Surprising Ways Your Sleep Position Affects Your Health

When settling in for a restful night’s sleep, you likely only consider the position most comfortable so you can doze off peacefully. Unless you’re the type of person who wakes up feeling stiff in the morning, you may not have ever wondered what different sleep positions might be doing to your body. Keep reading to learn the effects your sleep position may have on your body.

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The stomach sleeper 

According to a study conducted by the Nature & Science of Sleep, only about 7% of people are stomach sleepers, and for good reason. Sleeping on your stomach isn’t very good for your body and tends to lead to discomfort in the neck and back. According to the Sleep Foundation, sleeping on your stomach can negatively affect your spine, especially over time. This can be the worst sleeping position for lower back pain, especially if your mattress causes your hips to sink into the bed, putting strain on your lower spine.

According to Johns Hopkins, sleeping on your stomach has the potential to assist in opening up the airway, which may reduce snoring (assuming you stay in the same position all night propped up on a pillow, which is unlikely). Ultimately, straining the spine is probably not worth the possibility you’ll be less of a disturbance to housemates. 

  • May open the airway

  • Puts strain on your spine
  • Having to move your head to one side to breathe can strain your neck and further strain the spine
  • The pressure from the pillow can cause breakouts/wrinkles over time
  • Pregnant people should avoid sleeping on their stomachs (especially after the first trimester)

The back sleeper 

As many as 38% of people are back sleepers, according to the Nature & Science of Sleep. Sleeping on your back equally disperses your weight, lessening the pressure on your spine and neck. This can be ideal for some people with back pain, but not everyone.  According to the Sleep Foundation, whether sleeping on the back assists with back pain often depends on the person and their mattress. For example, if your mattress leaves a gap between your lower back and the mattress, this can lead to tension in your lower back.

Bonus tip: If you still find sleeping on your back the most comfortable despite lower back pain, the Sleep Foundation recommends putting a thin pillow under your lower back or a pillow under your knees to assist with this discomfort.

Also, it is worth noting that this position is not ideal for those who snore or have sleep apnea. According to the Sleep Foundation, if you have the sleep disorder obstructive sleep apnea, sleeping on your back is likely to make this issue worse. Sleeping on the back can also make heartburn worse. 

  • May help with back pain
  • The best position for neck pain
  • May help with nasal congestion (this works best when in a propped-up sleeping posture)
  • May prevent acne and wrinkles on your face

  • Likely to increase sleep apnea symptoms and snoring
  • Can put too much weight on the organs and circulatory system (especially in heavy adults and pregnant people)
  • Might aggravate heartburn
  • May cause lower back pain for some

The side sleeper 

According to the Nature & Science of Sleep, more than half of people (54%) are side sleepers. The rate of people who sleep on their side was shown to be more common with age and increased BMI (body mass index). Side sleeping is ideal for those with sleeping disorders such as sleep apnea and those with back or neck pain and is often recommended for pregnant people. Side sleeping is the ideal position for optimal airflow and blood flow.

  • Better for circulation
  • The best position for the neck and spine
  • Ideal position for reducing snoring and sleep apnea symptoms 

Benefits of sleeping on the left side, specifically: 
  • Beneficial for acid reflux
  • The best position for blood flow to the organs
  • The best position for pregnant people

  • Can cause breakouts/wrinkles over time
  • Can aggravate shoulder pain

Bonus tip: If you’re concerned about facial blemishes, consider bamboo pillowcases. According to the Sleep Foundation, bamboo pillowcases are a great choice for those who desire a soft pillowcase that will also reduce skin irritation and acne.

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The fetal position sleeper 

The fetal position (sleeping on your side with your knees bent toward your chest) is better for some but not always ideal. For example, a slight fetal position can be just as healthy as side sleeping. However, being curled up in a dramatic fetal position leaves the neck and spine in a curved position that can lead to strain and inhibit airflow.

For a healthy fetal position, you want to keep your head even on the pillow and your knees only out to about the height of your hips. Sleeping any further in this position may alleviate lower back pain but increases the chance of obstructed breathing. 

  • May relieve lower back pain for some
  • All the other benefits of side sleeping (when in a moderate fetal position)

  • Can put strain on the neck and back
  • May reduce airflow
  • May cause back pain in some
  • May aggravate shoulder pain 

What is the best position when sleeping? 

There’s not necessarily a one-size-fits-all when it comes to the ideal sleep position. However, compared to the other sleep positions, it’s difficult to beat the health benefits of side sleeping. Especially side sleeping on the left side, not too far into the fetal position. Side sleeping is the best position to sleep in for the majority of people as it is ideal for circulation, lessening snoring, and reducing the majority of neck and back pain.

For those who continue to struggle with shoulder and/or lower back pain when sleeping on their side, consider sleeping on your back or consulting a chiropractor for sleeping alternatives. 

What is the worst position to sleep in? 

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For the majority of adults without underlying conditions, sleeping on your stomach has the most potential to cause problems. According to the Mayo Clinic and other sources, while sleeping on your stomach may open up the airway, this position puts your neck and spine in a strained position, which may actively damage the spine over time in severe cases.

Keep in mind for those with sleep apnea or those who snore; the worst position is going to be sleeping on your back. According to the Mayo Clinic, sleeping on your back can cause the jaw to fall back and restrict the airway, worsening these symptoms. 

Sleeping comfortably can be a challenge. Especially if your sleep positions affect how well you’re sleeping and, inevitably, how you feel throughout your day. No matter what position you choose to sleep in, you can rest comfortably in bedding from Southshore Fine Linens.

Don’t make mistakes with your bedding. Shop at Southshore Fine Linens for luxury and comfort without sacrificing affordability. 


Best Pillowcases for Acne. (2023).
Best Sleeping Positions. (2023).  
Choosing the Best Sleep Position. (n.d.).
Howland, J. (2023). Mayo Clinic Minute: What is the best sleeping position?
How to Sleep On Your Back. (2023).
Skarpsno, E. (2017). Sleep positions and nocturnal body movements based on free-living accelerometer recordings: association with demographics, lifestyle, and insomnia symptoms.