Discover your ideal sleeping position; so train your body to use it (2023)

Getting your body into the right sleeping position is one of the best things you can do for your health. But we're creatures of habit first and foremost, and changing the sleeping posture you've adopted for much of your life isn't easy. However, if you can pull it off, it can lead to dramatic improvements in not just the quality of your sleep, but your overall health as well.

Here are five good reasons to change your sleeping position — and three ways to do it.

1. Consider sleeping on your side if you snore

Sleeping on your side can actually save your life if you suffer from severe sleep apnea, said Arie Oksenberg, PhD, director of the sleep disorders unit at Loewenstein Hospital in Raanana, Israel.

When you sleep on your stomach or back, gravity works against you by compressing your airway. This is one of the main causes of snoring, but it also leads to all sorts of other sleep problems. It's one of the reasons why the best place to sleep is up in the air. Astronauts consistently report a decrease in pauses in breathing and snoring during uncompressed, weightless sleep.

For this reason, Oksenberg strongly recommends that people with breathing problems like sleep apnea learn to sleep on their sides. Correspondinga work from 2014Oksenberg co-authored in the Journal of Sleep Research that patients who slept on their sides reduced or even eliminated the frequency with which their breathing was disrupted during sleep. (Approximately 38,000 people in the U.S. die each year from heart disease with sleep apnea as a complicating factor, reports the American Sleep Apnea Association.)

2. Consider sleeping on your back if you have shoulder or back pain

If you have musculoskeletal disorders but no breathing problems, sleeping on your back may be your best option. As long as you have a supportive mattress, sleeping on your back can promote better spinal alignment—helpful for those with disc or spinal problems—and relieve pressure on injured limbs. People with a rotator cuff tear often wake up in the middle of the night when sleeping on their side because their body weight is concentrated on a single pressure point, causing pain. (Read ourcomplete guide to sleeping on your back.)

3. Consider sleeping on your left side if you have acid reflux or heartburn

If you have bowel issues, experts say the best way to sleep is on your left side. This is because the digestive system is not centered in your body and sleeping on your left side allows for a less obstructed pathway as the food you've eaten passes through your intestines. Stomach acid is less likely to go down your throat if you sleep on your left side. Sleeping on your back is also an option for acid reflux, but you need to arrange your pillows so that you gently lift your head over your stomach.

4. Consider sleeping on your side if you have high blood pressure

There is a promising amount of evidence to get a person to do this.changefrom stomach sleeping or sleeping on your back to sleeping on your side can lead to lower blood pressure. During a recent study, Oksenberg said, "We collected 24-hour blood pressure data and the results were that both people with normal and high blood pressure showed a decrease after sleep positioning therapy." (Oksenberg added that the link between sleep and blood pressure is reasonably well established, although the reason for the link is still poorly understood.)

(Video) Best Sleeping Positions (Dos & Dont's)

5. Consider sleeping on your side if you're young and don't have any problems

Given the benefits of proper sleeping position, if you sleep on your stomach, it's probably worth working on your sleeping position early on. "It makes sense to learn to sleep on your side now to avoid developing problems that increase with age and weight gain," Oksenberg said.

It's not necessarily the case that young people immediately benefit from sleeping on their sides. But they will reap the dividends later in life by training themselves early.

But how do you change your sleeping position?

"This is tough," said Aleksandar Videnovic, MD, director of the Department of Sleep Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. "It's a habit we pick up from childhood."

So changing your sleeping position may actually require a combination of exercise, the use of mechanical or electronic devices, and the right bedding choices. Most likely, you'll need to mix and match these techniques (and you should talk to your doctor about sleep positioning, especially if you have or suspect sleep apnea).

You must also understand that no one sleeps in one position all night. Most people change positions between 10 and 40 times a night. And we tend to revert to our "gut instinct" postures - that about 50 to 70 percent of us lie on our backs most of the night, depending on which study you consult.

A note about sleeping on your back: A lot of this advice suggests that sleeping on your side is better. And in many cases it is. But if you're healthy and don't have breathing problems, there's no immediate problem with sleeping on your back, Videnovic said. (However, as mentioned above, learning to sleep on your side as you get older can help.)

If you decide to change your sleeping position, the results will likely be incremental, but well worth it. Here are three ways to do this:

1. Use a physical object to force your body into a new sleeping position.The main method for converting the back or stomach into side sleep is called the "tennis ball technique", and that's how it sounds. You sew a tennis ball to the back (or front) of your pajama top and it keeps you from rolling. Studies show that the approach works, but a word of caution: the results may not last, and you may need to repeat the treatment from time to time. (One study showed that most peopleto give upon the technique after two years – probably because of discomfort, because who wants to sleep with a tennis ball hitting the spine? Pack to discourage back sleepers.

