What is the Best Sleeping Position?

Tara Youngblood Jul 19, 2022

What is the best sleep position

Whether it’s on your stomach, your right or left side, your back, or even in a fetal position, the way you sleep can affect your health.

The position you sleep in plays a major role in how your body works to repair itself during your slumber. It's common for people to wake up with new aches and pains daily due to their sleeping positions.

The truth is, however, there's no universally approved sleeping position. It depends on what you find comfortable and your personal health situation. Some positions relieve pain, while others increase stiffness or pain in the back, shoulders, and arms, resulting in poor sleep.

Did You Know: We spend a third of our lives sleeping. [1]

Even The Cleveland Clinic, which examined the best possible sleep position, didn't select the best possible position. Instead, the clinic recommends rotating between your side and back, which is less stressful to the spine. [2]

That movement is critical since fixed positions may increase back pain and symptoms. Always sleeping on the right side or left side can cause pain in your shoulders, or always sleeping on your stomach can trigger neck and back problems.

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Sleeping positions

Different Types of Sleeping Position

Keep in mind that the best sleep position is the one that encourages healthy spinal alignment from your hips to your head. This can help individuals who experience back or shoulder pain, acid reflux, or other health-related issues.

Did You Know: A stretching routine – even simple morning stretches or stretching before bed – can enhance your overall well-being. Read more about Becoming a Supple Leopard.

But what's the best sleeping position in terms of popularity?

Fetal Sleeping Position

According to UK Professor Chris Idzikowski, the fetal sleep position offers the most benefits and is the most popular sleeping position. It makes sense. After all, we stayed in this position for at least nine months in the womb.

One reason this position has gained such popularity is due to the fact it can help decrease your partner from snoring. If sleeping in the fetal position tends to hurt your hips, place a soft pillow between your legs to help ease the pressure.

Did you know that more women than men favor this position?

Sleep Statistic: 41% of people sleep in the fetal position, while 37% believe it’s the best sleep position.

Pregnancy Sleep Position

To help relieve pain, pregnant women, particularly in the later stages, can find relief by sleeping in the fetal position. The fetal sleep position is great for pregnancy as it can relieve pressure on the heart and back pain. [3]

Sleeping Tip: Specialized pregnancy pillows help support your back and legs while sleeping on your side, whether it's your right or left side.

Starfish sleeping position

Starfish Sleeping Position

People who sleep in the starfish position are on their back with their arms placed over their head and their legs to their sides. The starfish position has benefits as it can help protect you against shoulder pain, lessen lower back pain, protect against neck pain, and it's unlikely to cause wrinkles.

But, similar to sleeping on your back, the starfish sleep position is prone to snoring and back pain, causing disrupted sleep. Sleep apnea can worsen by back sleeping. If this is your common position, starfish sleepers can put a small pillow below the knees to help reduce the back pain.

Overall, sleeping on your back in a neutral position is best as you are less likely to receive back or neck pain.

Statistic: 5% of individuals choose to sleep in this starfish position.

Yearner Sleeping Position

This position is described as sleeping on either your right or left side with both arms outward in front of your body as if they are reaching for something. Sleepers can wake up in pain if you have arthritis, similar to the log position. But, this position could be a good fit if you have breathing problems.

Side Sleeper Statistic: 13% of people said they sleep in the yearner position.

Freefall Sleeping Position

Freefall is a sleeping position where people sleep on their stomachs with their heads turned to the side and their arms wrapped around the pillow. It’s considered the second most popular position.

However, roughly 26% of people say that it’s the worst sleeping position.

Sleep Statistic: 17% of people sleep in the freefall position. Approximately 7% of people sleep on their stomach. This is sometimes called the prone position.

The Log Sleeping Position

The log position is one of the six primary sleeping styles. Defined as a side sleeping position, individuals sleep on their side with their arms to the side, similar to a log. With this position, sleepers are less likely to encounter numbness because their arms are down at their side.

This position is also an excellent option if you or your partner snores, but if you or your partner suffer from arthritis, you or your partner could wake up in discomfort.

Statistic: 6% of people like to sleep in the log position.

Soldier Sleeping Position

The soldier position is when you sleep on your back, and your arms are down close to your side. But this position can often lead to acid reflux, snoring, and a bad night's sleep.

Statistic: 11% of people prefer the soldier's sleep position.

Read More: Side and Back Sleepers Cause Less Spinal Pain

Spooning position

Spooning Position

Another sleeping side position is spooning. This is when the person in the back holds the individual in the front close to their body. Cuddling and spooning are signs of intimacy and stimulate the release of oxytocin. It's a hormone that decreases stress, promotes bonding, and helps you sleep quicker. [4]

Give It a Try: All it takes is 10 minutes of cuddling to trigger the release of oxytocin.

