The Best Position to Sleep - Backed by Science
The best sleeping position isn’t a one-size fits all solution. People sleep in different ways, after all. Each person has different needs and is comfortable in a different sleep position. To find the best sleep position for you, consider more than just comfort. Although relaxation is important, don’t forget our lives are constantly changing. Our body shape alters as we age. We get pregnant or succumb to the occasional cold. And we all get older—except you, Paul Rudd! If we want to sleep smarter not harder, our sleep positions should also adjust with life’s vicissitudes.
All parts of the sleep cycle are important, but REM sleep is the most restorative and vital for memory retention. REM sleep is that magical “deep sleep” when you dream and when your eyes rapidly move back and forth. Without enough deep sleep, you can wake up with a headache and a body full of aches. The long-term effects of sleep deprivation are serious. Here are a few downsides to consistent cycles of low-quality sleep:
- Reduced skin health and accelerated signs of aging
- Memory loss
- Reduced sex drive
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Increased risk of cancer
- Overall grogginess and irritability (according to our own non-scientific observations)
There are many ways we humans prefer to do the comatose catnap. Flat on your back, arms up around the head. Smushed on your belly like a falling man. On your side curled up like a shrimp. Everybody does it differently, and that’s okay. But some positions, it turns out, are more “okay” than others.
Some Sleeping Positions Are Better Than Others
Every sleep position comes with pros and cons, but if you get the best rest in a less-than-ideal position, that’s probably still the best choice for you. Therefore, we won’t judge you for getting your rest curled up like a dog or laid out like a chalk outline at a crime scene—whatever gets you the best rest. Good sleep hygiene is finding the right balance of comfort and practicality—the snuggling Yin and Yang of nocturnal bliss.
If you want to improve the quality of your sleep, we’ve got some tips for switching to a more comfortable sleeping position. And if you’re just too attached to the way you slip into sweet slumber, we’ve got some tips for easing you into dreamland just the way you like it.
Let’s get started! If you want to information about your favorite sleeping position, click one of the links below:
- Back sleepers
- Side sleepers
- Fetal-position sleepers
- Stomach sleepers
- Best sleep positions for couples
- Best sleep position for pregnant women
- Tips for transitioning to a new sleep position
If you’re a back sleeper, take some pleasure in knowing that sleeping on your back is often recommended as the best position for preventing aches and pains in the morning.
Back Sleeping Benefits
Sleeping on your back gives you your best shot at resting your spine in its most natural position. In fact, your entire skeleton will thank you for sleeping on your back, because your arms, shoulders, and legs won’t be jammed under the weight of your body or contorted in some bizarre amusement-park-ride pose.
Back Sleeping Cons
Unfortunately, back sleepers don’t get it all. Supine sleep can lead to problems with snoring since gravity pulls your tongue to the back of your throat, and it isn’t recommended for people who suffer from sleep apnea.
In young adults, scientists have noted that poor sleepers typically spend more time on their backs than other positions, so sleeping on your back doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get the best night’s rest of your life.
How to Make the Most of Sleeping on Your Back
If snoring is a problem, either find another position (or another sleep partner) or rock some snoring aids like nasal strips and mouthpieces. And don’t forget to find that ideal mattress that provides the best spinal alignment.
Side sleepers are numerous (making up a whopping 63 percent of all sleepers). They’re a versatile bunch, with all kinds of subsets including the log, the yearner, and the fetal position (more on that last one below).
Side Sleeping Benefits
Sleeping on your side is great for cuddling and pillow-talk. Additionally, research suggests that sleeping on your left side is preferable to your right. Thanks to the unique arrangement of your internal organs, left-side sleepers may see benefits in improved digestion and blood flow. Side sleeping can also help reduce heartburn.
Side Sleeping Cons
One of the biggest drawbacks to sleeping on your side is the dreaded numb arm. Also, it can lead to shoulder pain, hip pain, and back pain if your spine, neck, and hips aren’t properly aligned throughout the night. Side sleeping also puts more strain on your pressure points. All of these symptoms can be lessened with the help of a quality mattress and various arrangements of pillows to suit your personal style.
On a cosmetic note, side sleeping can lead to more face wrinkles, because you’re pressing your face against the pillow all night. Saggy breasts, too — because … gravity.
