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Side vs Back vs Stomach – The Pros And Cons Of Sleeping Positions

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Studies have shown that the majority of adults transition to sleeping on their side, while kids are somewhat divided between sleeping on their side, back and stomach. Each sleeping position has its benefits and issues and this may also differ between individuals. 

While you may have a preferred sleeping position, it may be affecting your health in ways that you might not expect, apart from the obvious body aches. Some people have no preferred position and cycle through different positions throughout the night. There is no best way to sleep, each person will have different requirements. Let’s explore the pros and cons of each sleeping position.

Sleeping on your Side

Side sleeping, where your body lies on your side is supposedly the most commonly reported sleeping position. This position may have some downsides, so it is not the best way to sleep but overall it is one of the more healthy sleeping positions. 

Sleeping on your side has been linked to better waste removal from the brain, which in turn may lower your risk for disorders that affect the brain (such as Alzheimer’s). In the side sleeping position, your airways are less restricted allowing for better breathing while you sleep. This is beneficial for avoiding snoring issues and may also help with sleep apnea

Side sleeping is not the ultimate position, however, since there are no sleeping positions that can be definitely called the best. One of the downsides to side sleeping, especially if you only sleep on one side, is shoulder pain when you wake up. This may also be accompanied by neck pain if your pillow isn’t allowing your head and neck to get the rest it needs.

A better mattress and pillows can go a long way to preventing the negative effects of side sleeping, as does regularly switching the side you sleep on. Also for people with chronic joint disorders like arthritis, side sleeping may put a strain on your joints. 

  • Is the Right Side Better than the Left? Although it is one of the healthy sleeping positions, both sides are not the same. Sleeping on your right side is more beneficial, as it puts less strain both on your heart as well as your sympathetic nervous system. The only time sleeping on your left side is better than the right is during pregnancy, as sleeping on the left is better for blood circulation 

Sleeping on your Back

Many people also choose to sleep on their back and often even if you have other preferred positions you may return to this position from time to time during the night. This position has the same effect as standing, it keeps your spine in its natural form while you rest. 

By providing even and equal support to your entire upper body, it lowers any buildup of strain to one particular body part. Keeping your knees elevated with a pillow or a rolled-up towel while lying on your back is an excellent way to avoid back pain.

A potential downside is that this position may increase your risk of experiencing acid reflux symptoms when you wake up if you suffer from an acid issue. Also, though the reason is not known or understood, sleep paralysis is more common when sleeping on your back. Still, sleeping on your back is one of the more healthy sleeping positions for most people. It can be made healthier if you keep your upper body gently raised with a pillow or if you use an adjustable bed/mattress. 

Additionally, sleeping on your back can improve your sleep-time breathing, may reduce acne breakouts, wrinkles and fine lines and may prevent sinus congestion. It can also help with puffy eyes and tension headaches, although this may require further studies to prove definitively. Sleeping on your back may not be the best way to sleep or the worst but it also allows you to wake up better with the sun since your face and eyes can detect the rising sun streaming into your room better from this position. 

Sleeping on your Stomach 

Unlike the previous two positions, sleeping on your stomach has more negatives than benefits. Only a minority of adults choose this position as their preferred sleeping style and it’s no wonder either. Stomach sleeping can cause neck, back and hip pain while also aggravating any kind of acid reflux symptoms. That is why it should especially be avoided by those who suffer from GERD. 

Although sleeping on your stomach may reduce the chance of snoring and possibly sleep apnea, it is not worth the risk. Most paediatricians and doctors advise against putting infants and small children to sleep on their stomachs. 

Occasionally resting on your stomach is fine but if it is your standard and preferred sleeping position, it may lead to issues in the future. 

Do I need to Change my Sleeping Position?

It depends on your current health condition. If you do not have issues with snoring, sleep apnea, acid reflux or GERD and you don’t have any regular aches and pains, then there is no need to do anything different. In this case, you may already be experiencing the best way to sleep and likely already have a healthy sleeping position.

On the other hand, if you find yourself waking up frequently with back and neck pains, then it is probably being caused by your sleeping position. Try your best to change your sleeping position for better sleep and avoid causing yourself any long term issues. People who move from stomach sleeping to side sleeping may find it easier to hug a pillow while they transition, as it helps to imitate the sensation of the mattress against your tummy. 

Lastly, if changing your position is not working, you may need to go out and get yourself a new mattress and pillows, as these are the second most relevant causes for good or bad sleep. Always ensure that you have ample support for your back and if you sleep on your side, use a pillow between your knees to avoid hip pain. If a change in position and bedding still doesn’t help, you may need to see a doctor for further advice. 

Disclaimer: The information included at this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional. Because of unique individual needs, the reader should consult their physician to determine the appropriateness of the information for the reader’s situation.

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Shantanu Sodhi


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