The Best and Worst Sleeping Positions—According to a Sleep Doctor
It's time to realign your spine.
Getting enough sleep can result in so many important benefits—including helping you combat stress, keep your energy levels up, and stay in a great mood—but unfortunately you’re not going to get any of those health perks if you’re tossing and turning all night long.
The way you position your body while you’re catching Zs makes a big difference in your overall wellbeing: Lying the wrong way can make you wake up with knots in your back and even cause breathing problems, while sleeping the right way will have you feeling lively, refreshed, and on top of the world. Before you climb underneath those cozy covers tonight, here are the best and worst sleep positions to be aware of, according to an expert.
The Best: Sleeping on Your Back
When it comes to catching pain-free Zs, there’s nothing better than passing out staring at the ceiling because it allows you to stay properly aligned and distribute your weight evenly—which results in no weird back pain when you wake up. “From a physiological standpoint, lying on your back is the best position to sleep in,” says sleep expert Michael J. Breus, PhD. “You’re going to want your arms in a fairly neutral position, like at your sides or crossed across your stomach. That will ensure you have better circulation and don’t get that pins and needles feeling.”
There’s only one exception: If you have untreated sleep apnea or you snore, Breus says sleeping on your back could unfortunately aggravate it, making matters worse.
The Worst: Sleeping on Your Stomach
If you’re a stomach-sleeper, it’s time to change your ways. According to Breus, it’s one of the worst things you can do for your body. “You’re turning your head almost completely to one side or the other at about a 90-degree angle, and that can negatively impact your neck,” Breus says. That’s not all, either. Aside from the back pain, neck pain, and general discomfort, it can also put a strain on your spine. Basically, it’ll make you more achy-breaky than Billy Ray Cyrus.
The Best: Sleeping on Your Side
Sleeping on your side is a good choice when it comes to sleeping—not as good as sleeping on your back, but close. And it’s a popular choice at that. “Roughly 75 percent of people sleep on their side,” Breus says. “When you sleep in this position, you’re able to bring your knees up closer to your chest, and that helps open up your spine and releases any pressure on your lower back.”
The Worst: Sleeping on Your Right Side
But only if you have GERD—gastroesophageal reflux disease. A study published in JAMA found those who slept on their right sides experienced worse reflux, while those who slept on their left sides actually saw an improvement in the problem. Researchers aren’t entirely sure why that is, but it most likely “has to do with where your stomach’s contents empty,” Breus says.
The Best: Sleeping on Your Side with a Pillow Between Your Legs
While sleeping on your side is already a beneficial choice, you’ll get even more benefits from grabbing a soft pillow. “Many people who sleep on their sides also sleep with a pillow between their legs. This is very helpful—especially because it pulls any excess pressure off of your hips,” Breus says. Without the pillow, the hip that’s higher than the other could pull on your lower back, giving you lower back strain.
The Worst: On Your Stomach with Your Arms Wrapped Around the Pillow
Nope, raising your arms doesn’t make stomach-sleeping any better. “You’ve raised your body up in order for your neck to turn more facing downward, and you’re putting extra strain on your lower back,” Breus says. “There’s nothing good about sleeping on your stomach, and I know firsthand—I’m a stomach sleeper sometimes.”
The Best: Sleeping in a Relaxed Fetal Position
When it comes to good sleep, it’s time to resort back to your days in the womb. Sleeping in the fetal position is a doctor-approved way to get quality rest—and evidently it’s one of the most popular sleep positions, too, according to the National Sleep Foundation. When you’re all cozy and curled up, you’ll reduce body pain and might even experience less snoring, says Breus. Plus, what’s more comforting than curling up like a baby? (Just don’t start sucking your thumb.)
The Worst: Tightly-Curled Fetal Position
While being in a fetal position is super-beneficial when you’re relaxed, that’s not the case when you’re too tightly-curled. According to Breus, that’s because it will leave you feeling all sorts of stiff the next day and can also restrict your breathing due to the pressure it puts on your diaphragm. To make sure your fetal position stays healthy, he recommends grabbing a cozy body pillow to hold onto.
The Best: Sleeping on Your Back with a Pillow Under Your Legs
Listen-up, back-sleepers, because there’s a way to up your comfort game. Using a pillow can seriously benefit your body when sleeping on your side, and the same goes for your back. “If you’ve ever laid on your back and raised your legs up with a pillow, that pulls all the pressure off your lower back,” Breus says. There’s only one problem: “Unfortunately, you can’t move because your legs are suspended in the air.” Worth it? Probably.
The Best (in one special case): Sleeping on Your Left Side
If you’re pregnant, that is. For most people, sleeping on one side might not make a big difference over the other, but for women who have a bun in the oven, turning to the left could do a lot of good. According to the American Pregnancy Association, it provides better blood flow to the placenta and can even help get rid of the back pain and heartburn that can be caused from sleeping on your back.
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