Sleep posture

Expert reviewed on
January 02, 2024
man sleeping on his side

Sleep posture, or the position of your body while sleeping, plays a crucial role in maintaining healthy breathing, spinal alignment, reducing pain, and promoting overall health.

Proper sleep posture ensures an open airway and that your spine maintains its natural curvature, preventing strain and discomfort. To maintain good sleep posture, try sleeping on your side with your neck and spine in a neutral position. Many people struggle to sleep on their side due to hip, shoulder or other orthopedic difficulty. For people who need to sleep on their back it is a good idea to sleep with the head of the bed elevated to help make it easier to breathe. Poor sleep posture can lead to pain due to strain on muscles, ligaments, and joints.

Benefits of Good Sleep Posture

  • Improved Breathing: Proper sleep posture promotes better airflow, reducing snoring and sleep apnea symptoms.

  • Reduced Back Pain: Maintaining proper spinal alignment during sleep minimizes pressure on the back muscles and discs, alleviating back pain.

  • Neck Pain Relief: A well-supported neck in alignment with the spine prevents neck pain and stiffness

  • Reduced Acid Reflux (heartburn): Sleeping on the side or with the head of bed elevated can help reduce acid reflux symptoms by keeping stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus.

Best Sleep Postures for Overall Health

  • Side Sleeping: Considered the best overall sleep position, side sleeping promotes spinal alignment and reduces pressure on the back and neck.
  • Back Sleeping, with the head of bed elevated: Sleeping on your back with the head of the bed elevated helps breathing and minimizes gastric reflux.  Try to sleep with a pillow under your knees as this can help maintain the natural curve of the spine, reducing back pain.

Tips for Maintaining Good Sleep Posture

  • Choose the Right Pillow: Use a pillow that supports the natural curve of your neck and keeps your head in line with your spine.
  • Consider a Body Pillow for side sleepers: A body pillow can provide additional support for your legs and spine.
  • Adjust Your Mattress: A firm mattress provides adequate support for the spine, while a soft mattress can cause misalignment.
  • Mindful Movement: Remember its normal to move throughout the night.  Feel free to roll from side to side, adjust arms and legs to positions of comfort. 

Additional Considerations for Specific Conditions

  • Pregnancy: Side sleeping, particularly on the left side, is recommended for pregnant women to improve circulation and reduce pressure on the vena cava, the vein returning blood to the heart.

  • Neck Pain: A contoured pillow or rolled-up towel under the neck can provide additional support and reduce neck pain.

  • Back Pain: Placing a pillow under the knees while sleeping on the back can help maintain the natural curve of the spine and alleviate back pain.

  • Snoring and Sleep Apnea: Obstructive sleep apnea, often accompanied by snoring, causes breathing pauses during sleep due to airway obstruction. Sleeping on your side, stomach, or on your back with the head of bed raised can help keep the airway open, reducing snoring and apnea symptoms.

  • Reflux and Heartburn: Sleeping flat on your back can exacerbate heartburn, especially for those with Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or heartburn during pregnancy. Switching to the side, in particular the left side, can help alleviate heartburn symptoms.

Here are some common sleeping position no-no’s 

  • Stomach Sleeping for those with neck and back pain: Sleeping on your stomach is generally considered the worst sleeping position due to the strain it places on the spine and neck. The unnatural twisting of the neck to maintain an open airway can lead to neck pain and stiffness. Additionally, the pressure on the lower back can exacerbate back pain and discomfort.
  • Excessive neck flexion: While adequate head and neck support is essential for good sleep posture, poor positioning on too many pillows can cause the neck to bend excessively, leading to snoring, sleep apnea, neck pain, and stiffness. The goal is to maintain a neutral spine position.
  • Sleeping on a Sagging Mattress: A mattress that is too soft or has lost its support can contribute to poor sleep posture. A sagging mattress can lead to neck flexion and spine misalignment, leading to snoring, apnea, neck pain, and back pain.