The average person spends about one-third of their life sleeping — so one’s sleeping position really does matter. “Eighty percent of the population will have back problems at some point in [their] lives oftentimes caused or aggravated by the way they sleep,” Dr. Hooman Melamed, an orthopedic spine surgeon, told Medical Daily.
So, what’s the best position for sleep? The short answer: It depends. Experts all agree that sleeping on one’s stomach is not ideal because that position does not support the natural curve of the spine. But there are benefits and drawbacks to sleeping on one’s back, left side and right side.
The National Sleep Foundation says that the best sleep position is on one’s back. “Sleeping on one’s back allows the head, neck, and spine to rest in a neutral position,” their website explains. “This means that there’s no extra pressure on those areas, so people are less likely to experience pain. Sleeping facing the ceiling also ideal for warding off acid reflux.”
However, the Foundation reports that only 8 percent of people sleep on their backs. Furthermore, sleeping on one’s back is not recommended if people snore or have sleep apnea.
The American Pregnancy Association recommends that pregnant women sleep on their side. According to their website, “sleeping on one’s left side will increase the amount of blood and nutrients that reach the placenta and the baby.”
If people struggle to sleep on their side, the organization recommends keeping their knees bent and putting a pillow between their legs, or using a pillow under their abdomen to alleviate back pain. WebMD notes that sleeping on one’s left side when pregnant can prevent the uterus from pressing against the liver.
According to Medical Daily, “Sleeping on the right side can worsen heartburn. However, sleeping on the left side can put a strain on internal organs like the liver, lungs, and stomach, but also while reducing acid reflux.”
Research shows that sleeping on your left side can ease heartburn… but experts aren’t totally sure why. “One hypothesis holds that right-side sleeping relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, between the stomach and the esophagus,” a New York Times column explains. “Another holds that left-side sleeping keeps the junction between stomach and esophagus above the level of gastric acid.”
If you’re a side sleeper, you should make sure your spine is supported while you sleep. Other than that, just figure out which side is most comfortable for you to sleep on, and go from there.
[Editor’s Note: The information provided should not be considered a substitute for professional advice. Please consult a sleep doctor or other medical expert if you have questions related to your own health.]
Featured image: Mangostar/Shutterstock
Joe Auer is the editor of Mattress Clarity. He mainly focuses on mattress reviews and oversees the content across the site.
He likes things simple and take a straightforward, objective approach to his reviews. Joe has personally tested nearly 250 mattresses and always recommends people do their research before buying a new bed. He has been testing mattresses for over 5 years now, so he knows a thing or two when it comes to mattress selection. He has been cited as an authority in the industry by a number of large publications.
Joe has an undergraduate degree from Wake Forest University and an MBA from Columbia University.