What to Know About Your Sleeping Posture

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on November 24, 2021
4 min read

You’ve probably already heard that having good posture is pretty important. Did you know that goes for your sleeping posture, too? Different sleeping positions have an effect on your shoulders, neck, and spine. Here’s what you need to know when it comes to finding the healthiest sleeping position for you.

Good posture is more than just about standing tall with pride and confidence. Your posture has several different effects on your health. Poor posture, even when you’re lying down or sleeping, can be the cause of unnecessary muscle or ligament strain.

Having good posture helps you to maintain balance when you move and walk. This is defined as having your weight centered over your feet. Having good balance helps you move more efficiently when doing everyday tasks, like going up and down stairs or turning around. Practicing good posture also helps to reduce the risk of injury while training or doing sports.

Poor posture can be caused by:

On average, you spend about a third of your life lying down or sleeping. As you get older, finding the right position becomes more important to accommodate everyday aches and pains. While there is no one best way to sleep, there are things to keep in mind about different sleeping positions.

On your side. Most adults tend to be side sleepers. In fact, studies show that adults spend more than half their sleeping time on their side. It’s thought that this becomes more common as you age as you lose flexibility in your spine. Sleeping on your side or with your legs curled up in the fetal position can help keep your airways open. This can reduce snoring and mild sleep apnea.

On your back. Sleeping on your back may be one of the best positions for improving your sleeping posture. It promotes better alignment and reduces the pressure on your arms and legs. People with neck or back pain, especially in the lower back, may find it to be the most comfortable.

Keep in mind that sleeping on your back can cause other conditions to worsen, like snoring and sleep apnea. It can also trigger heartburn or gastroesophageal disease (GERD). Pregnant women should also avoid sleeping on their backs since there’s a possible link to stillbirths in the third trimester.

On your stomach. This is also called the front or prone position. Sleeping on your stomach causes a higher heart rate and more energy to elevate your body against gravity. You can help improve your alignment by putting a pillow under your stomach or pelvis.

If you sleep on your stomach, be sure not to bend at the waist when you move around at night. To keep your spine properly aligned, move your entire body at the same time. You want to try to keep your ears, hips, and shoulders aligned when you lie in bed.

Pillow posture, or choosing the right pillow to go with your preferred sleeping position, is also important. Pressure on your spine and neck is different with each position, so your pillow can help correct it.

When choosing a pillow, think about the curve of your neck in your favorite sleeping position. You want to choose a pillow that fills in that curve while giving your head enough ergonomic support:

  • Back sleepers: look for a pillow that fills the space between your neck and bed. If you can see your feet while you’re lying down, the pillow is probably too high for you. Your pillow needs to support your head, neck, and the natural curve of your shoulders. If you have a foam pillow, you can trim it down to lower the pillow. 
  • Stomach sleepers: you need a small, flat pillow to keep your head level and even. Stomach sleepers can even sleep without a pillow if it’s more comfortable.
  • Side sleepers: you need a thicker pillow than back sleepers do. The pillow you choose should fill in the space between your ear and the bed. You can also place a pillow between your knees to align your spine and remove the stress from your hips and lower back.

Tips for good pillow posture. There are other factors to keep in mind when buying a pillow. The fitness of your mattress can cause your pillow to sink or sit high on the mattress. A mattress topper can also elevate your pillow even more. You can also place pillows around your bed, not just your head, to fill in any gaps that form between the bed and your body.