Which Direction Should You Sleep In?

Which Direction Should You Sleep In?

Are you a back sleeper or a side sleeper? Which direction should you sleep in for the most benefits? Stellar Sleep takes a closer look.

Although we don’t have a lot of say in which position we ultimately settle in (and, for many of us, that position changes throughout the night), there are several advantages and disadvantages to choosing the right position to fall asleep in. 

What direction should you sleep in? Is it best to sleep on your right or left side, or would it be better to fall asleep on your stomach or back? Let’s look at possible sleeping positions and who may benefit from each.

What Are the Benefits of Sleeping on Your Side?

Side sleeping is often considered one of the most beneficial and safest sleeping positions. From helping support optimal spinal alignment to relieving heartburn, sleeping on your side can help in ways you may not have considered when done correctly. 

Side sleeping can also be helpful for those with sleep apnea or snoring issues — but is one side better than the other?

Sleeping on the Right Side

Sleeping on the right side is a position that people with certain heart conditions, like heart failure, naturally settle into. Crucial structures of the heart are positioned on the left side of the body, so sleeping on the left side can put too much pressure on it and cause discomfort. 

For these people, sleeping on their right side can help relieve some of that pressure so that they can get deeper, higher-quality sleep.

Sleeping on the Left Side

The left side also has its own benefits for body function — especially for pregnant women or those dealing with GERD (gastrointestinal reflux disease)

The same reasons people with heart conditions naturally avoid sleeping on the left side is why pregnant women may benefit from it. Left-side sleeping can help improve blood flow between the body and the fetus without putting additional pressure on the liver. 

However, many of these concerns aren’t as serious a problem until later in pregnancy, so consult your OB-GYN for more specific recommendations. 

Left-side sleeping may also help decrease the frequency and severity of heartburn symptoms. Positioning yourself on the left side may help any stomach acid that is backed up leave the esophagus quicker than on your right side. To help you further, try to elevate your upper body on a pillow. 

Which Side Is Best To Sleep On?

For most people, sleeping on the left side is safer and more supportive than sleeping on the right. However, the decision should be based on which makes you feel more comfortable and is safest. If you deal with any medical issues, consult your medical provider for customized recommendations. 

How Does Side Sleeping Compare to Other Positions?

What if you prefer to sleep on your back or stomach? How do other positions stack up?

Sleeping on your stomach is the least beneficial for the body. Not only does stomach sleeping put pressure on your spine and vital organs, but it can also be bad for the skin.

That doesn’t mean sleeping on your back is always better, though. While back sleeping can be comfortable, it can also worsen the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea (like snoring). Not getting restorative sleep can even lead to or worsen insomnia, causing a vicious cycle of physiological and psychological symptoms that can be difficult to get rid of. 

Remember, it’s normal to vary your position as you sleep — in fact, it’s a good thing. The body will naturally adjust to avoid pain or discomfort, so moving around in your sleep may just be your body’s way of keeping you comfortable. 

How To Sleep on Your Side

There are plenty of ways to get comfortable on your side, and the best way is to do what you feel most comfortable doing — that way, you’ll be able to fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep longer. 

The key to sleeping on your side is to keep things symmetrical. Let the natural curvature of your spine drive how you settle in. Keep your chin and neck centered between your shoulders and line up your shoulders with your hips. Avoid letting your chin tilt downward or fall to either side and keep your hands and arms mirroring each other as much as possible. 

To support your hip alignment, use a small pillow between your knees. Pregnant people will also benefit from additional pillow support at the small of their back or under their stomach. They even make pillows explicitly designed to support the body during pregnancy, which can be used well after the baby is born.

Try to fight the urge to curl up in the fetal position, though. As comforting as this may feel, it does not keep the spine and hips in alignment and can increase the likelihood that you will wake up with aches and pains in the morning. 

Who Shouldn’t Sleep on Their Side?

There is no one-size-fits-all sleeping position. However, side sleeping may not be best for those with pre-existing shoulder pain or injury, as the position puts direct pressure on the shoulder joint. It also isn’t the most supportive sleeping position for people worried about fighting off the signs of premature aging, like fine lines and wrinkles. 

Ultimately, let your body be your guide. If you’re waking up not feeling well-rested or are having aches and pains in the same areas, you may want to consider trying to “train” yourself to sleep in a different position. 

The Bottom Line

Which direction should you sleep in? How else can you support your sleep quality and get deeper, more restorative sleep? Start by taking our free sleep quiz to find out where you may be having trouble, and then speak with a CBT-I coach to address those issues and improve your sleep. 

Good rest is one of the best things you can do for your body, so don’t let it pass you by one more night.

Sources:

Avoidance of the left lateral decubitus position during sleep in patients with heart failure: relationship to cardiac size and function | PubMed

Science Update: Sleeping position during early and mid pregnancy does not affect risk of complications, NIH-funded study suggests | NICHD

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease | PubMed

Body position affects recumbent postprandial reflux | PubMed

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