The best and worst sleeping positions for health problems (2023)

There's a good chance you haven't thought about what position is best for you to sleep in. There's also a good chance that becauseinsomnia, pain or other reasons, you will have to ask one day. Body position can have an important impact on sleep, especially when it affects breathing.

So what are the best and worst sleeping positions? How should you sleep to relieve back or neck pain? This article looks at some of the most common sleeping positions and why they may (or may not) be good choices for your own health needs.


on your back

The best and worst sleeping positions for health problems (1)

When a person lies flat on their back, it's called the diesupine positionposition for sleeping. The legs are usually stretched out in a neutral stance.

The arms can lie flat against the sides of the body. They can be bent over the chest or abdomen with the hands. The arms can also be raised over the shoulders with the hands at the face, over or behind the head, or to the sides.


If you can breathe well while you sleep, this may be the best sleeping position. The body is well supported by the mattress. Having a supportive pillow or pillow at your knees can reduce pressure on your back and muscle or joint pain.

Elevating the feet above the heart can reduce edema (swelling) of the feet and ankles and the effects ofcongestive heart failure.This is also the preferred sleeping position for infants to reduce risksudden infant death(SIDS).


Those who have trouble breathing while sleeping may find that lying on their backs makes this worse. It can also cause snoring to become louder.

Nasal congestion and mouth breathing can cause the lower jaw and tongue to move back more easily, blocking the airway. This can causesleep apnea, breathing pauses during sleep.

Many health problems can be made worse by sleep apnea in this position. They include:

  • urinate at night(Nicturia)
  • teeth grinding or clenching(bruxism)
  • Heartburn/Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease(GERD)
  • high blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Risk of heart failure

Sleeping position changes to relieve snoring and sleep apnea


Left side

The best and worst sleeping positions for health problems (2)

The person sleeps with the head and torso on the left side, also known as the lateral position. The arm can be under the body or perhaps slightly forward or extended with some pressure on the left shoulder.

The legs can be stacked, with the left leg on the bottom. In the rolled-up fetal position, the legs are bent and the knees are pulled toward the torso.


Most people who sleep in this position avoid the problems of sleeping on their back, and their breathing may be better. It is a good choice to limit the effects of snoring and sleep apnea.

If a right shoulder or hip is causing you pain, this position may feel better. Side sleeping can also make it easier to "spoon" (lying close together) with a bed partner.

A pregnant person may place a pillow under their stomach or between their knees and find that this position relieves back pain and any pressure on the bladder.


Left lateral position is not for everyone. When sleeping on the left side, the organs in the chest can shift due to gravity. The lungs can put a heavy strain on the heart.

This increased pressure can impair heart function and increase cardiac stress in heart failure. This, in turn, can mean that the kidneys are working harder, resulting in more trips to get up and urinate during the night.

Pressure on the nerves in the left arm or leg can cause other problems. Sleeping in this position can contribute to shoulder, lower back, and hip pain in the long term.

The best sleeping positions during pregnancy


right side

The best and worst sleeping positions for health problems (3)

In this side-lying position, a person sleeps with their head and torso on their right side. As before, the arm can be under the body or stretched slightly forward or with some pressure on the right shoulder.

The legs can be stacked, this time with the right leg underneath, or with both knees drawn towards the body in a fetal position.


Like sleeping on your left side, sleeping on your right side avoids the problems of sleeping on your back.If a hip or other left-sided joint is causing pain, that pain may subside. It's also a way for bed partners to snuggle up, this time facing the other way.


When gravity shifts internal organs to the right, it is the right lung that may feel pressure. This reduces the lungs' ability to fill with air, and this reduced volume can cause problems. The lower oxygen levels and the strain on the cardiovascular system can affect people with related health problems.

Pressure on the nerves of the right arm or leg can cause compression injuries or neuropathy. As with left side sleeping, long term right side sleeping can cause shoulder, lower back, and right hip pain.


on your stomach

The best and worst sleeping positions for health problems (4)

Lying on your stomach is the least common way to sleep. In this prone position, the face is typically turned to the side for easier breathing. The arms and hands can be tucked underneath, positioned at the side, or stretched out to the sides. The legs are usually kept straight.


Sleeping on the stomach can help a person avoid the problems of sleeping on their back.It also prevents the slight organ shifts in the breast.

There are convenience benefits too. If the mattress or other surface isn't truly ideal, lying on the chest, stomach, and "softer" parts of the body can compensate.

Putting the arms close to the body can provide psychological comfort and save heat. Sleeping on your stomach may also be better for relieving chronic muscle and joint pain.


Sleeping on your stomach can cause neck pain. There may also be some strain on the shoulder and upper back muscles. Pressure on nerves in the arms or hands can cause problems.

It can be more difficult to breathe when body weight is pressing on the lungs, restricting chest movement andMembrane, which sits just below the lungs.

How to sleep despite neck or back pain



The best and worst sleeping positions for health problems (5)

It's finally possible to sleep with your head held high above your body. This can be done, for example, in a deck chair. Asleeping wedge pillowcan also raise the head during sleep.

Adjustable beds, including special mattresses,Can raise head above body while sleeping. The degree of angle can vary, but most people who need this will benefit from raising their head 20 to 30 degrees.


Elevating your head while you sleep prevents the airway from collapsing, which can reduce the risk of snoring and the problems associated with sleep apnea. With proper positioning, it may also be possible to reduce pain.


It is almost impossible to change position while sleeping. At night it is difficult to sleep with your head raised on your side, and sleeping on your stomach is also not possible. Any problems with sleeping on your back can still occur, especially when mouth breathing occurs.


Other considerations

The best and worst sleeping positions for health problems (6)

When choosing the best sleeping position, start by knowing your own needs. Consider the role of joint pain, sleep apnea, and other conditions.

Make sure you think about your head and neck as much as you do the rest of your body. A slightly stretched neck can improve breathing.

It's normal to wake up from sleep to change position, even if you don't remember doing it. For the best sleep, allow some flexibility in your sleeping positions.

It is possible to perceive sleep disturbances and to correct them through movement at night. Ideally, this will limit long-term problems caused by a particular sleeping position.

Reasons for poor sleep quality and how to fix them


A good night's sleep is important to health and well-being and is all too often overlooked. Sleep can be made even more difficult if you have joint pain, breathing, or other problems. Trying a new way of sleeping can help.

A word from Verywell

If you're having trouble finding a comfortable position to sleep at night, consider speaking to a board-certifiedsleep doctorbefore getting a new mattress. Restless sleep can be caused by an untreated sleep disorder. Tests and treatments can improve your sleep no matter what position you sleep in.

4 sources

Verywell Health uses only quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to back up the facts in our articles. Read ourseditorial processto learn more about how we fact-check our content and keep it accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Cleveland Clinic.Edema: management and treatment.

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics.Reduce the risk of SIDS and suffocation.

  3. National Sleep Foundation.sleep apnea.

  4. Zhang Z, Jin X, Wan Z, et al.A feasibility study on smart mattresses to improve sleep quality. Chen X-J, Hrsg.Health Technology Journal. 2021;2021:1-12. doi: 10.1155/2021/6127894

Additional reading

The best and worst sleeping positions for health problems (7)

VonBrandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board certified neurologist and sleep medicine physician.

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