2. Get into a new sleeping position.Of course, there are high-tech versions of the tennis ball method. These devices clip onto your body like a heart rate monitor, learn your sleep habits, and use the data to vibrate if you roll into the wrong position.A 2015 studyin the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine showed that while both methods worked equally well in getting people not to sleep on their backs, the electronic device promoted long-term adherence. And because it provided earlier and kinder feedback, it resulted in overall better sleep. Given the dangers of sleep apnea, this is a plus.

(Video) Best Sleeping Position - Ask Doctor Jo

"Compared to...TBT [tennis ball technique]...sickness relief, sleep quality, and quality of life are significantly improved with [electronic device]," the study authors write. Several other companies make similar devices, and while we haven't tested any of them, recentlystudieshave been shown to reduce sleep apnea by more than 50% in most users.

How do you get one of these devices? Some are classified as sleep aids, meaning they don't need a prescription; others are specifically designed to treat clinically diagnosed insomnia or sleep apnea and should be recommended to you by your doctor. Those currently available include thePhilips NightBalanceit's similarnight shiftDevices. There is also some overlap between these devices and those that help reduce snoring (see our latest tests).

3. Use bedding to get your body in the right sleeping position.pillowemattressChoices are critical to sleep positioning. For example, back sleepers generally prefer a firmer mattress, while side sleepers need more padding to relieve extra pressure on their shoulders and joints. If you want to switch from sleeping on your back to your side, you may need a softer mattress (or pillow top mattress) to stay comfortable. (We have guides to the best mattresses forside rails,back sleepers,Sleeper, and people withback pain.)

Back sleepers want a pillow that isn't overly puffy, but fits the body so that the head, neck, and back are aligned. This might mean a memory foam pillow placed to form a soft, supportive line from your head to your shoulder blades (some people prefer a buckwheat-filled pillow for this). Memory foam mattresses can also help, as the denting you make in them serves to restrict body movements. Additional pillows positioned as a sort of drawstring to prevent shifting are another option, but unfortunately they aren't as great for snuggling up to when you have a bed partner.

A leg pillow can provide support. Videnovic recommends placing one under your knees for back sleeping — it improves spinal alignment — or between your knees for side sleeping. (ONEbody pillowis another option for side sleepers.)

Once you find the ideal sleeping position, you need to work on maintaining it. While there is some evidence that electronic positioning devices "last" longer, the reality is that you need to monitor how you sleep and retrain if necessary.

Scientists and doctors are just beginning to understand the importance of sleep. "We completely ignore a third of the 24-hour day cycle," said Videnovic. “But we are beginning to understand that the sleep cycle – which encompasses sleep placement, quality and duration – is a modifiable target for therapy for many diseases.”

Being able to improve your health and well-being while sleeping can seem like a pipe dream. But if you're willing to change some long-held positions, it's entirely possible.

Mentioned above

  • If you prefer to sleep on your back, you'll probably want a medium-firm mattress to align your spine and keep your shoulders, hips, and lower back comfortable. The best mattresses for back sleepers
  • Our favorite pillow for side and back sleepers is the Nest Easy Breather. Stomach sleepers should try Sleep Number PlushComfort Ultimate. best bed pillows
  • Here's how to find a mattress you can happily sleep on for years. How to choose a mattress
  • If you're a regular side sleeper, you probably want a comfortable mattress that aligns your spine and offers good support. These are our favorites. The best mattresses for side sleepers
  • We like these six medium-firm mattresses best for stomach sleepers because they support and cushion your belly while aligning your spine. The best mattresses for stomach sleepers
  • There is no "best" mattress for back pain sufferers, although one that feels medium firm is probably the best choice. We have six to recommend. The best mattresses for back pain
(Video) The Best Sleeping Posture for ANY Situation

keep reading


What is the ideal sleep position? ›

Specifically, sleeping on the side or back is considered more beneficial than sleeping on the stomach. In either of these sleep positions, it's easier to keep your spine supported and balanced, which relieves pressure on the spinal tissues and enables your muscles to relax and recover.

How do you train yourself to sleep on your side? ›

Depending on your sleeping habits, the easiest way to train yourself to sleep on your side is to make it hard to sleep in any other position. One way to do this is to move your bed against the wall and sleep facing it. This will keep you from rolling over. Another option is to sleep on your couch for a few nights.

How long does it take to train yourself to sleep on your back? ›

You may have to do a little sleep training if you want to start sleeping on your back. (After all, experts say it takes about 21 days to form a habit.) So, expect there to be an adjustment period when you intentionally change your sleeping position.

What is the best sleeping position to fall asleep fast? ›

Avoid sleeping with your arms higher than your shoulders (for example, by putting them under your pillow). It constricts your nerves and your veins. Your arms can be numb, and the weight is heavy on your shoulders, which makes getting up harder. Finally, sleeping on your back is technically the best way to sleep.

Can you train yourself to sleep on your back? ›

If you sleep on your side or stomach, you might be considering switching to sleeping on your back. Changing your preferred sleeping position may seem like a daunting task, and there is usually an adjustment period when trying something new. However, it is possible to train yourself to sleep on your back.

