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Choosing the best sleep position for you: Back, stomach or side?

Do you wake up with a backache? Do others complain that you snore? Does heartburn give you fits at night? You might try simply changing the way you sleep. As it turns out, your sleep position has a lot to do with your sleep quality and overall well-being.

When you crawl under the covers and settle into your favorite position for the night, you probably don’t think much about it. We typically fall asleep in a way that feels natural to our bodies. But, what’s comfortable for you may not be the best for your overall health.

The most important thing? Focus on the alignment of your back.

“It is best to sleep in a position that maintains normal curves of the back,” said Kimberly English, MSN, RN, FNP, a nurse practitioner at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Temple.

Here are three common sleeping positions and their effect on your health and sleep quality.

Sleeping on your back

If you’re a back sleeper, there’s good news for you. This is the best position for keeping with the normal curves of your back. Lying flat on your back makes it easy for your head, neck and spine to maintain a neutral position. Even better: add a small pillow underneath your knees for added comfort.

“Use a pillow with a size and thickness that keeps the neck in a normal position,” Kimberly said.

Pros

  • Prevents back pain and sagging breasts
  • Fewer wrinkles on your face and neck
  • Fights acid reflux

Cons

  • More likely to snore or experience sleep apnea
  • Avoid back sleeping if you’re pregnant. This position can cause problems with backaches, breathing, the digestive system, hemorrhoids, low blood pressure and a decrease in circulation to your heart and your baby

Side sleepers

More than 60% of adults sleep on their side. If side sleeping is comfortable for you, align your spine by placing a pillow between your legs. Avoid crouching into a fetal position as this extreme curl strains your body.

Also, keep in mind that if you tuck your arm behind your pillow, you might wake up with a numb arm. Instead, use a thick pillow to fill the space above your head and neck.

Pros

  • Promotes healthy spinal alignment and causes less back pain
  • Side sleepers experience less snoring
  • It’s particularly beneficial if you are pregnant or suffer from sleep apnea or acid reflux

Cons

  • Shoulder pain or numbness
  • Poor circulation to other areas, like your arm or hip, if they are resting underneath your body
  • Impacts on your skin and your breasts, as your face is smashed against a pillow and your breast ligaments are stretching downward

Stomach position

Sleeping on your stomach can be bad for your neck and back. Over time, you can try to transition to a side sleep position, but if you can’t sleep any other way, use a pillow wisely.

Position the pillow under your pelvis and lower stomach. As for your head, use a thin pillow or not one at all. When you sleep on your stomach, it forces you to turn your head to one side and can strain your neck.

Pros

  • Less snoring

Cons

  • Strains your neck
  • Can cause back pain
  • Smashes breasts
  • Can impact skin

The best sleep position is the one that gives you proper spinal alignment from your hips all the way to your head. What that looks like for you depends on your personal health situation and comfort. A spine expert or chiropractor can help determine this for you.

No matter how you sleep, make sure you get enough of it. Kimberly recommends a regular sleep and wake schedule.

“Loss of sleep can lead to difficulty with memory, impaired performance, daytime drowsiness and mood changes,” she said.

Find a sleep specialist or back care near you.

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Choosing the best sleep position for you: Back, stomach or side?