The Best Sleeping Positions for a Good Night of Sleep: Recommended by Experts

Jun 13, 2024
Fact Checked
Sleep experts weigh in on the ideal sleep position for getting quality rest, which can vary depending on your needs.
Written by: Steph Coelho
Medically Reviewed by: Suzanne Gorovoy, PhD

Best Sleeping Positions: Key Takeaways

Quality sleep is a key component of overall health and wellness. Without adequate rest, most people feel tired and are less able to handle daily stresses. Chronic sleep issues can also impact our long-term health and increase our risk for diseases, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes [1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sleep and Sleep Disorders. Sept. 7, 2022. Found on the internet at https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/index.html .

Many factors affect how well we sleep, including anxiety, health conditions, medications, chronic pain, and sleep disorders. Sleep position may also play a role in how well you sleep. For instance, sleeping on your back can worsen symptoms [2] Ravesloot MJL, et al. The Undervalued Potential of Positional Therapy in Position-Dependent Snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnea – A Review of the Literature. Sleep and Breathing. March 24, 2012. Found on the internet at https://link.springer.com/art of sleep apnea or potentially leave you with back stiffness if your spine isn’t well-supported [3] Cary D, et al. Identifying Relationships Between Sleep Posture and Non-Specific Spinal Symptoms in Adults: A Scoping Review. BMJ Open. April 10, 2018. Found on the internet at https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/9/6/e027633 . A healthy sleep position promotes proper spinal alignment and supports restorative sleep [4] Zhang Y, et al. The Relationship Between Sleeping Position and Sleep Quality: A Flexible Sensor-Based Study. Sensors. Aug. 22, 2022. Found on the internet at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9416198 .

While there’s no one best way to sleep, different positions may help with different issues.

What is the best sleeping position?

The four sleeping positions are: supine (back), prone (stomach), left lateral side, and right lateral side.

According to Chester Wu, MD, a psychiatrist and sleep expert, one of the best sleep positions is side-sleeping. “This position is ideal as it helps maintain proper spine alignment, reduces snoring and sleep apnea symptoms, and is beneficial for digestion and heart health,” said Wu.

Research has shown that it’s also the most popular sleep position. One study analyzed the time participants spent in different sleeping positions and found that they slept on their side 54.1% of the time spent in bed [5] Zhang Y, et al. The Relationship Between SleepinSkarpsno ES, et al. Sleep Positions and g Position and Sleep Quality: A Flexible Sensor-Based Study. Sensors. Aug. 22, 2022. Found on the internet at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9416198 . Our Reviews Team also got the same result from a survey of 600, with almost 50% of respondents saying they prefer to sleep on their side. For other positions, 13.67% of people said they preferred their stomach, and 17.33% preferred their back [6] NCOA Adviser Mattress Survey. 600 respondents. Conducted using Pollfish. Launched January 2024. .

But while side sleeping might be popular and suitable for helping with different health concerns, your ideal sleeping position varies depending on your preferences. 

“Sleep is a very personal behavior,” said Joseph M. Dzierzewski, PhD, vice president of research and scientific affairs at the National Sleep Foundation. “The optimal sleep position for one person may be very similar or dissimilar to the optimal sleep position of another person.”

According to Wu, factors that can influence your sleeping position include:

Ultimately, personal preference and comfort play a major role in the sleep position you choose—and your preferred sleep position may shift over time. 

Sleeping on your side

Research has shown that side sleeping is one of the most common sleep positions [5] Skarpsno ES, et al. Sleep Positions and Nocturnal Body Movements Based on Free-Living Accelerometer Recordings: Association With Demographics, Lifestyle, and Insomnia Symptoms. Nature and Science of Sleep. Nov. 1, 2017. Found on the internet at https . This position also has many benefits, including helping with sleep apnea symptoms. But while side sleeping may help with sleep apnea by preventing the airway from collapsing, it isn’t a treatment [7] National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Sleep Apnea Treatment. Sept. 6, 2023. Found on the internet at https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep-apnea/treatment . Depending on the severity of your condition, you may benefit from a breathing device, such as a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine or oral appliance that repositions your jaw or tongue to open your airway. 