Similar to other side positions mentioned above, there are advantages and disadvantages. A disadvantage is that the couple has the potential to wake up more frequently throughout the night. Plus, you're more likely to bump your partner in this position.

Sleeping on Your back

If you’re not a back sleeper, don’t worry; roughly 8-10% of people sleep on their back. As we’ve learned from the above sleep positions, sleeping on your back can provide significant benefits for your health while achieving great sleep.

Below are some benefits of sleeping on your back.

  • Avoid sleep wrinkles
  • Relieve sinus buildup
  • Experience fewer aches and pains
  • More irregular movements during the night
  • Distributes your weight evenly
  • Reduce heartburn
  • Alleviate acid reflux
  • Prevent shoulder stress
  • Head, neck, and spine rest in a neutral position

When sleeping on your back, the following may occur:

  • Increase risk of sleep apnea
  • Cause or worsen snoring

Side Sleepers

Based on research and studies, side sleeping is the most popular and familiar position. Similar to sleeping on your back, there are potential benefits such as:

  • Relieves acid reflux
  • Lowers the risk of GERD (it’s best to sleep on the left side)
  • Relieves back and neck pain
  • Decreases sleep apnea symptoms
  • Reduces the likelihood of snoring and breathing difficulties
  • Improves brain health [5]

Did You Know: 60% of adults prefer sleeping on their side. [6]

Stomach sleeper

Stomach Sleepers

Stomach sleepers are rare, with fewer than 10% of people preferring this position to sleep at night. Sleeping on your stomach can disrupt your spine's neutral position, causing neck, back, shoulder, and joint pain.

It's recommended that stomach sleepers sleep without a pillow or a very thin pillow. Using a thicker pillow can result in more strain on your neck.

With any position, there are some benefits of sleeping on your stomach which include:

  • Lower risk of sleep apnea
  • Relief from sleep apnea symptoms
  • Reduced snoring

Back pain while sleeping

Sleep Position Review

In a 2019 study on sleep posture and back pain, results showed that although the side-lying position was commonly protective against back stiffness and pain, it was far from conclusive.

Additionally, the study reported that there’s likely a relationship between sleep posture and spinal symptoms, “There were not enough high-quality studies to adequately answer our research question, ” the study revealed. [7]

When it comes to sleep position, we're all unique, and there's no one right way to sleep. So the advice will vary based on your issues. For example, what works as the best position for neck pain will be different from the best sleep position for acid reflux.

Still, based on research, there is a slight advantage to side sleeping, and here’s why: it’s been shown to boost your cognitive abilities!

Final Thoughts

Which is the best position for sleep? While sleeping on your side may be the best and most common sleep position, sleep quality matters most of all. The amount of restful sleep you get is critical because better sleep can increase productivity, prevent disease, enhance cognitive thinking, and aid weight loss.

Did You Know: There has been some research linking personality and sleep positions, but researchers cannot explain the connection between the two convincingly. [8]

The National Institute of Health points out that a chronic lack of sleep increases the risk of disorders including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and depression.

Just remember, like any other health-related adjustments, it can take time for the body to adjust to a new sleep position, but it can be done. Be patient with yourself and use pillows to help prepare your body for a new position to achieve more restful sleep and achieve a good night’s sleep.

Citations/References

[1] Desouzart, G., Matos, R., Melo, F., & Filgueiras, E. (2015). Effects of sleeping position on back pain in physically active seniors: A controlled pilot study. Work (Reading, Mass.), 53(2), 235–240. View Study

[2] Best Sleeping Positions for Back, Neck and Shoulder Pain. (2021, December 17). Cleveland Clinic. View Resource

[3] Problems sleeping during pregnancy: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Medlineplus.gov. View Resource

[4] Jain, V., Marbach, J., Kimbro, S., Andrade, D. C., Jain, A., Capozzi, E., Mele, K., Del Rio, R., Kay, M. W., & Mendelowitz, D. (2017). Benefits of oxytocin administration in obstructive sleep apnea. American journal of physiology. Lung cellular and molecular physiology, 313(5), L825–L833. View Study

[5] Lee, H., Xie, L., Yu, M., Kang, H., Feng, T., Deane, R., Logan, J., Nedergaard, M., & Benveniste, H. (2015). The Effect of Body Posture on Brain Glymphatic Transport. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 35(31), 11034–11044. View Study

[6]Cary, D., Briffa, K., & McKenna, L. (2019). Identifying relationships between sleep posture and non-specific spinal symptoms in adults: A scoping review. BMJ open, 9(6), e027633. View Study

[7] Cary D, Briffa K, McKenna L. Identifying relationships between sleep posture and non-specific spinal symptoms in adults: A scoping review. BMJ Open. 2019 Jun 28;9(6):e027633. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2018-027633. PMID: 31256029; PMCID: PMC6609073.

[8] Sleep position gives personality clue. (2003, September 16). News.bbc.co.uk. View Resource

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