How to Sleep on Your Side Like a Pro
The side sleeper secret is to keep your back as straight as possible. The best way to achieve this, big surprise, is with a great mattress. Find a mattress that supports the curvature of your body while still embracing the pressure points of your shoulders and hips.
Other helpful side-sleeping techniques are to position a pillow between your legs, and use a tall pillow that aligns your neck better with your back (as opposed to sleeping with your head cocked to one side like you can’t understand what I’m saying but you’re going to pretend like you do anyway).
Side sleepers often run into shoulder pain caused from too much pressure applied to the rotator cuff. The key to fighting shoulder pain — besides turning over — is the correct pillow height and arm position. Find a pillow that provides good support for your neck and is the right height to keep your spine in alignment. You can also wear an arm sling to bed to keep your shoulder in a comfortable position throughout the night.
As a variation of the side-sleeping position, the biggest benefit of the fetal position is transforming you into a tiny little package for the Sandman’s delivery to Sleepy Town. Beyond that, there’s not much to this return-to-the-womb position other than getting the side-sleeper benefits.
However, there is one downside to the fetal position. Being too curled up too tight can cause your lower back to arch in an unnatural manner, leading to aches and pains in the morning. The position can also put added pressure to your abdomen, not a good idea, especially for Taco Tuesday. On the whole, the fetal position is an all-around solid, restful sleep choice!
Only 17 percent of the population are stomach sleepers, making this the sleep position used by the fewest people.
That’s a good thing—sleeping on your stomach creates pain and stress for your neck and spine. But this rare sleeping position isn’t all bad.
Stomach sleeping can reduce snoring and help in some cases of sleep apnea. Plus, many mattress huggers find sleeping face-down comfortable because of the feeling of fluffy softness against their faces and bodies. When a position is comfortable, you stay in it longer, not turning over like you’re on a spit roasting over an open fire.
Stomach Sleeping Cons
If you’re a stomach sleeper, we love you, but your sleep style probably isn’t doing you any favors. Having your head jammed to the side all night can lead to a sore neck in the morning. Lying chest-down straightens your spine into an unnatural position, leading to all kinds of lower back pain. And if you’re pregnant? Fuhgeddaboudit.
How to Make the Most of Stomach Sleeping
If sleeping on your stomach really is the best way you can get a quality night’s rest, then here are a few ways to make it more comfortable:
- Switch out that thick pillow for a razor-thin one (or no pillow at all)
- Prop a pillow under your pelvis to add some curve to your spine
- Do some stretches in the morning to ease back pain
Tips for Transitioning to a New Sleep Position
The inevitable transition period required to get used to a new sleep position can be difficult. That’s in large part because you’ll likely be getting some pretty lousy sleep while your body gets used to your new position. If you’re determined to change the way you sleep, here are some tips to shorten the transition period and start your new life of sleeping bliss!
- Block out all natural light in your room and banish electronic devices from your life for the two hours leading up to your bedtime.
- Sleep on the opposite side of your bed from what you usually do. Your body may be less likely to revert automatically to your old position.
- Don’t skimp on extras like a high-quality pillow and stretchy mattress covers and sheets.
Be persistent and patient if you truly want to make a change to your sleeping habits. If your goal is to improve the quality of your sleep, it may be well worth it.
Best Sleeping Positions for Health Issues
Sleep is the time our bodies benefit from the soothing and restorative power of unconscious slacking. But when aches and pains disrupt our rest, it can lead to sleep deprivation over time and a decrease in our health and well-being. Here are the best sleeping positions for whatever ails you.
Best Sleeping Position for Back Pain
The best position for general back pain is side sleeping with a thin pillow between your knees. The pillow keeps your hips, pelvis, and spine aligned. Add a thicker pillow to your chest to keep your shoulders squared too. In the side-sleeping pose, you’re articulating your body in a more neutral position, much like sitting or standing—but without all that gravity squishing your vertebra together.
If side sleeping doesn’t help with the back pain, try the back-sleeping position, with a thin pillow or rolled-up towel supporting your knees. The pillow or towel maintains the curve of your back while evenly distributing your weight across your hips. The result is less joint and muscle strain and more relief.
