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Which Sleep Position Is Best For You? It Depends.

February 1, 2021

When we tuck ourselves in for sleep, most of us just assume the position that is most comfortable. But there’s more to sleep than just laying down and catching Zzz’s. So what’s the best sleep position? That all depends. It starts with noticing and tracking your sleep patterns so you can better understand how it affects your sleep as a whole in addition to practicing good sleep hygiene

If you have a Muse S device, we recommend using Muse’s journal feature to keep track of your Sleep Position insights over time. Below are tips powered by Muse for how to interpret your Sleep Position results and how to use them for a better night’s rest.

If you do not have a Muse S device, explore common sleep positions below, the benefits of each, and tips to help them work best for you.

What’s Your Best Sleep Position According to Muse?

There are two key stages of interest when analyzing your Body Position results. The first stage you should pay attention to is your transition period between wakefulness and sleep (NREM Stage 1).

If you’re having trouble falling asleep, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. When I fall asleep quickly, which sleep position am I in?
  2. When it takes me a while to fall asleep, which position am I in?
  3. Do I sleep in a position that I am unaware of? And if so, do I have the proper bedding to accommodate that sleeping position?

Asking questions such as these can help you uncover insight about how your sleep position affects how fast or slow you fall asleep.

Secondly, look at your sleep stage graph and determine if you’re having difficulty staying asleep at night. If you find yourself consistently waking up, it could be the result of an uncomfortable sleeping position. If you’re having difficulty staying asleep, ask yourself:

  1. What position am I in when I wake up in the middle of the night?
  2. Do I sleep in a position that I am unaware of? And if so, do I have the proper bedding to accommodate that sleeping position?

Common Sleep Positions (and Their Benefits)

Best Sleep Position, sleep, sleep tracking

On Your Side (1)

Sleeping on your side (especially your left) is not only the most popular way to catch Zzzs, but also shows the most expert and science-backed benefits (1). A 2017 study found that we spend more than half of our time in bed on our sides and that at least 4 out of 10 people opt for the side snooze—with women choosing it twice as much as men (4)(3). And it’s no surprise since the position leads the pack in terms of brain and body health.

Benefits:

  • Aids digestion: Though we look symmetrical on the outside, the inside is a different story. Since the stomach sits on the left side, sleeping on that same side can allow gravity to move your digestion along while you snooze. An added benefit of which is keeping your bowels regular (1).
  • Reduces heartburn: A 2010 study found a correlation between laying on the right side and increased cases of heartburn as opposed to laying on the left side (1). Why? Researchers believe it has to do with the fact that when we’re on our left side, our stomach (and its acidic gastric juices) stay lower than the esophagus while we snooze.  
  • Boosts brain health: Just like waste builds up in your body, it also does in your brain. Side sleeping helps clear out interstitial waste (aka brain gunk), which can also help ward off neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (8).
  • Reduces snoring or sleep apnea: Sleeping on your side can actually help keep your tongue from partially blocking your airflow (or falling into your throat) minimizing these disorders (1).
  • Beneficial for pregnant women: In addition to helping keep weight off the belly, one study also showed that side sleeping helps boost circulation and keep the uterus from pushing into the liver (5). 

Tips:(1)

  • Curling up in the fetal position could constrict your breathing while you sleep, so letting the position feel more open may help the airflow a little easier.
  • If shoulder stiffness or cramping happens, try switching sides.
  • A firm pillow between your knees will help your hips stay stacked, which can ease the tension out of your low back.
  • For neck tension, try a pillow that supports your collarbone structure (ie: the length between your neck and the end of your shoulder). 

 

Best Sleep Position, Sleep Tracking, Sleep

On Your Stomach

While snoozing on your stomach may also help with snoring and sleep apnea, there are a few downsides to the prone position that are worth considering (1). According to the Mayo Clinic, stomach sleeping puts extra strain on your back and spine, which can make you restless through the night as well as feel achy when you wake up (6). Why? Because most of your weight settles into the middle part of your body, making it harder to keep a neutral spine position.

In addition, since we can’t breathe through our pillow, we’re forced to turn our head to one side, which twists the neck and brings the spine out of alignment (6). Not only can this make your neck feel sore when you wake up, but prolonged prone snoozing could have more severe repercussions down the line, such as a herniated disc.

Benefits (1):

  • Reduces snoring and sleep apnea.

Tips (1): 

  • Placing a pillow under your lower belly can help reduce back tension.
  • Try sleeping with a more minimal pillow (or none at all) to help minimize the effect on your neck.
  • Alternate the way you turn your head to avoid neck stiffness.
  • Try sleeping with your arms in a goal post position instead of tucked underneath your head and pillow, which can cause arm numbness or pain.

Best Sleep Position, Sleep Tracking, Sleep

On Your Back

Sleeping on your back isn’t as popular as side sleeping, but it’s a close second. According to one study, we spend nearly 40% of our time in bed on our backs (4). While this position also offers a list of brain and body benefits, back sleeping may be the least helpful if you struggle with snoring or sleep apnea. 

Benefits

  • Spine-health: Back sleeping makes it easier to protect the spine and could also help reduce hip and knee pain. Why? Because when you’re on your back, gravity can do the work of keeping your spine in alignment (2)(7). 
  • It can also be a helpful position for those with heartburn, sinus pressure, knee pain, arthritis, bursitis, or fibromyalgia (2). 

Tips (2):

  • Putting a pillow (or rolled-up towel) under your knees can help support your spine’s natural curve and minimize tightness in the low back. 
  • Having your arms and legs spread out more can help distribute the weight out away from your joints, minimizing the pressure on them.


With poor sleep affecting everything from your mood to long term health, getting a good night’s sleep is essential. But it goes beyond just logging enough hours—good sleep is about the quality of your Zzzs. So whether you’re a front, side, or back sleeper, finding your best sleep position starts with tracking your habits and patterns. From there, you can talk with your healthcare practitioner about what is best for you. The most important thing is finding the position that helps you wake up feeling renewed, restored, and ready to go.

 

Resources:

 

  1. Chesak, Jennifer. 2018, June 29. How These Three Sleep Positions Affect Your Gut Health. (Blog post). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/healthy-sleep/sleep-effects-digestion#side-sleeping 
  2. Best Sleeping Positions for a Good Night’s Sleep. (Blog post). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/best-sleeping-position#on-your-side 
  3. 2019, February 1. What’s the Best Position to Sleep In? (Blog post). WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/best-sleep-positions 
  4. Skarpsno, ES; Mork, PJ; Nilsen, TIL; and Holtermann, A. 2017, July 7. Sleep positions and nocturnal body movements based on free-living accelerometer recordings: association with demographics, lifestyle, and insomnia symptoms. Nature and Science of Sleep Journal. https://www.dovepress.com/sleep-positions-and-nocturnal-body-movements-based-on-free-living-acce-peer-reviewed-fulltext-article-NSS 
  5. Tomasina, Stacey and Mitchell, Edwin A. 2012, August 28. Sleep position and risk of late stillbirth. National Institute of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3428675/ 
  6. Is It Bad to Sleep on Your Stomach? (Blog post). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/is-it-bad-to-sleep-on-your-stomach 
  7. 2016, June 15. Back, Side or Stomach: Which Sleep Position Is Best for You? (Blog post). Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/back-side-stomach-sleep-position-best/
  8. Lee, Hedok; Zie, Lulu; Kang, Hongyi; et al. 2015, August 5. The Effect of Body Posture on Brain Glymphatic Transport. Journal of Neuroscience. https://www.jneurosci.org/content/35/31/11034

 

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