By adulthood, everyone has their go-to sleep position, whether it’s collapsing right onto the mattress on their stomach, curling up into fetal position, or sprawling out like a starfish. Because it’s habit, it might seem like the most comfortable; however, there’s a chance your sleep position isn’t doing you any favors in the sleep quality department.
In addition to a supportive mattress, your sleep position can affect how well you sleep, as well as your overall health. For example, a poor posture could trigger or exacerbate chronic pain, weaken blood circulation, or egg on heartburn or digestive issues, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). Before you blame your bed and invest in a new mattress, consider your sleep position.
Sleeping on your back
Sleeping on your back puts the spine in the most neutral position, so it’s the least damaging to your body—and thus the most recommended, according to NSF. This sleep position is the least likely to lead to back or neck pain, and it’s also less likely to trigger heartburn (a major sleep disruptor). Getting a new mattress that’s more firm and placing a pillow under your knees can also cut down on back pain while sleeping face-up.
A few exceptions: first of all, this sleep position can make snoring worse, and it can actually be dangerous for those with sleep apnea because it can cause the tongue to block the airway. Additionally, back sleeping is not recommended during pregnancy, as it causes the larger abdomen to put heavy pressure on a major vein, which can affect circulation.
Despite being the most recommended sleep position, it’s also the least common: apparently just 8 percent of sleepers use this snoozing posture on their mattress. One way to find sleeping on your back more comfortable is using a medium-firm pillow.
Sleeping in fetal position
Sleeping in fetal positionis the posture of choice for about 41 percent of adults, according to NSF. During pregnancy, sleeping in fetal position on the left side is ideal: it supports blood circulation (and keeps pressure off your liver on the right side of the body).
Snorers also benefit from the fetal position, thanks to gravity. When sleeping on the back, the back of the tongue can fall back into the airway and cause snoring; when sleeping curled up on the side, the tongue tends to fall forward—not blocking the back of the throat.
Sleeping on your side
Sleeping on your sidewith the legs mostly straight (not fetal position) is helpful for people who are prone to heartburn, are pregnant, or tend to snore. This sleep position may also be better for reducing joint pain than the tightly curled fetal position. Sleeping on the left side is best, especially for pregnant women and people with heartburn, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
If you want to switch to sleeping on your side—whether in fetal position or more straightened out—make sure you have the firmest pillow /possible to help support the neck and keep the spine aligned.
Sleeping on your stomach
Sleeping on the stomach is almost never recommended. Sure, it curbs snoring, but it is a major trigger for back pain, neck stiffness, and aching muscles. Still, 7 percent of sleepers choose to snooze on their stomachs. To make this sleep position less damaging, use the thinnest pillow possible—or no pillow at all.
If you tweak your sleep position and are still waking up tired or with back pain or body aches, it might be time to try a new bed with better support—or to talk with a doctor about your bedtime blues.