The 3 Main Sleeping Positions: Which is Best?

September 23, 2021 | Casper Editorial Team

At night, sleep may feel like zero work. But to your body, it’s precious healing time. From supporting memory formation to muscle repair, quality sleep helps your body function at its best—and your position can affect that quality.

Whether you’re a one-trick pony or versatile snoozer, it’s important to understand the different resting postures: back sleeping, side sleeping, and stomach sleeping. 

In this guide, we’ll learn more about the importance of your sleeping position, review the three main types of sleeping positions in depth, and discover the best sleeping position.

Good sleep starts with support. Whether you sleep on your back or your side, Casper’s selection of mattresses will provide you with the support you need for a proper snooze.

What Does Sleep Position Mean? 

When we say “sleeping position,” we don’t mean a frozen dance pose. Small physical appendages, like your hands and feet, are not the main factors when asleep. It’s the overall shape that really counts. That’s what we’re really referring to when it comes to sleeping positions meaning.

Your sleeping position (and its benefits) are determined by which main body surface most contacts your mattress:

  • Back
  • Sides (right or left)
  • Front (stomach)

Most sleepers have a preferred sleeping position—but your body may not stay in that position throughout the night. In fact, the average person switches positions 10 to 40 times per night.1 Despite this, determining your healthiest sleeping position is better than randomly picking one.

The 3 Main Sleeping Positions

Even if you consider yourself a snoozing contortionist, there are three main sleep positions our bodies naturally fall into. 

#1 On Your Back

For natural spine support, lying on your back (or supine) is an excellent sleeping choice. As the second-most popular position, supine sleeping can reduce chronic pain, allergy symptoms, and even facial wrinkling.2Most people who fall into this category choose between two main positions.3  

  • Soldier – Chosen by 11% of sleepers, the soldier position involves lying on your back with legs straight and their arms down by your sides—just like a tin soldier. Most people (about 62%) actually start sleeping in this prone position before switching to another sleeping posture.4
  • Starfish – Like the marine animal, the starfish sleeping position takes up space in all directions. 

Back Sleeping Benefits

According to most experts, back sleeping is a healthy and physically supportive option for many sleepers. 5A few conditions that might benefit from sleeping supine:6 

  • Back pain – For some back pain sufferers, lying directly on the back relieves their discomfort. For an extra boost of support, place a pillow underneath the knees to eliminate any gaps between your lower back and the mattress.
  • Facial wrinkling – Yes, it’s true—lifelong side or stomach sleeping can gradually induce more facial wrinkles.7 While the effect isn’t huge, it might be enough for some to consider a different sleeping position.
  • Neck pain – Depending on the person, sleeping supine (with a supportive pillow, like Casper’s Foam Pillow) can help reduce neck pains or aching. 
  • Nasal congestion – Whether it’s allergies or a cold, congestion is a sleep killer. Lying on your back allows mucus to clear, rather than stay trapped inside your nasal cavities.

The key to sleeping on your back? Staying symmetrical. Avoid placing your entire arms in different positions—i.e., one arm up, one arm down. These large differences between sides may affect your spine alignment, resulting in potential pain and aches.8For more information on proper sleeping position, consult your doctor.

Back Sleeping Considerations

Is there anyone who shouldn’t sleep on their back? Definitely. Here are a few conditions that might make a back-down position uncomfortable or even dangerous:6

  • Pregnancy – For mothers-to-be, lying down can lessen blood flow and create pressure on the heart. In fact, sleeping supine during the third trimester is correlated with late stillbirths.9 
  • Sleep apnea or snoring – On your back, nasal airways are more easily obstructed—a recipe for snoring disaster. 10Sleep apnea sufferers should at least elevate their head to aid breathing while on their back. 
  • Back pain – Lying on your back might work for some back pain sufferers, but not for all. Different mattresses might create a small gap beneath the lower back, which can elevate muscle tension. Picking a firmer mattress, like Casper’s Wave Hybrid design with springs and cradling foam, can reduce this gap.
  • GERD or acid reflux – Lying horizontally allows stomach acid to flow more freely, increasing acid reflux symptoms. However, elevating the head can help cut GERD symptoms when on your back.11

#2 On Your Side

Over 60% of sleepers prefer a side-down position—and it’s easy to see why.12 Resting on your side can reduce pain, sleep-disturbing behaviors (snoring, heartburn, etc.), and overall discomfort. 

To break down the side sleeper category, here are some common postures, benefits, and considerations for sleeping on your side.3

  • Left versus right – Of course, there’s two main choices for lying on your side—left or right. To maximize health benefits, experts advise the left side. Lying on your right side can pressurize your internal organs, which can exacerbate GERD, pregnancy discomfort, and high blood pressure.6 Opt for the left side instead.
  • Fetal – To connect to your inner child and get some quality sleep, try the fetal position. This curled-up, infantile position is chosen by 47% of American sleepers (and more women than men).
  • Log – With arms and legs extended straight down, the log position is a less popular side-sleeping choice, preferred by only 6% of American sleepers. However, it still offers most benefits of side sleeping.
  • Yearner – Reaching for restful sleep? About 13% of Americans find success with the Yearner position. This position involved lying on your side with both arms extended outwards in front of you.   

