A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Which sleep position is best?

Sleeping girl illustration

The short-and-sweet answer: Whichever keeps you most rested.

Nearly one-third of your life is spent sleeping so the sleep position you choose can affect your overall health.

“If you don’t frequently wake up tired or sore, your sleep position is likely just fine,” said Jessica Armstrong, Marshfield Clinic Health System sleep medicine nurse practitioner. “It’s only a problem when it affects your daily life.”

A breakdown of sleep positions

Back pain, snoring and headaches can be attributed to sleep position.

I sleep on my back.

Back sleep is okay if you’re comfortable. It can prevent wrinkles and fight acid reflux. However, body frame and curve can make it difficult to keep your spine neutral, causing back pain.

“Put a pillow under your knees,” Armstrong said. “This can relieve pressure on your body and help reduce soreness.”

I prefer my stomach.

Do you choose this sleep position because you’re comfortable and wake up refreshed? Or is it actually because you’re unknowingly treating a sleep condition?

“Many people I see who sleep on their stomachs are inadvertently treating sleep apnea,” she said. A sleep medicine specialist can help you with this sleep disorder.

Others may find stomach sleep brings body pain. This position puts pressure on joints and muscles. Additionally, the awkward stretch of the neck can cause back pain.

In these cases, it’s better to try sleeping on your back or side.

I turn to my side.

This is a common sleep position, Armstrong said.

If you like sleeping on your side but often wake up stiff, place a pillow between your knees. This can make a comfortable difference.

Change sleep position with a tennis ball

Though sleeping on the back is good for the spine, it can be painful for those with back pain and arthritis. It can worsen sleep apnea episodes.

Here’s a trick: Sew a tennis ball into the tail of a t-shirt.

“When you roll onto your back, the tennis ball prompts you to turn back to your side,” Armstrong said. “It’s an inexpensive, simple trick for back sleepers who could improve their overall health by sleeping on their side.”

And don’t forget the pillow

If changing sleep positions doesn’t improve your physical or emotional health, look to your pillow.

We tend to keep a pillow much longer than we should.

“Replace your pillow every one to two years,” she said. “They do change over time and you want something that keeps your spine aligned.”

Learn how to choose the right pillow for good support. And, if you’re still not sleeping well, make an appointment with a sleep specialist.

Related Shine365 sleep articles:

Can’t sleep? Blame your cellphone.

Sleepy arm: Oh, that tingly feeling

Ask the expert: Sleep & heart health

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