Our bed is our safe space. It’s where we lay our head after a long, draining day and are able to rest and recharge before waking up and tackling another. You’d think that as long as you clock in the recommended seven-plus hours of sleep a night you’re in the clear, right? Unfortunately, that might not be the case.
According to leading sleep experts, even if you power down your blue light devices, drink your sleepy-girl mocktail, and wear your coziest pajamas, the position that you’re sleeping in may actually be bad for you. However, there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer about the best sleeping position. “The suitability of sleep positions, whether they are considered the best or worst, can vary from person to person based on individual factors and health considerations,” says Sanam Hafeez, MD, a neuropsychologist and director of Comprehend the Mind, a psychology practice in New York City.
To set the record straight, we tapped top doctors and sleep researchers to share their findings. Read on to identify the sleep position that’s right for you.
What are the best positions to sleep in?
Dr. Hafeez names the back, side, stomach, and fetal position among the best ways to sleep. “The back is recommended because it can help maintain a neutral spinal alignment, reducing the risk of developing back and neck pain,” she says. Devin Burke, the founder of Sleep Science Academy and PranaSleep ambassador agrees, adding that the best way to sleep on your back is with your head at a slight elevation “as it adds additional support at the curve in your spine.” He says that elevating your can help reduce pressure points as well.
If you struggle with acid reflux, snoring, or sleep apnea, though, sleeping on your back is not recommended. “Side sleeping is best for those who have sleep apnea, as this position prevents the tongue from blocking the windpipe,” Burke explains. “It’s also beneficial for those with acid reflux since it can prevent stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus,” adds Dr. Hafeez.
Abhinav Singh, MD, medical review expert at Sleep Foundation and medical director of the Indiana Sleep Center, further explains that the left side in particular can be best for people with such issues and adds that it can be “anatomically suited for reducing symptoms.” He also points out that during pregnancy, sleeping on your side can be the most comfortable choice. It can help to optimize blood flow too, adds Burke.
What are the worst positions to sleep in?
If you sleep with your arm under your head or pillow, Burke says, you’re sleeping in the worst possible position. “Having an arm under the pillow reduces blood flow and puts pressure on your nerves, leading to pins and needle sensations,” he explains. He says that it’s not uncommon for stomach and side sleepers to have more “neck pain and back pain because this position makes it challenging to maintain a neutral spine.” Dr. Hafeez says that sleeping with your arms overhead is bad too because it can “compress nerves and blood vessels in the shoulder region, potentially leading to numbness, tingling, and discomfort. It can also cause strain on the shoulders and neck.”