Best Sleeping Position for Lower Back Pain
The best position for lower back pain is a side-sleeping position with supports for your knees, hips, and shoulders. For lower-back pain from a degenerative or herniated disc, try the fetal position. Damaged discs push or grind on the network of sensitive nerves winding between vertebrae. The fetal position opens up those pinched or bulging spots, relieving pressure and leaving you pain-free and ready for a good night’s sleep.
If you’re a stomach sleeper with degenerative or bulging discs, try putting a pillow or rolled-up towel under your hips. The extra support opens up the discs wider to relieve pressure on your lower-back nerves near the L4 and L5 vertebrae—a common site of pinched nerves and strained muscles. You may need to adjust your head pillow if this new position puts added pressure on your neck and shoulders.
Best Sleeping Position for Shoulder Pain
The best sleeping position for shoulder pain is the back or stomach positions. Side sleeping is a double whammy: It puts your shoulder in an awkward position as it increases the pressure. Throughout the night, both of these forces stretch the tendons and ligaments that make up your rotator cuff. Your shoulder joint also takes a beating, as the pressure adds eight hours of wear and tear.
Hug a thick pillow for more shoulder support. The extra fluff will support your bad shoulder, keeping it square and upright, not in a slumped over Quasimodo style.
The best sleeping position for a broken humerus is on your back, elevated with pillows or sitting upright in an armchair. When sleeping upright, let your upper arm hang free as possible, rather than resting it on pillows. Pillow support may force your shoulder upwards and cause pain. If you sleep on your back, place a small pillow behind your elbow or shoulder for extra support.
If you’re a side sleeper with a broken humerus, try your good side for a more comfortable rest. You’ll find the new position more comfortable if you support your arm with a pillow, which will ease the pressure and support of the fracture.
Best Sleeping Position for Neck Pain
The best sleeping position for neck pain is either on your back or side. While on your back, use a flat pillow to rest your head. Use a small, rounded one to support the natural curve of your neck. If you sleep on your side, use a pillow that keeps your neck straight. You can also purchase pillows that do the work of forming these intricate neck shapes for you.
Stomach sleepers can also try the no-pillow approach. But this snooze scenario puts the onus on your mattress to support your head and neck. Choose a mattress that will support all of your pressure points, or you’ll be swapping a pain in the neck for a pain in the back.
Sleeping With Sciatica
The best sleeping positions to relieve sciatic pain are the back and side-sleeping positions, with support from pillows. First off, make sure you’re sleeping on a firm mattress (soft memory foam probably isn’t going to cut it this time). Buy a new one or head to the guest room for the night. Some people even report floor sleeping relieves their sciatica symptoms. We’re sure your dog won’t mind if you borrow a few squares of linoleum for the night.
For back sleepers, place pillows under your knees to support the weight of your legs and hips. Some back sleepers also find adding pillows under both sides of their hips a panacea to their pain.
For side sleepers, bend your top knee until it’s at a ninety-degree angle to your body—like you’re about to step up on a waist-high platform. Support your leg with enough pillows to keep your hips square. You may want to add a pillow between your arms to help you stay in the position all night.
If you’re a stomach sleeper bent on making it work, make sure you use pillows, rolled-up towels, or similar bedding to support your hips and neck. And don’t use overly stuffed pillows that strain your neck.
Best Sleeping Position for Sleep Apnea
The best sleeping position for sleep apnea is on your side. Side sleeping increases the chances that your airways remain clear and unobstructed after your throat muscles relax during sleep. Stomach sleeping also helps with apnea symptoms, but side sleepers benefit from aided digestion and less neck pain.
When sleeping on your side, use a pillow that maintains its shape, supports your neck, and allows air to circulate—heads that are cool stay asleep longer than those that are hot. Plus, you’re less likely to roll over on your back in the middle of the night if you can maintain a comfortable side-sleeping position.
Sleep Position to Reduce Snoring
The best sleep position for snoring is on your side or stomach with your head and neck well-supported and aligned. Both sleeping positions position your throat muscle to keep your nasal passages open. Proper neck and spine alignment also contributes to free-flowing airways and pain-free neck muscles.
If side or stomach positions don’t work, try elevating your back or bed so you’re sitting more upright. Gravity will pull the soft tissues of your airway downward and away from the back of your throat. Recliners are an easy way to achieve this position, but your neck and back may have some not-so-nice things to say about it.
