Most people have a preferred sleep position in which they spend much of the night. It’s important to understand the pros and cons to determine if the position you sleep in is, in fact, the one that’s most beneficial for your specific health needs.
Though there are several variations, sleep positions generally fall into the following three categories. Each category’s benefits may vary based on variations that include placement of arms or other body parts or the strategic utilization of a pillow used for support.
Stomach / Face Down
- Relieve breathing difficulties that lead to snoring
- Diminish sleep apnea symptoms
- Can be good for digestion
- Puts stress on back, neck, and joints
- May perpetuate discomfort associated with acid reflux
For some, particularly for those with persistent snoring and/or sleep apnea, the benefits of sleeping on your stomach may outweigh the negatives. Sleep apnea and, often, snoring are caused by your tongue falling back into the throat or loose tissues in the throat obstructing the airway. When you lay on your back, gravity causes the tongue and tissues to “fall” and block air flow. This obstruction can be prevented by laying on your stomach, allowing you to breathe more easily.
If snoring and sleep apnea are not concerns, however, sleeping face down may not be the optimal position for you as it strains the back, neck, and joints. It’s very difficult to maintain a neutral spine position on your stomach, which causes stress that can then carryover to the rest of your body. Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to sleep face down without turning your head to one side, requiring you to twist your neck for an extended period of time. In the short-term, you may experience aches and pain after a night of sleeping on your stomach. Over time, it can lead to problems in the spine, with severe cases resulting in a herniated disk.
- Head, neck, and spine rest in neutral position
- Alleviates acid reflux
- May perpetuate snoring and/or sleep apnea
For most people, the most beneficial sleep position is face up on your back. As long as you aren’t sleeping on a mountain of pillows, the head, neck, and spine remain in a neutral position throughout the night, eliminating strain caused by other sleep positions.
It has also been shown that acid reflux is significantly reduced by sleeping on your back. The key is to ensure that your pillow elevates your head above your esophagus so as to prevent acid from coming up your digestive tract.
For people with sleep apnea and/or persistent snoring, sleeping on your back often perpetuates the conditions. As explained above, gravity causes the tongue or loose tissues in the throat to collapse and block the airway. This obstruction then leads to snoring and/or the potentially life-threatening sleep disorder: sleep apnea.
- Alleviates acid reflux
- Relieves breathing difficulties that lead to snoring
- Diminishes sleep apnea symptoms
- Wards off back and neck pain
- Back and neck pain associated with side-lying fetal position
Side sleeping is by far the most common sleep position. As with sleeping on your back, this position can help reduce acid reflux and, since your spine is elongated, ward off back and neck pain. Additionally, sleeping on your side has the same benefits as stomach sleeping for those with sleep apnea and/or persistent snoring because it reduces obstruction of the airway. Many doctors recommend side sleeping as a strategy to help manage the two conditions.
Sleeping on your side in the fetal position (with your knees drawn up to your check) does not carry the same benefits. In fact, this position can lead to back and neck pain because it puts your spine and head out of alignment.
In addition to sleep position, other considerations that are necessary to promote healthy sleeping habits include: