Sleep Style Optimization

Sleep Style Optimization: The Best and Worst Sleep Positions

We all know a sleep-splayer, that long-limbed snoozer who dozes off in the most stretched-out position possible. How about a sleep-scruncher? You’ll find him curled up on his side, hands and knees pulled to his chest. Or maybe you married a log—she sleeps straight up and down with her arms at her sides.

Sleep styles are practically limitless—but believe it or not, there is a right and a wrong way to do it. Read on to see how your sleep style stacks up, and try our tips for sleep-style optimization.

Back Sleeper

Back sleep helps keep the spine in a neutral position, which can be good for preventing back pain. To make the most of this position, sleep with a pillow or rolled up towel under your knees—this trick accommodates the natural curve of the spine and reduces pressure on the lower back.

However, if you suffer from heartburn, snoring or labored breathing, lying flat on your back could be a problem. When it comes to heart burn (caused by acid from the stomach moving its way to the esophagus), a slightly propped position is a best. Try laying a few thick pillows behind your head or using a structured pillow with arms to prop yourself up. Snoring and difficulty breathing happen when the airway becomes blocked—again, a slightly elevated torso can help.

Stomach Sleeper

You’ve probably heard it before, but stomach sleep is one of the least-recommended sleep positions. So why the bad rap? Experts say the reason is three-fold: it disrupts breathing, puts pressure on the lower back and pushes the head too far to either side, resulting in neck and shoulder pain.

So what can a stomach sleeper do? To simulate the position and prevent yourself from rolling over onto your stomach, try lying on your side with a body pillow in front of you. Eventually you should be able to remove the pillow and sleep comfortably on your side without it.

If you still can’t get used to side sleep, or if you experience pain on your hips and shoulders, a different style of mattress may help. Memory foam and latex are designed to cradle pressure points (hips, shoulders, knees) and make side sleep more enjoyable—look for thick, soft layers of it in the top sections of a mattress.

Not interested in abandoning stomach sleep just yet? Optimize this position by placing a pillow under the pelvis—this trick helps keep the spine in alignment and reduces stress on the lower back.

Side Sleeper

Lucky for you, your preferred sleep position is both the most popular and most recommended. It leaves the breathing pathway free and helps the spine remain in a neutral position. For best results, curl your knees slightly to your chest, and place a pillow between your knees to reduce pressure on the hips.

While many love this position (close to two-thirds of the US population are side sleepers), others avoid it due to painful pressure on the hips and shoulders. If that’s the case for you, your sleep surface may be too firm or unresponsive to feel the benefits.

Left-Side Sleeper

Interestingly, left-side sleep is even better for you than right-side. According to experts, right-side sleep puts more pressure on the cardiovascular system (housed on the right side of the body), which may cause reduced blood circulation and strain on your lungs.

All-Over Sleeper

This may seem like the best option of all: a sleeper who can snooze in any position.

But frequent moves during the night may be a sign of mini-wakes, caused by sound disruptions, uncomfortable room temperature, partner movement or pressure-point buildup (as one sleep position becomes uncomfortable, you wake for a few seconds to find a better one).

If you move so much throughout the night that you can’t predict which position you’ll wake up in, it may be a sign your mattress isn’t supportive enough for you, either due to aged-related breakdown or a mismatched design for your body and sleep style.

If your wakes are due to sleep partner movement, memory foam should absorb their movement so it’s not noticeable to you.

No-Pillow Sleeper

If you prefer to sleep without a pillow, you may be depriving yourself of key head, neck and shoulder support. If your no-pillow preference is due to stomach sleep, either transition away from this position or choose a thinner pillow.

If your pillow tends to cause you neck pain, it may be too high or low for your sleep style. Side sleepers need a pillow that’s just thick enough to bridge the gap between head and shoulders, and back sleepers need one that cradles the neck and doesn’t push the head too far forward. If you’re an all-over sleeper, make sure your chosen pillow can accommodate all positions comfortably. The ideal pillow is one that keeps your ears, shoulders and chest aligned throughout the night.