Discover the best sleep positions for your body—and the one you may want to avoid.
Mindy Berry Walker
May 30, 2012
1 of 10Terry Doyle
Best sleep positions
More than 40% of Americans sleep less than they should, leaving us weary, bleary, and at greater risk for depression, weight gain, high blood pressure, and several chronic health conditions. But even if you are clocking the expert-recommended 7 to 8 hours a night, your time in bed may be messing with your health in unexpected ways. According to sleep experts, your preferred sleep position could be giving you back and neck pain, tummy troubles, even premature wrinkles.
Here, discover the best p.m. pose for your body—plus the one you may want to avoid—so you can score the refreshing snoozetime you deserve.
2 of 10Terry Doyle
The best: Back position
Good for: Preventing neck and back pain, reducing acid reflux, minimizing wrinkles, maintaining perky breasts Bad for: Snoring
The scoop: Sleeping on your back makes it easy for your head, neck, and spine to maintain a neutral position. You’re not forcing any extra curves into your back, says Steven Diamant, a chiropractor in New York City. It’s also ideal for fighting acid reflux, says Eric Olson, MD, a sleep medicine specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. "If the head is elevated, your stomach will be below your esophagus so acid or food can’t come back up."
Back-sleeping also helps prevent wrinkles, because nothing is pushing against your face, notes Dee Anna Glaser, MD, a professor of dermatology at Saint Louis University. And the weight of your breasts is fully supported, reducing sagginess.
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Back sleepers: Consider this
"Snoring is usually most frequent and severe when sleeping on the back," Dr. Olson says.
Perfect pillow: The best pillows for back sleepers are puffy, and their goal is to keep your head and neck supported without propping your head up too much. Try the Coop Home Goods Adjustable Shredded Memory Foam Pillow ($55; amazon.com), which is stuffed with shreds of memory foam so you can adjust the density.
4 of 10Terry Doyle
Next best: Side position
Good for: Preventing neck and back pain, reducing acid reflux, snoring less, sleeping during pregnancy Bad for: Your skin and your breasts
The scoop: Side-sleeping is great for overall health—it reduces snoring and keeps your spine elongated. If you suffer from acid reflux, this is the next best thing to sleeping on your back. The downside: "Sleeping on your side can cause you to get wrinkles," Dr. Glaser says. Blame all that smushing of one side of your face into the pillow.
This pose also contributes to breast sag, since your girls are dangling downward, stretching the ligaments, says Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, Health’s contributing medical editor.
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Side sleepers: Consider this
If you’re pregnant, sleep on your left side. It’s ideal for blood flow.
Perfect pillow: The best pillows for side sleepers are thick and firm, helping keep your spine in alignment as you snooze. "You need to fill the space above your shoulder so your head and neck are supported in a neutral position," says Ken Shannon, a physical therapist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Many sleep experts recommend side sleepers choose a pillow with a divot in the middle, such as the Tri-Core Cervical Pillow ($42; amazon.com).
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Not ideal: Fetal position
Good for: Snoring less, sleeping during pregnancy Bad for: Preventing neck and back pain, minimizing wrinkles, maintaining perky breasts
The scoop: When you snooze with your knees pulled up high and chin tucked into your chest, you may feel it in the morning, especially if you have an arthritic back or joints, Dr. Olson says.
"This curved position also restricts diaphragmatic breathing," adds Dody Chang, a licensed acupuncturist in Irvington, NY. And if you make this your nightly pose, you may bring on premature facial wrinkles and breast sag.
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Fetal-position sleepers: Consider this
Just straighten out a bit—try not to tuck your body into an extreme curl.
Perfect pillow: One plump pillow—the same as side position, to give your head and neck support. Try the Sleep Restoration Gel Pillow ($42; amazon.com).
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The worst: Stomach position
Good for: Easing snoring Bad for: Avoiding neck and back pain, minimizing wrinkles, maintaining perky breasts
The scoop: "Stomach-sleeping makes it difficult to maintain a neutral position with your spine," Shannon explains. It puts pressure on joints and muscles, which can irritate nerves and lead to pain, numbness, and tingling. "Think about the soreness you’d feel if you kept your neck turned to one side for 15 minutes during the day," Dr. Diamant explains.
In this position you have your head to one side for hours at a time. You won’t necessarily feel it the next day, but you may soon start to ache.
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Stomach sleepers: Consider this
Do you snore? "Stomach-sleeping may even be good for you," Dr. Olson says. Facedown keeps your upper airways more open. So if you snore and aren’t suffering from neck or back pain, it’s fine to try sleeping on your belly.
Think again. While you generally spend the most time in the position you fall asleep in, even those who barely have to make their beds in the morning move two to four times an hour, which may add up to 20 or more tosses and turns a night, says Eric Olson, MD, co-director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Sleep Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota. "That’s completely normal, and you’ll still go into deep REM sleep, the restorative kind," he says.