Results of a study involving participants with obstructive sleep apnea suggested that those who slept on their right side had fewer respiratory problems throughout the night than those who slept on their left side. According to research, sleeping on your right side may be better for you if breathing is an issue [8] Ozeke O, et al. Influence of the Right- Versus Left-Sided Sleeping Position on the Apnea-Hypopnea Index in Patients With Sleep Apnea. Sleep & Breathing. June 16, 2011. Found on the internet at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21678115

But side sleeping isn’t just beneficial for sleep apnea. Sleeping on your side may also help prevent pain and stiffness in the morning. Research on the relationship between sleep posture and spinal symptoms in adults indicated that side sleeping may help protect against spinal symptoms, such as back pain [3] Cary D, et al. Identifying Relationships Between Sleep Posture and Non-Specific Spinal Symptoms in Adults: A Scoping Review. BMJ Open. April 10, 2018. Found on the internet at https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/9/6/e027633

Wu suggested that if you have back pain and prefer sleeping on your side, you may find it helpful to sleep with a pillow between your knees, which can help with spinal alignment.

Side sleeping may also help with gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) symptoms, such as heartburn and regurgitation. One study found that those who slept on their left side with the head of the bed elevated had reduced episodes of GERD [9] Person E, et al. A Novel Sleep Positioning Device Reduces Gastroesophageal Reflux: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology. September 2015. Found on the internet at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26053170 . A pillow or an adjustable bed can also help elevate your head at night and may limit reflux symptoms. 

While there are benefits of side sleeping, your shoulders and hips are pressure points, so if you don’t have a mattress that helps ease pressure, you might find them sore in the morning, especially the shoulder. Side sleeping can also impact the appearance of your skin. According to research, the compression and stress from your face lying on a pillow can lead to sleep wrinkles [10] Anson G, et al. Sleep wrinkles: Facial Aging and Facial Distortion During Sleep. Aesthetic Surgery Journal. June 21, 2016. Found on the internet at https://academic.oup.com/asj/article/36/8/931/2613967 .

Pros and cons

Pros

Cons

Sleeping on your back

Second in popularity to side sleeping, back sleeping can help support proper spinal alignment [5] Skarpsno ES, et al. Sleep Positions and Nocturnal Body Movements Based on Free-Living Accelerometer Recordings: Association With Demographics, Lifestyle, and Insomnia Symptoms. Nature and Science of Sleep. Nov. 1, 2017. Found on the internet at https and may be the most comfortable way to sleep for those with back pain, noted Dzierzewski. 

According to a 2021 review, a medium-firm mattress is ideal for people who sleep on their back [11] Caggiari G, et al. What Type of Mattress Should Be Chosen to Avoid Back Pain and Improve Sleep Quality? Review of the Literature. Journal of Orthapaedics and Traumatology. Dec. 8, 2021. Found on the internet at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/348785 . Research also shows that sleeping on your back may prevent neck and shoulder pain, but you may need the help of a supportive neck pillow to elevate your head [12] Lee W, et al. Effect of Sleep Posture on Neck Muscle Activity. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. June 7, 2017. Found on the internet at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5468189 . Wu said back sleeping also helps support natural spinal alignment, which may help prevent back pain. 

On the downside, sleeping on your back can worsen sleep apnea symptoms. “The position allows gravity to pull the tongue and soft tissues in the throat backward, potentially blocking the airway,” Wu said. “This blockage can lead to increased snoring and interrupted breathing.”

Sleeping on your back can also increase heartburn episodes at night. Studies have shown that people with chronic GERD are more likely to experience prolonged symptoms while sleeping on their backs compared to other sleep positions [13] Portale G, et al. When Are Reflux Episodes Symptomatic? Diseases of the Esophagus. February 2007. Found on the internet at https://academic.oup.com/dote/article/20/1/47/2374386 . One study also found that sleeping on the left side helped symptoms clear up faster [14] Brett AS. Gastroesophageal Reflux and Body Position During Sleep. NEJM Journal Watch. Feb. 22, 2022. Found on the internet at https://www.jwatch.org/na54649/2022/02/22/gastroesophageal-reflux-and-body-position-during-sleep .

Pros and cons

Pros

Cons

Sleeping on your stomach

Stomach sleeping has few health benefits. “It’s only really recommended if that’s the only position you can sleep in,” Wu said. Sleeping on your stomach comes with several drawbacks. Because this sleeping position requires you to twist your neck to breathe at night, your spine can get pushed out of alignment, leading to or worsening chronic back pain issues. Stomach sleeping can increase the load on spinal tissue, hampering recovery and potentially creating spinal issues [3] Cary D, et al. Identifying Relationships Between Sleep Posture and Non-Specific Spinal Symptoms in Adults: A Scoping Review. BMJ Open. April 10, 2018. Found on the internet at https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/9/6/e027633 . If you’re a stomach sleeper, you’ll typically want a firmer mattress to help elevate your hips and keep everything in alignment. 