Side-Sleeping Benefits

When it comes to health benefits, side sleeping takes the cake. In particular, you should consider lying on your side if you have any of these physical conditions:2

  • Pregnancy – Aching joints, compressed organs, and a higher heart rate can all disturb sleep during pregnancy. To aid rest, doctors recommend pregnant women sleep on their side in the fetal position (particularly their left).13 
  • GERD or acid reflux – Compared to supine positions, studies show that sleeping on your left side reduces GERD symptoms at night.14
  • Back pain and herniated discs – Depending on your back pain, a bent-knee side position might be your ticket to snooze central. Make sure to tuck a pillow between your knees for proper spine alignment.
  • Sleep apnea or snoring – Lying on your side relieves pressure within nasal cavities and airways—i.e., better breathing and less snoring.15

Side Sleeping Considerations

While side sleeping is America’s go-to position, it’s not right for everyone. Avoid resting on your side if concerned about any of the following conditions:

  • Shoulder pain – Due to direct shoulder pressure, research shows side sleeping is not the best sleeping position for shoulder pain.16 Instead, choose a supine sleeping position.
  • Face wrinkles – Over time, consistent contact between your face and pillow can lead to wrinkles and even facial expansion.7
  • Jaw issues – Similar to shoulder pain, jaw tightness or TMJ symptoms can result from sleeping on one side.5

#3 On Your Stomach

Stomach sleeping is the least favored position among American sleepers (a low 17% of the population).10 Sleep experts similarly are not fans, since the typical stomach sleeper often faces physical issues like:2

  • Poor spine support – Sleeping on your stomach isn’t just unsupportive for your spine—it throws it out of alignment. When your hips and stomach sink into the mattress, your spine stretches into an unnatural placement.
  • Neck misalignment – Unless on a massage table, you’ll have to twist your head ninety degrees when stomach-down. This can create pain and throw your neck out of spinal alignment.
  • Facial wrinkling – Lying on your stomach places heavy pressure on the face, potentially creating wrinkles over time.

Can’t let go of your stomach-down sleep position? That’s okay—high-quality bedding can reduce any damage or pain. Choose a firm mattress to minimize hip sinking, and a thinner pillow to help with neck issues (Casper’s Original Pillow provides crucial support at a lower height).

What is the Best Sleeping Position for Me?

At the end of the day, the best sleeping position is the one that leaves your body aligned, rested, and healthy. And that differs between every sleeper! A pregnant woman may need to sleep on her left side, while an older man may prefer sleeping supine to relieve back pain. 

Test what feels right for your body. However, keep in mind that stomach sleeping comes with more drawbacks for your health.

If curious about changing your sleeping position, you’re in luck. Good sleep hygiene just takes practice. Studies show that sleepers can “train” themselves to sleep in a new position. 1A few tips for switching up sleeping positions:

  • Be patient – Sleep habits take time to form. To switch from sleeping on your side to your back, it might take a few weeks at least. 
  • Use props – Ever heard of the tennis ball technique? By sewing one into the front of your pajamas, you can prevent rolling onto your stomach (or any particular body surface) while sleeping. And for side sleepers, a firm pillow between the knees is crucial for spinal alignment.
  • Buy quality bedding – The right mattress, pillow, and support can make all the difference in sleep. Back and stomach sleepers often need firmer mattresses, while side sleepers need more cushion (like our super-plush Nova Hybrid mattress). For more information on this, discover the differences between a plush vs. firm mattress. Similarly, back and side sleepers may need a more structured pillow for support, while stomach sleepers need a thinner pillow to minimize neck pain. 
  • Claim space – Maybe your bed is too small. Or perhaps you’re dueling for territory with a partner. Either way, cramped space can ruin a good night’s sleep. Make sure your bed size is large enough for all sleepers to rest in any position. Or, consider a sleep divorce if you and your sleep companion are still struggling to get a good shut-eye with each of your sleeping positions.

Strike a Sleep-Worthy Pose with Casper

Whether on your back, side, or stomach, better sleep begins with good support. From our dynamic foam mattresses to plush down pillows, Casper has everything to guide your body into peaceful (and physically aligned) sleep. Feel the comfort at night, and feel the physical rejuvenation in the morning. Start sleeping better today with Casper.

Sources:

  1. The New York Times. Discover Your Ideal Sleep Position—Then, Train Your Body to Use It. https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/blog/your-ideal-sleep-position/
  2. Sleep Foundation. What Your Sleep Position Means. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleeping-positions/meaning
  3. BetterSleep. ​​Starfish or Freefall? What Your Sleep Position Can Tell You. https://bettersleep.org/better-sleep/sleep-positions/
  4. Psych. What Your Sleep Position Says About Your Personality. https://www.psycom.net/sleep-position-personality-traits
  5. Healthline. Best Sleeping Positions for a Good Night’s Sleep. https://www.healthline.com/health/best-sleeping-position
  6. Sleep Foundation. Best Sleeping Positions. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleeping-positions
  7. PubMed. Sleep Wrinkles: Facial Aging and Facial Distortion During Sleep. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27329660/
  8. PubMed. Effect of sleep posture on neck muscle activity. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28626314/
  9. PubMed Association between maternal sleep practices and late stillbirth – findings from a stillbirth case-control study. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29152887/
  10. Healthline. What Does Your Sleeping Position Say About Your Personality and Health? https://www.healthline.com/health/healthy-sleep/what-does-your-sleeping-position-say-about-you
  11. PubMed. Effect of bed head elevation during sleep in symptomatic patients of nocturnal gastroesophageal reflux. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22098332/
  12. PubMed. Identifying relationships between sleep posture and non-specific spinal symptoms in adults: A scoping review. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31256029/
  13. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Problems sleeping during pregnancy. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000559.htm
  14. PubMed. Influence of spontaneous sleep positions on nighttime recumbent reflux in patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10445529/
  15. Wiley. Differential impact of body position on the severity of disordered breathing in heart failure patients with obstructive vs. central sleep apnoea. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ejhf.410
  16. PubMed. Sleep position and shoulder pain. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20036076/