The best sleep position.

I get about 5-10 email, text or Facebook  messages a month from family or close friends requesting information or tips about relieving back pain. One recent message inspired this post. People with low back and neck pain often complain that their pain is worse at night  robbing them of a restful night sleep or they generally wake up stiff and sore. Today, I’m sharing the three main sleeping positions and tips to help reduce back pain.

1. Align your spine: Of the three positions, side sleeping is the most common, especially with the knees slightly bent. While this position is considered “good” because it compliments the natural posture of the spine, it can also be very uncomfortable if you suffer from low back, hip or knee pain. It may, in addition, contribute to neck and shoulder discomfort, facial wrinkles and sagging breast tissue (who knew :) ). There are a few adjustments that can be made to help reduce or alleviate pain.

side sleep positionThe adjustment: Place a pillow between your knees to reduce stress and pressure on your hips and lower back. Also it’s important to use the correct pillow that properly supports your head and neck, allowing your head to remain in a neutral position (not too high, not too low). Sorry, no adjustments for wrinkles or sagging.

**High blood pressure? Try sleeping on the left side. Prone to kidney stones on one side? side-sleep on the opposite side.

I grew up sleeping on my stomach. It just always felt like a more secure and comfortable position to sleep in. As a child, I remember having terrible nightmares every time I slept on my back. It wasn’t until I was in my mid twenties that I made the switch to back sleeping and it wasn’t an easy task. Today, I am physically unable to sleep on my stomach because it’s so uncomfortable for me.

2. Flat on your back: So like a lot of people, I became a back sleeper. Sleeping flat on your back is also a good position for maintaining spinal alignment. It minimizes the risk of neck and low back pain if properly supported. But if you’re a snorer, this position can make snoring much worse (not good for your partner 😉 ). It may also induce episodes of sleep apnea (a life-threatening sleep disorder that causes brief episodes of breathlessness) and back pain for those who already have those conditions.

back sleep position

The adjustment: Placing a pillow or rolled up towel under your knees may facilitate the natural spinal curvature and alleviate low back pain. To reduce snoring, try to avoid this position.

3. Squeeze and strain: You guessed it! Stomach sleeping is actually not recommended at all. Sorry guys. This position causes the most strain to your back and neck. Your head is turned to one side, most likely propped up on a pillow and in a hyper-flexed position. This puts pressure on the nerves in your neck and arms often causing pins and needles. Your body weight also compresses (squeezes) your breast tissue and increases facial wrinkles.

The adjustment: Find a different position :) If not, Get rid of the neck pillow all together and exchange it for a body pillow. Try slightly raising the whole side of your body on the pillow for support.

So what’s the best sleep position? Aside from stomach sleeping, it depends on your condition and your goal for preventing or reducing pain. The best sleep position is the one that allows you to have a restful night’s sleep without compromising your health. Of course, your mattress also plays an important role…but that’s another post.

And for good measure, pictured below is my daughter at 6 month old demonstrating the “Combination” position. Please do not try this at home :)

baby raim stomach side sleep

  •  In what position do you sleep?
  • Do you modify your position using any of the “adjustments”?
  • Are you a “combination” sleeper?
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34 thoughts on “The best sleep position.

  1. Joy

    Thanks for that information Hope. Sadly to say, I actually use all of those positions during the course of the night. I love back sleeping but, I can not seem to keep any position throughout the night. Mostly because I get too hot after being in one position for too long. So I start off on the back, then usually side to side, and finally the stomach. I’m thinking of ordering the chillow, it cools the body while sleeping

    1. Hope@DefiningHope Post author

      You’re a combination sleeper? lol. I need to look into that chillow. I love the name of it. Being cool and comfortable at night is so important to getting a good night’s rest.

    1. Hope@DefiningHope Post author

      So sorry your neck bothers you in that position. Maybe skipping the pillow all together and rolling a small towel to support the curve in your neck only might help. Eitherway, neck strain is a great topic for a post :)

  2. Michell

    Oh my word Hope! Is there any hope at all(no pun intended, really)! 😀 I mean really…wrinkles and sagging breast? What’s a girl to do? :-) I’m definitely the side sleeper(I unconsciously switch sides in the middle of the night). But after reading your post, I think I may have to go the way of the horses and sleep STANDING UP! Lol! 😀
    Michell recently posted…Doing YOU WELL Wednesday #42…and a Thanksgiving breakMy Profile

    1. Hope@DefiningHope Post author

      Kudos for making an attempt :) My body won’t allow me to stay on my side too long either…no matter how aligned my spine is. After a wile, my shoulders get still, but I gravitate to my back.

  3. Alison

    I used to be a combination sleeper, like your daughter, but since getting sciatica, it’s a no-no. So on my back I go, but it isn’t my default. Truth be told, I feel best lying on my side!

    1. Hope@DefiningHope Post author

      Ooo. Sciatica is no joke…especially when side sleeping. The position itself can stretch and irritate and already inflamed nerve. Did you try the pillow between the legs while sleeping on your side?

  4. Allie

    Of course I sleep on my stomach AND I’m a snorer!! I know it’s “not good” to sleep on my stomach but neither is sleeping in a separate bed from my husband!! When I was pregnant. I learned to sleep on my side with a pillow between my legs. My snoring was horrible but I think it was more about all the fluid then my sleep position. I guess I’ll try to go back to that. Thanks for the reminder!
    Allie recently posted…Allie’s Arms – The TrifectaMy Profile

    1. Hope@DefiningHope Post author

      Lol Allie!. My husband is a snorer AND a back sleeper. Although it’s not recommended, girl, I wake him up and tell him to roll on his stomach.lol. I’d rather that, than him sleeping in another room.

      You might actually enjoy the side sleep now that’s you’re not pregnant, it not, you’re a workout/fitness/health queen, I’m sure you’ll be ok :)

  5. Tamara

    I fall asleep on my right side, but I always wake up flat on my back and quite happy about it! Pregnancy was hard because at the end, you can’t sleep like that. Both times I had my babies, I blissfully went right back to my ways those very nights.
    Tamara recently posted…I Wish I Were Big.My Profile

  6. Kenya G. Johnson

    OMG to your daughter! Lol – I imagine what I’d feel like after a night/nap with that position. I move all night but start on my stomach end on my back. Flip left or right depending on what my husband does because I don’t like face to face.

  7. Joi @ Rx Fitness Lady

    I can’t believe you are just now posting this. It is incredibly helpful. I hope it goes viral!

    I’m a combination. I have hard time with sleep in general. When I have trouble, I turn on my stomach. It always ends up hurting my back after awhile. I go to sleep on the side and wake up mostly on my back. I get hot!

    Great tip on the snoring. I will pass that along!
    Joi @ Rx Fitness Lady recently posted…“Deer in Headlights” – NST Recap from A #ViExpertMy Profile

    1. Hope@DefiningHope Post author

      Thanks Joi. I have all kinds of useful information that I mostly share with patients and speaking engagements. I think sometimes I forget and just take it for granted until something specific reminds me to share on the blog.

      You are all over the place with your sleep. I hope this helps

  8. Carla

    LOL! I love the picture of your daughter. Babies can sleep in the strangest positions.

    I sleep on my side with a body pillow. Before I had a body pillow I used a pillow between my knees.

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