A dog tucked into bed, sleeping with a stuffed bear toy.

3 Ways to Sleep Comfortably

Wake Up Feeling Refreshed with the Right Sleep Position

People spend about one-third of their lifespan fast asleep. Sleep is one of the most important elements for a healthy life. Unfortunately, many people don’t take the necessary steps to ensure they get quality sleep. One way to ensure adequate sleep is learning what the best sleep positions are.

Why is Sleep Important?

Children and teens rely on sleep for adequate growth and brain development. Adults depend on sleep to regulate their body systems and feel rested. Without enough sleep, long-term health issues become more likely to develop. Chronic conditions like heart failure, hypertension, and obesity arise from a lack of sleep because the body relies on sleep for healthy brain function.

Factors That Impact Sleep Quality

The way a person feels while awake heavily depends on the quality of their sleep. And while sleep experts agree that sleep quality is important, there’s no consensus as to what factors into “sleep quality.” How adequate a person’s sleep is depends on that individual’s sleep needs.

Factors that typically affect sleep quality are:

  • The individual’s sleeping environment.
  • Level of caffeine or alcohol consumption.
  • An irregular sleep schedule.
  • Snoring.
  • Mental health.
  • Physical health.

Sleep position is one element often overlooked, but position plays a significant role in sleep quality. An uncomfortable sleep position may prevent an individual from getting enough sleep — even if they get the 7-8 hours a night that the National Sleep Foundation recommends.

How does Sleep Position Affect your Rest?

An uncomfortable or inadequate sleep position may prevent an individual from cycling through the appropriate sleep cycles throughout the night. Tossing and turning to find a comfortable sleep position disrupts sleep, resulting in poor sleep quality.

Furthermore, the spine relies on sleep for relief from the (literal) pressure from gravity. As a person sleeps, the spine obtains some rest from the constant weight it must support throughout the day. Without adequate sleep, aches and pains occur. The right sleep position is vital, but the “right” sleep position depends on the individual. The following are three of the most common sleep positions and the benefits of each.

1. Sleeping on Your Side

More than half of sleepers sleep on their sides, with more male side sleepers than females. Interestingly, children spend their sleep time equally in various sleep positions. With age, however, most evolve towards sleeping on their side. Side sleeping encourages healthy spinal alignment, which is why it’s a comfortable position for people with back issues.

A side sleeping position is best for:

  • Individuals with back pain.
  • Pregnant women.
  • People with acid reflux.
  • People who snore.
  • Older adults.

Of all the sleep positions, side sleeping is least likely to cause back pain. Side sleepers can also improve their sleep by using extra pillows positioned around their bodies for support.

2. Sleeping on Your Back

The second most common sleep position is sleeping on the back. Lying flat on the back distributes body weight evenly, which prevents neck or spine problems. In addition, people who struggle with allergies or nasal congestion may prefer sleeping on the back to facilitate drainage.

Skincare enthusiasts typically recommend sleeping on the back because this position is thought to prevent wrinkles and skin irritation. Skin experts say sleeping facing upwards prevents the weight of a pillow against the skin or direct contact with fabric, which keeps skin smoother.

The best candidates for back sleeping are:

  • Individuals concerned with their skin.
  • People with lumbar spine conditions.
  • Individuals with neck pin.
  • People with allergies or congestion.

Sleeping on the back can be improved by raising the head of the bed or putting extra pillows under the head. Elevating the head and torso encourages drainage. People with sleep apnea or who snore should avoid back sleeping, however, because back sleeping can induce airway collapse. In particular, back sleeping is not recommended for pregnant women, as it may cause strain on the heart.

3. Sleeping on Your Stomach

Sleeping on the stomach is much less common than side or back sleeping. While some people prefer sleeping on the stomach, it’s the least recommended sleeping position by sleep experts. When facing downwards, the ribs have less room to expand when breathing. This position can impede breathing and cause a fitful sleep. Moreover, sleeping on your stomach with the head tilted to one side can misalign the spine. Over time, a stomach sleep posture may lead to spine and back problems.

The following people should avoid sleeping on their stomach:

  • Pregnant women.
  • People with congestion problems.
  • Individuals with neck pain.

Skincare buffs often advise against stomach sleeping because the direct pressure on the face can result in wrinkling and exacerbate skin problems. Therefore, people with skin issues or who want to preserve the integrity of facial skin may want to avoid sleeping on their stomachs.

Which Sleep Position Works Best for a Good Sleep?

Sleep positions are often habitual. So, getting into the routine of staying in the right position may take changing ingrained sleep habits. Whether you are a side sleeper, a back sleeper, or like to sleep on the stomach, what it comes down to is sleep quality. In the end, whichever sleep position you choose depends on what helps you feel rested in the morning. Assess your sleep quality and work with your healthcare provider to establish healthy sleep habits that you can use for life.
If you're still having sleeping troubles, you may want to consider ASMR.

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