How to Sleep With a Cough
The best sleep position for a cough is on your back with your upper body elevated. When you’re horizontal, gravity collects the mucus in your head and lungs, causing your cough to worsen. Don’t fight gravity, use it to your advantage. Elevate your upper body and sleep on your back.
Comfort in an elevated position is a challenge without a fancy adjustable bed. Achieve roughly the same elevated effect using pillows stacked behind your back and neck. Or, if you have the resources, try raising your bed frame using the Purple Powerbase. If none of these options work, you may need to hit the recliner for a night or two until your cough abates.
What Sleep Position Reduces Indigestion?
The best sleep position to aid digestion is on your left side. If you want to help your stomach breakdown that cheese pizza you had before bed, sleep on your left side. Your stomach digests food more effectively on the left side because of its unique shape—sort of like a lima bean.
While laying on your left side, that masticated mozzarella forms a nicely coiled clump, and your digestive juices work their magic more effectively. On your right side, food particles and stomach acids spread out, even spilling into our esophagus and causing heartburn.
Back sleepers who elevate their upper body can also reap the same digestive benefits as side sleepers, but the position isn’t ideal for comfort.
Sleeping Position to Stop Acid Reflux
The best sleeping position for acid reflux is laying on your left side. Heartburn happens when stomach acids make their way past your esophageal sphincter and into your upper esophagus and throat. To keep the pod bay doors shut, sleep on your left side—it helps your esophageal sphincter stay closed.
Back sleeping is another way to fight back reflux. Elevate your upper body with pillows or prop up your bed with wooden blocks—any position where gravity pulls those Alien Xenomorph juices back where they belong: in your stomach.
How to Sleep When Pregnant
The best sleeping position during pregnancy is on your side, according to the Mayo Clinic. Lateral sleep positions improve blood circulation and ease pressure on the liver. You can further aid blood circulation when bending your legs and putting a small pillow between your knees.
A wise word for all Sleeping Beauties with one in the oven: Gravity is your enemy, pillows your friend. Support your growing tummy with a small pillow underneath you and one at your chest to stop the tug and pull on growing, sensitive breasts. Invest in a variety of pillows, props, and stuffing. As your body grows and changes shape, you’ll need to adjust your sleeping game.
How to Sleep With Period Cramps
The best sleeping position for period cramps is on your back. Place a pillow under your knees to relieve lower-back pressure and cramping. Stomach sleeping may be your jam, but when menstrual cramps hit, the face-down position puts added pressure on your uterus. Side sleeping in the fetal position applies even more pressure. And there’s the added gravitational pull on your already sore breasts! Use pillows to support the angry girls upstairs.
If switching from stomach to back positions is too uncomfortable, try adding pillows to your stomach and the side of your head to recreate the sensation of sleeping face-down.
What Sleep Position is Best After a C-Section?
The best sleep posture after a C-section is on your back or side. At the hospital, you’ll likely spend much of your sleeping hours in a reclining position, so sticking with a back-sleeper position is an easy transition at home. However, staying in one position causes soreness. And it’s just boring.
After a C-section, avoid stomach sleeping. Your surgery incision is still fresh and will be sore. Sleeping on your stomach will aggravate it. Changing positions in bed will hurt too, so get a sleeping strategy that minimizes movement and aids the healing process.
Side sleeping after a C-section can make breastfeeding easier for mothers who prefer the standard side-lying breastfeeding position. For those moms, sleeping on their sides won’t require them to change positions when it’s time to feed the hungry little bugger. Back-sleeping moms who prefer football or cross-cradle breastfeeding positions can accomplish the same goal.
Best Sleeping Positions for Couples
Positions for Intimacy
Finding a good couples sleeping position not only affects your general health and well-being, it can improve your feelings about your sleep partner—unless they’re a 130-pound Bullmastiff with slobber issues. In fact, 94 percent of couples who cuddle (or have some form of physical contact) through the night report being happy with their relationship. Turns out, touching soles is like touching souls. Try out these couples sleep positions at night if you’re looking for some emotional closeness during the day.
The Spoon is the classic utensil-style position adopted by around 18 percent of couples—unlike its less-popular European counterpart, The Spork. The Spoon is the full-court press of skin-on-skin intimacy that delivers up plenty of emotional comfort at bedtime.