But stomach sleeping is not without its benefits. Sleeping on your stomach can help minimize symptoms if you have sleep apnea. Research shows this position can reduce hypopnea (restricted breathing) and apnea (stopped breathing) episodes and improve oxygen levels in the blood [15] Bidarian-Moniri A, et al. The Effect of the Prone Sleeping Position on Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Acta Oto-Laryngologica. Nov. 11, 2014. Found on the internet at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25384381 . Sleeping on your stomach can also help with position-dependent snoring [2] Ravesloot MJL, et al. The Undervalued Potential of Positional Therapy in Position-Dependent Snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnea – A Review of the Literature. Sleep and Breathing. March 17, 2013. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22441662

Getting restful sleep is important, and stomach sleeping may be the best choice for you if it helps you do so. 

Pros and cons

Pros

Cons

Best sleeping position for back pain

Back and side sleeping can both potentially help with back pain. Side sleeping may protect your spine from pain and discomfort at night since you’re not putting pressure on the lumbar region [3] Cary D, et al. Identifying Relationships Between Sleep Posture and Non-Specific Spinal Symptoms in Adults: A Scoping Review. BMJ Open. April 10, 2018. Found on the internet at https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/9/6/e027633 . On the other hand, back sleeping can help with lower back pain because your spine stays in a neutral position and your weight is distributed. 

Your mattress can also impact your sleep. Studies show that medium-firm mattresses can help with daytime low-back pain and fewer pain episodes when lying in bed or awakening [16] Kovacs FM. Effect of Firmness of Mattress on Chronic Non-Specific Low-Back Pain: Randomised, Double-Blind, Controlled, Multicentre Trial. Lancet. Nov. 15, 2003. Found on the internet at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14630439 [11] Caggiari G, et al. What Type of Mattress Should Be Chosen to Avoid Back Pain and Improve Sleep Quality? Review of the Literature. Journal of Orthopaedics and Traumatology. Dec. 22, 2021. Found on the internet at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/arti .

A supportive pillow can also significantly affect your sleep quality and prevent back pain. Using a soft pillow or rolled-up towel tucked under your knees while sleeping may help with spine alignment.

You can also consider one of the best mattresses for back pain, which may be able to ease pain.

Best sleeping position if you are pregnant

The best sleeping position during pregnancy is typically on the side [17] Warland J. Giving Sleep Position Advice in Pregnancy: Will We Make Women Anxious? Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. August 2022. Found on the internet at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9544284 . Experts have historically claimed that sleeping on the side (specifically the left side) may help lower the risk of stillbirthe. One study suggested sleeping on either the left or right side may reduce the chances of a late stillbirth by 5.8% for women who are more than 28 weeks pregnant [18] Cronin RS, et al. An Individual Participant Data Meta-Analysis of Maternal Going-to-Sleep Position, Interactions With Fetal Vulnerability, and the Risk of Late Stillbirth. eClinicalMedicine. April 2, 2019. Found on the internet at https://pubmed.ncbi . Other evidence points to the benefits of left-side sleeping for improving blood circulation to the heart, said Wu. But more recent updates to the science claim that women should sleep in the position most comfortable to them during early and mid-pregnancy [19] Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Science Update: Sleeping Position During Early and Mid-Pregnancy Does Not Affect Risk of Complications, NIH-Funded Study Suggests. Sept. 20, 2019. Found on the internet .

When side-sleeping, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends keeping one or both knees bent for back support [20] The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Back Pain During Pregnancy. December 2021. Found on the internet at https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/back-pain-during-pregnancy . For additional support, a pillow between the knees and under the belly or a full-body pillow may also help.

Sleeping on your stomach is fine during the earlier stages of pregnancy, but as your belly grows, it can be near-impossible to continue comfortably sleeping in this position.

