While getting the right amount of sleep is undeniably important, it’s not just the number of hours of shut-eye you get that count. How well you snooze is critical too. And your sleep position—fetal, on your back, or sprawled out with one leg hanging off the mattress—can have a big impact on the quality of your sleep.
There’s no single “perfect” sleeping position. Each sleep position might be ideal for certain people depending on their health issues and sleep preferences.
Here are the basics on the most common sleeping positions and their pros and their cons, according to Natalie Dautovich, PhD, from the National Sleep Foundation.
Supine sleep position: This sleep position (in which you lie flat on your back) keeps your back and neck straight in a neutral position. When you're on your back, your mattress supports the natural curve of the spine and your weight is evenly distributed. Some research shows sleeping on your back can reduce wrinkles since your face isn't pressed into a pillow! But sleeping on your back can make sleep apnea worse.
Side sleep position. Some benefits of side sleeping are that it can reduce or prevent snoring and alleviate sleep apnea and heartburn symptoms. Many pregnant women tend to sleep on their side for their comfort and because it helps with circulation. The drawback to sleeping on your side is the pressure it may put on the shoulder and arm to support your body. You might wake up to some tingling on your arm and shoulder in the morning because of this sleep position.
Prone sleep position: This position (in which you sleep on your stomach) can reduce the natural curve of the spine and may cause back pain for some people. People who sleep on their stomachs also rest on one side of their face for easier breathing, which may cause some neck pain. Sleeping on your stomach may help reduce snoring and other sleep apnea symptoms.
Of course, sharing a bed with a partner can introduce other sleeping positions or inhibit you from assuming your preferred sleep position. You can’t spoon in supine position, after all. (Here are tips for successfully sharing a bed with a partner and still getting a good night’s sleep.)
Whatever sleep position you snooze in, what’s important is that you wake rested and ready for the day. If you've always slept in the same sleep position for years and it works for you, let that sleeping dog lie. But if you recently began to notice some problems, you may want to try a new sleeping position. If that still doesn’t work, consider looking at different pillows, finding the right mattress, or discussing your sleep issues with a doctor.