthiest sleep position for most people. It can also alleviate symptoms of snoring and sleep apnea, which is often a relief for partners of those who suffer from nighttime breathing issues.
2: Back to Back
Back to back sleeping may feel like you’re turning your back on your partner, but it’s not a bad thing. Couples that sleep back to back may be secure and enjoy independence in their relationships. This position gives each partner space to get comfortable on their own. Some back to back sleepers prefer to sleep with their backs touching, offering both comfort and closeness.
This sleeping position is often the most comfortable for couples, as it offers the health benefits of side sleeping without the arm numbing potential of spooning. Partners will also have no interference with breathing, as they have their own space to breathe in front of them.
Nuzzling, also known as the sweetheart’s cradle, has the shorter partner resting under the shoulder, arm, or chest of the taller partner, who brings their arm around the other. This position is comforting and protective with closeness and intimacy.
Partners sleeping in this position can be comfortable, as the taller partner typically sleeps on their back. The smaller partner will typically sleep somewhere between their side and stomach, which can cause problems, but may prove to be comfortable and supportive, especially if they bring their upper leg up on their partner to improve spinal alignment.
#4 Leg Hug
With the leg hug, couples sleep in their preferred position independently, whether back, side, or stomach, but their legs intertwine, typically near the ankles. Like back to back sleeping, the leg hug is less intimate than other popular sleeping positions for couples. But it can indicate independence and comfort in the relationship.
The leg hug offers comfort for couples who need their space at night, but still want to touch while sleeping. Each couple can sleep in the position that is most comfortable for them, but still touch while sleeping.
#5 Honeymoon Hug
The honeymoon hug, also known as the tangle, has couples touching as much as possible while sleeping. Partners face each other on their sides and intertwine their arms and legs. This position is very intimate and may be adopted after lovemaking. Some couples may start the night out close together in the tangle, but then move to more separate sleeping positions as the night goes on.
The honeymoon hug is intimate and comforting and offers side sleeping for both partners. However, it can get hot and lead to numbness in the arms or legs. Couples are often most comfortable starting the night in this position and separating to give each other space while sleeping.
Sleeping Positions During Pregnancy
Sleeping is tough during pregnancy. Most women want to bank as many restful hours as possible before throwing the nighttime feedings and diaper changes of newborns into their lives, but a good night’s sleep can be hard to come by during any month of pregnancy. Insomnia, crazy dreams, and frequent urination at night are major roadblocks, but the worst of all is often finding a good sleeping position.
Pregnant women may feel uncomfortable in sleeping positions that felt great before pregnancy. As your abdomen grows, you can experience more back pain, heartburn, and even shortness of breath that can interfere with getting comfortable at night. But finding the best sleep positions while pregnant can help you make the most of the rest you’re able to get while pregnant.
Why Sleep Positions Are Important in Pregnancy
Sleeping in a comfortable position during pregnancy can not only help you get a better night’s sleep, it can improve your health and alleviate daytime pain. Women who experience back pain during the day may find that sleeping in a good position at night reduces daytime pain. And sleeping positions can also influence how well you deal with heartburn, even improve your circulation and increase the amount of nutrients that reach your baby while you’re in bed.
The Best Sleeping Positions for Pregnant Women
Side sleeping is by far the most recommended sleeping position for pregnant women. Sleeping on your side will help keep your spine in alignment and relieve pressure points, especially in your lower back. Pregnant women are encouraged to sleep on their left side during pregnancy. It improves circulation to the heart, benefiting mothers and babies.
Many pregnant women find that sleeping with a pillow between their legs offers the most comfortable side sleeping experience. Many pregnancy pillows are available that offer support between the legs.
Pregnant women may experience heartburn or shortness of breath at night. It’s recommended that you prop yourself up with pillows to alleviate these symptoms.
Sleeping Positions Pregnant Women Should Avoid
Back sleeping is discouraged during pregnancy. For many women, back sleeping can cause trouble with backaches, breathing, the digestive system, and even hemorrhoids. But the biggest reason to avoid back sleeping is the pressure your growing abdomen places on your intestines and major blood vessels when you sleep on your back. This can decrease circulation and cause problems with digestion.
Stomach sleeping may be comfortable in early pregnancy, but as your belly grows, it becomes all but impossible. While some women may still prefer stomach sleeping normally, they may be more comfortable sleeping on their side during pregnancy.
- National Sleep Foundation: The Best Sleep Position for Your Body: The National Sleep Foundation examines back, side, and stomach sleeping and explains the appeal and drawbacks of each position.
- The Better Sleep Council: Sleep Positions: Learn about sleeping positions, their variations, and who should consider each in this resource from the Better Sleep Council.
- Mayo Clinic: Sleeping Positions That Reduce Back Pain: If you have back pain from sleeping at night, flip through this slideshow to find out how you can change your position for a better night’s sleep and less pain.
- Cleveland Clinic: Is Your Sleep Position Causing You Back Pain?: The Cleveland Clinic offers five sleep position tips for a healthier back.
- American Pregnancy Association: Sleeping Positions During Pregnancy: Learn why you may not feel comfortable in your usual sleeping position while pregnant and find out the sleeping positions that the American Pregnancy Association recommends for expectant mothers.
- Consumer Reports: Best Sleep Positions: Consumer Reports offers a helpful guide to finding the best sleeping position based on the pain you experience.