Additionally, back sleeping may not be ideal as it may pose health risks later in the pregnancy. Some research suggests that sleeping on your back during the third trimester may lead to lower infant birth weight [21] Anderson NH, et al. Association of Supine Going-to-Sleep Position in Late Pregnancy With Reduced Birth Weight: A Secondary Analysis of an Individual Participant Data Meta-Analysis. Obstetrics and Gynecology. Oct. 2, 2019. Found on the internet at htt , so side sleeping is the preferred position during the later stages of the pregnancy [22] NSW Government. Maternal Sleep Position in Late Pregnancy: Information for Maternity Clinicians. Oct. 11, 2019. Found on the internet at https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/kidsfamilies/MCFhealth/maternity/Pages/side-sleeping-clinicians.aspx

Best sleeping position for couples

While there’s no best sleeping position for couples, sharing a bed with a partner can impact how you sleep, including your sleep position. According to a survey, spooning is among the most popular sleeping positions for couples [23] Junker I, et al. Sleep Positions of Couples at Sleep Onset: A Questionnaire Study. International Journal of Dream Research. October 2016. https://journals.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/index.php/IJoDR/article/view/32590 , but some other sleep positions for couples include back-to-back, front-to-front, and intertwined [24] Sloan E and McBride A. 16 Sleeping Positions for Couples and What They Mean, According to Sleep and Body-Language Experts. Well & Good. March 11, 2024. Found on the internet at https://www.wellandgood.com/couple-sleeping-positions-and-what-they-mean

Although sleep positions vary from couple to couple, a survey conducted by the American Academy of Sleep Science found that more than one-third of people are opting for a “sleep divorce,” which means couples are prioritizing sleep, so one person in the relationship may be sleeping in a separate room. 

Couples who do sleep together may want to consider their position based on several factors:

Bottom line

Sleep habits are highly personal, and the same goes for your ideal sleep position. A side sleeping position has many advantages and fewer drawbacks than a stomach or back position. Ultimately, the position that helps you fall asleep, stay asleep, and get quality rest is the best one for you.

What works for you sleep-wise might not work for someone else, and your go-to sleep position can change throughout your lifespan. You might sleep differently with a partner than alone, and you may need to adjust your positioning during pregnancy or if you develop a health condition, like sleep apnea, or experience chronic pain. 

If you’re worried about your sleep quality and haven’t had luck with a side sleeping position, consider consulting your primary health care provider. They may refer you to a sleep specialist who can help diagnose and treat sleep disorders.

Frequently asked questions

According to experts, side sleeping offers the most health benefits. It’s often the most comfortable way to sleep for many people, including pregnant women, and was the most popular position in multiple surveys. Sleeping on your side can also help reduce snoring, sleep apnea, and acid reflux episodes.

Back and side sleeping can both help promote proper spinal alignment. In both cases, a supportive mattress is key. If you’re a side sleeper, putting a pillow between your knees may help your spine maintain alignment.

While research is limited, some evidence suggests that left-side sleeping may be better for people with acid reflux and pregnant women. But sleeping on your right side may be better if you struggle with respiratory issues, like sleep apnea.

Have questions about this review? Email us at reviewsteam@ncoa.org.