How do you train your body to sleep in a different position? ›

Use a physical object to force your body into a new sleep position. The primary method for back- or stomach- to side-sleep conversion is called the “tennis ball technique,” and it's exactly what it sounds like. You sew a tennis ball into the back (or front) of your pajama top, and that keeps you from rolling around.

What is the healthiest way to sleep on your side? ›

Sleeping on your left side is thought to have the most benefits to your overall health. Still, either side can offer benefits in terms of sleep apnea and chronic lower back pain relief. You don't have to stick with one side the entire night. Feel free to start on your left side and see how your body feels.

Where do you put your arms when sleeping on your back? ›

If you lay mainly on your back, you can use a pillow to support your arm either by your side (pillow under arm) or out to the side (if your movement allows). Use a small pillow to support the weight of the arm. Many people need two pillows, one under the shoulder blade and one under the arm.

What happens if you sleep on your back too long? ›

Laying on your back for long periods can cause the muscles that support the normal curvature of your back to become fatigued. When you wake up with muscle fatigue, you will experience tight muscles and back pain.

Where do you put pillows when sleeping on your back? ›

If you sleep on your back, place a pillow under your knees to help maintain the normal curve of your lower back. You might try a small, rolled towel under the small of your back for additional support. Support your neck with a pillow.

What side is better to sleep on for your heart? ›

Similarly, sleeping on your left side, specifically, could help the flow of blood to your heart. When your heart pumps blood out to your body, it gets circulated and then flows back to your heart on the right side, Winter explains.

Why should you sleep on your left side? ›

Sleeping on your left side can help naturally open the airways and make breathing easier. You may also find relief if you rest on your right side, but doctors believe sleeping on your left side to be more effective. It's also the recommended sleeping position for people with sleep apnea.

Is it good to sleep without a pillow? ›

Negative Effects on Neck and Back Pain

Without a pillow to support the head, side and back sleepers may experience stiffness or soreness in the lumbar or cervical spine. Referred neck pain from not using a pillow may also contribute to tension headaches.

What is the healthiest sleeping position right or left? ›

Sleeping on your left side is thought to have the most benefits to your overall health. Still, either side can offer benefits in terms of sleep apnea and chronic lower back pain relief. You don't have to stick with one side the entire night. Feel free to start on your left side and see how your body feels.

Which sleeping position is not good? ›

Worst: Sleeping on Your Stomach

With your head raised on the pillow, it can be difficult to keep the spine in a neutral position. Sleeping on your stomach puts a strain on the back and neck. With the middle of your body being the heaviest part, it causes the spine to overarch.

What is the unhealthiest sleeping position? ›

The worst sleep position: On your stomach

“This position puts the most pressure on your spine's muscles and joints because it flattens the natural curve of your spine,” he says. “Sleeping on your stomach also forces you to turn your neck, which can cause neck and upper back pain.”

Are there unhealthy sleeping positions? ›

Sleeping on your stomach is by far the worst position for your health. It's particularly bad for your spine if you're turning your head to one side to breath. Keeping the neck in a twisted position all night can lead to neck pain from muscle strains.

Which side is better to sleep on for your brain? ›

Research from the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) found that this waste clearance system works best when people sleep on their side, particularly the right side, says study coauthor Maiken Nedergaard, a professor of neuroscience and neurology at URMC, who discovered the brain's cleaning system.

What side should I sleep on to lower my blood pressure? ›

Sleeping on the left side is the best sleeping position for hypertension because it relieves blood pressure on blood vessels that return blood to the heart.

Why should you not sleep on your right side? ›

Reflux and heartburn: If you suffer from heartburn, sleeping on your right side can make symptoms worse, Salas says. That's true for people who have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and for people who have heartburn for other reasons, such as pregnant women. Flip to your left side to cool the burn.

What happens if you sleep on your side? ›

During the night, your spine might stretch out of alignment, and you may wake up with aches and pains in the morning. Mattresses that are too firm, on the other hand, don't provide enough cushioning for these pressure points when you are sleeping on your side.

How many pillows should you sleep with? ›

According to sleep experts, you should sleep with only one pillow under your head, however, preference and sleeping position often take the lead when it comes to considerations for the ideal number of pillows. Read on to learn why we recommend sleeping with a high-quality single pillow.

Why you shouldn't sleep on your back? ›

We recommend side sleeping since it offers more health benefits, such as reducing pressure on the heart. Side sleeping can also reduce snoring, obstructive sleep apnea, and acid reflux symptoms. Back sleeping tends to aggravate these conditions thanks to the effects of gravity.

Which sleeping position is best for back pain? ›

Top 5 Sleeping Positions for Back Pain
  1. Lying on your side in a fetal position. ...
  2. Lying on your back in a reclined position. ...
  3. Lying on your side with a pillow supporting your knees. ...
  4. Lying on your stomach with a pillow below your pelvis and lower abdomen. ...
  5. Lying flat on your back with a pillow underneath your knees.


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6. How Your Sleeping Position Affects Your Life


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