The Tangle is like an inverted version of The Spoon. Turned face to face, while clinging to one another like Titanic survivors adrift at sea, The Tangle is the best way to say “I love you … and I wished you hadn’t ordered the extra-garlic pizza.”
The Nuzzle is a classic couples’ sleeping position where one partner rests their head on the other’s chest, while intertwining their legs. Ideal for a back and stomach-sleeper couple, The Nuzzle is also a great starter position for partners who want some physical contact while they fall asleep.
Sleep Positions for Comfort
New couples tend to have the most physical contact during sleep, but as their relationship matures, each sets off to find more individual positions. These lone positions may include physical contact or they may not. The bottom line: Don’t force a couples sleeping position if it sacrifices your individual comfort and restfulness—a bad night’s sleep isn’t good for any relationship. Here are some ways to maintain your sleep autonomy, while occasionally reaching across the aisle.
The Loose Spoon
The Loose Spoon is a the cool-and-groovy version of its more intimate cousin, The Spoon. If you want a good balance of physical contact and individual comfort, The Loose Spoon is a great choice.
The Back Kissers
Nothing says comfort and security more than a good, old small-of-the-back smooch. Light posterior touching is an effective way for two opposing side sleepers to express their emotional connections—allowing minimal contact and maximum independence.
The Leg Hug
If you’re a looking for a couples sleep position with good upper-body freedom, then consider The Leg Hug. By draping just your leg across your partners, you’re letting your lower extremities do the emotional work, while it’s all rest and relaxation upstairs.
Sleeping Positions for Couples – What Do They Mean?
According to body language experts and psychologists, couples sleeping positions can actually signal attitudes and feelings toward each other. Here are what some couples sleep positions mean.
Positions like The Spoon and The Loose Spoon can signal trust among sleep partners. Turning your back away from someone is a vulnerable position, assuming the position says “I trust you.” However, if your nightly spooning takes place on your partner’s side (not in the center of the bed), he or she may be trying to play hard-go-get. Or they may just be trying to get away from your cuddly annexation—it’s not called the cold shoulder for nothing.
Couples sleep positions that involve the intertwining of legs and arms suggests the same “intertwining” of your lives. Positions like The Leg Hug or The Nuzzle can signal a strong emotional connection—that you function as a unit. However, psychologists warn that physically intense positions like The Tangle may mean you overly depend on one another, that you may be sacrificing your independence by being too tangled up in each other’s lives.
What position you and your partner sleep also can say something about who’s wearing the proverbial pants in the family. If your partner habitually hogs the bed space without much consideration for yours, it can signal a similar dominant position in your relationship. Sleep partners who prefer the Starfish position—pushing you to the edge of the mattress—may be nudging their way into getting what they want elsewhere.
Head positions during sleep also suggest a relationship hierarchy, say researchers. Touching heads or equal positioning suggests a relationship equality and synchronized thinking. People who sleep closer to the headboard usually have a more domineering personality, while lower placed noggins signal lower self-esteem and submissiveness. Of course, it could always just be case of Little Bo Peep vs. Bigfoot.
The Dreamer’s Guide To The Best Sleeping Positions
The sideways siesta. The horizontal hibernation. Whatever you call it, a good night’s sleep is a precious thing. What can we say? At Purple, we’re dreamers at heart.
Whether you dream each night of flying through Manhattan decked out in a red cape, or riding on the back of a majestic tyrannosaurus rex, your sleep position has a profound effect on the quality of your sleep and your dreams. One sleep study survey of college students found a connection between dream content and sleep positions. Here were the results:
- Left Side Sleepers – Less acid reflux, but more nightmares than right side
- Right Side Sleepers – Acid reflux may cause dreams about swallowing or burning
- On Back – More nightmares and difficulty remembering dreams
- Stomach Sleepers – More intense dreams, but more restlessness overall
While your sleep position may influence what and how your dream, don’t go changing your routine to achieve Inception just yet. There are also physical factors to consider. Overall, getting your body in whatever position it needs to achieve the restorative slumber of REM sleep is still the best way to influence your dreams.
What Is the Best Sleep Position
Here at Purple, we love you, and we don’t want you to change anything about yourself just for our sake! Keep doing what you’re doing. And if you think you’ll benefit from switching up your night-time routine, go for it!
Oh, and no matter what sleep position you prefer, you’ll always sleep better on a Purple® Mattress.