Sources

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sleep and Sleep Disorders. Sept. 7, 2022. Found on the internet at https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/index.html
  1. Ravesloot MJL, et al.  The Undervalued Potential of Positional Therapy in Position-Dependent Snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnea – A Review of the Literature. Sleep and Breathing. March 24, 2012. Found on the internet at https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11325-012-0683-5
  2. Cary D, et al. Identifying Relationships Between Sleep Posture and Non-Specific Spinal Symptoms in Adults: A Scoping Review. BMJ Open. April 10, 2018. Found on the internet at https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/9/6/e027633
  3. Zhang Y, et al. The Relationship Between Sleeping Position and Sleep Quality: A Flexible Sensor-Based Study. Sensors. Aug. 22, 2022. Found on the internet at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9416198
  4. Skarpsno ES, et al. Sleep Positions and Nocturnal Body Movements Based on Free-Living Accelerometer Recordings: Association With Demographics, Lifestyle, and Insomnia Symptoms. Nature and Science of Sleep. Nov. 1, 2017. Found on the internet at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29138608
  5. NCOA Adviser Mattress Survey. 600 respondents. Conducted using Pollfish. Launched January 2024
  6. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Sleep Apnea Treatment. Sept. 6, 2023. Found on the internet at https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep-apnea/treatment
  7. Ozeke O, et al. Influence of the Right- Versus Left-Sided Sleeping Position on the Apnea-Hypopnea Index in Patients With Sleep Apnea. Sleep & Breathing. June 16, 2011. Found on the internet at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21678115
  8. Person E, et al. A Novel Sleep Positioning Device Reduces Gastroesophageal Reflux: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology. September 2015. Found on the internet at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26053170
  9. Anson G, et al. Sleep wrinkles: Facial Aging and Facial Distortion During Sleep. Aesthetic Surgery Journal. June 21, 2016. Found on the internet at https://academic.oup.com/asj/article/36/8/931/2613967
  10. Caggiari G, et al. What Type of Mattress Should Be Chosen to Avoid Back Pain and Improve Sleep Quality? Review of the Literature. Journal of Orthopaedics and Traumatology. Dec. 22, 2021. Found on the internet at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8655046
  11. Lee W, et al. Effect of Sleep Posture on Neck Muscle Activity. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. June 7, 2017. Found on the internet at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5468189
  12. Portale G, et al. When Are Reflux Episodes Symptomatic? Diseases of the Esophagus. February 2007. Found on the internet at  https://academic.oup.com/dote/article/20/1/47/2374386
  13. Brett AS. Gastroesophageal Reflux and Body Position During Sleep. NEJM Journal Watch. Feb. 22, 2022. Found on the internet at https://www.jwatch.org/na54649/2022/02/22/gastroesophageal-reflux-and-body-position-during-sleep
  14. Bidarian-Moniri A, et al. The Effect of the Prone Sleeping Position on Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Acta Oto-Laryngologica. Nov. 11, 2014. Found on the internet at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25384381
  15. Kovacs FM. Effect of Firmness of Mattress on Chronic Non-Specific Low-Back Pain: Randomised, Double-Blind, Controlled, Multicentre Trial. Lancet. Nov. 15, 2003. Found on the internet at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14630439
  16. Warland J. Giving Sleep Position Advice in Pregnancy: Will We Make Women Anxious?
    Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. August 2022. Found on the internet at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9544284
  17. Cronin RS, et al. An Individual Participant Data Meta-Analysis of Maternal Going-to-Sleep Position, Interactions With Fetal Vulnerability, and the Risk of Late Stillbirth. eClinicalMedicine. April 2, 2019. Found on the internet at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31193832
  18. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Science Update: Sleeping Position During Early and Mid-Pregnancy Does Not Affect Risk of Complications, NIH-Funded Study Suggests. Sept. 20, 2019. Found on the internet at https://www.nichd.nih.gov/newsroom/news/092019-pregnancy-sleep-position
  19. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Back Pain During Pregnancy. December 2021. Found on the internet at https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/back-pain-during-pregnancy
  20. Anderson NH, et al. Association of Supine Going-to-Sleep Position in Late Pregnancy With Reduced Birth Weight: A Secondary Analysis of an Individual Participant Data Meta-Analysis. Obstetrics and Gynecology. Oct. 2, 2019. Found on the internet at https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2752091
  21. NSW Government. Maternal Sleep Position in Late Pregnancy: Information for Maternity Clinicians. Oct. 11, 2019. Found on the internet at https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/kidsfamilies/MCFhealth/maternity/Pages/side-sleeping-clinicians.aspx
  22. Junker I, et al. Sleep Positions of Couples at Sleep Onset: A Questionnaire Study. International Journal of Dream Research. October 2016. https://journals.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/index.php/IJoDR/article/view/32590
  23. Sloan E and McBride A. 16 Sleeping Positions for Couples and What They Mean, According to Sleep and Body-Language Experts. Well & Good. March 11, 2024. Found on the internet at https://www.wellandgood.com/couple-sleeping-positions-and-what-they-mean
  24. Danoff-Burg S, et al. Sleeping in an Inclined Position to Reduce Snoring and Improve Sleep: In-home Product Intervention Study. JMIR Formative Research. April 6, 2022. Found on the internet at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9021938
Steph Coelho Headshot
Steph Coelho Author
Steph Coelho is a freelance writer and journalist with a particular interest in health and wellness. She is determined to write about health and wellness in an inclusive way and seeks to critically examine our society’s concept of “health.”
Suzanne Gorovoy Medical Reviewer
Suzanne Gorovoy is a clinical psychologist, behavioral sleep medicine specialist, and member of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. She received her graduate degree in School Psychology from Teachers College at Columbia University, her PhD in Clinical Psychology from Case Western Reserve University, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Behavioral Sleep Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine.
Susan Stiles
Susan Stiles Reviewer
Susan Stiles, PhD, provides leadership in the design and development of consumer products that inspire, educate, and activate older adults. She’s been instrumental in bringing the Aging Mastery Program® to market and scaling it nationwide via strategic alliances and business partnerships. Stiles has 20+ years of experience in design thinking, multimedia, strategic communications, and management consulting.
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