May is better sleep month, and if you’re struggling to get quality rest, you’re not alone. Sleep plays a vital role in our overall health but remains elusive for many people. Everyone sleeps differently, and it seems like there are as many solutions for sleep problems as there are pillows in the world. Some of them might work for you, but before you try anything extreme, start with the basics: your sleeping position.
The way you snooze can improve or worsen sleep problems like snoring, acid reflux, and general aches and pains. This means you’re tossing and turning instead of getting that good shut-eye. Changing your sleep position might help improve your in-bed issues so you can wake up rested and refreshed. It may take some training, but getting into the perfect position can be worth it in the end. If you’re already using the style that's recommended for your issues, but still not seeing results, check out our tips on how to improve each position.
There are three main sleeping positions (although each has tons of variations): side, back, and stomach. Just as everyone comes in different shapes and sizes, sleeping positions aren’t a one-size-fits-all scenario. What is best for a child can be completely different for an adult. As always, you may need to ask your doctor to make sure you're doing what's right for your body.
Side sleeping seems to be what our bodies gravitate towards naturally. Whether you’re curled up cozy in the fetal position or laying straight out like a log, approximately 63% of all sleepers prefer this position. While it’s not the healthiest, it does offer a number of good benefits.
- Variations – Fetal position (most popular), log (arms down, close to the body), yearner (legs straight, arms out).
- Benefits – Sleeping on your side is great for preventing neck and back pain. Sleeping this way aides digestion, reduces acid reflux, prevents snoring, and improves sleeping during pregnancy (especially the fetal position).
- Negatives – It can make breathing difficult by putting pressure on your stomach and lungs. And, as anyone knows who’s ever woken up with tingling in one of your limbs, putting all your weight on one side restricts blood flow. Cosmetically, sleeping with your face pushed against your bedding can cause wrinkles.
- Improvements – Try to stretch out from a tightly curled ball to ease pressure on your organs. It’s best to make the spine as straight as possible and keep the neck aligned with the back. A pillow or blanket between the legs eases pressure on the hips.
Back sleepers are only 8% of the population, but maybe it should be more – this position offers the best chance to prevent back pain, and it’s considered the best sleeping position overall.
- Variations – Soldier (arms at the side), starfish (arms and legs spread).
- Benefits – Proper alignment of your spine reduces back pain. Acid reflux is also reduced in this position, if the stomach is below the esophagus. The rest of your body also benefits from taking pressure off the organs and joints.
- Negatives – Snoring and sleep apnea are more frequent for back sleepers. Using too many pillows while sleeping on your back can also make breathing more difficult.
- Improvements – Just like for any position, a bed that is supportive and in good condition is key. In a perfect world, sleeping on your back without a thin, or no, pillow is recommended as it better aligns the back with the neck to reduce strain. You can also put a pillow under the knees, which helps move the spine into a more natural curve.
Stomach sleepers are the rebels of sleep positions. This is the least common way to snooze, and it seems like that's for good reason. There aren’t too many health benefits of this position – but if you’re comfy and it works, we won’t judge!
- Variations – Freefall (arms up), combo (half the body facing down).
- Benefits – Can help with snoring and sleep apnea, but that’s about it.
- Negatives – Lower back and neck pain and stiffness from the spine being out of alignment. More likely to have restless sleep. Sleeping face down means trouble breathing, and it can make digestion issues worse.
- Improvements – Avoid stiff or thick pillows, as those bend the spine even more. Airways can be opened up by propping up the forehead and facing downward instead of to the side. Put a pillow under the hips to add some support to the lower back and curve to the spine.
How to Change
Now that you know what your sleeping position is (or isn’t) doing for you, what can you do about it? It is possible to train your body to change (and might be recommended, especially if you’re switching to back sleeping). Make sure you start off the night in the position you want. Try adding in some of the improvements listed above that support each style of sleep to reinforce it. If a lot of extra pillows aren’t working for you, or you want more options, find a store near you and try out an adjustable bed. They can raise the head and legs to just the right angle and won’t move out of place when you roll over.
Now, be patient. It takes a while to create a new habit, but once you’re sleeping better it will all be worth it!