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what are the best sleeping positions
Health

What is the Best Sleeping Position?

Tara Youngblood · Feb 15, 2021
what are the best sleeping positions

Maybe you’re looking for deep sleep hacks -- and want to know whether sleeping on your back, side, or stomach is best for quality sleep.

What is the best sleeping position for you? The truth is, there’s no universally approved sleeping position. It depends on what you find comfortable and your personal health situation. 

My husband Todd and I have totally different sleeping styles -- we often joke that the best sleep position is a restful one!

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Even The Cleveland Clinic, in a blog that examined which sleep position is best, didn't choose the best sleeping position either. Instead, it recommends alternating between your back and sides, which is less stressful to the spine.

That movement is key, since static positions may increase back symptoms. Always sleeping on right side can cause pain in your right shoulder or always sleeping on your stomach can trigger back and neck problems.

Sleep Position Review

This echoes a 2019 review of literature on the best sleeping position for sleep posture and back pain. In that study, the results showed that although the side-lying position was generally protective against back pain and stiffness, it was far from conclusive. The study noted that while there’s probably a relationship between sleep posture and spinal symptoms, “there were not enough high-quality studies to adequately answer our research question.”

But people ask me questions all the time about how to improve their sleep quality when dealing with insomnia, illness, or injury. I needed to dig into this a little more -- how could I simply tell them to flip over like a pancake during the night?

We're all unique and there’s no one correct way to sleep. So my individual advice will vary based on your personal issues. After all, what works as the best sleeping position for neck pain is going to be different than the best sleep position for acid reflux.

Still, based on my research, I’m giving a slight advantage to side sleeping, and here’s why: it’s been shown to boost your cognitive abilities!

Different Sleep Position 

Most Popular Sleep Positoins

What side should you sleep on? Well, there are different sleep positions that provide additional benefits that may help individuals experiencing back pain, shoulder pain, acid reflux, or other health issues. But what’s the best sleeping position in terms of popularity?

Fetal Sleeping Position

According to UK Professor Chris Idzikowski, the fetal sleep position is the most popular sleeping position and offers the most benefits. This makes sense since we all did this in the womb. More women than men favor this position. It’s great for pregnancy and back pain but can also help reduce your partner from snoring. If sleeping in this position and your hips tend to hurt, you can place a pillow between your legs to help relieve the pressure. 

Stat: 41% of people sleep in the fetal position, and 37% believe it’s the best sleep position.

Freefall Sleeping Position

Freefall is a sleeping position that people sleep on their stomachs with their heads turned to the side, and their arms are wrapping around the pillow. It’s considered the second most popular position. But, roughly 26% of people say that it’s the worst sleeping position. 

Stat: 7% of people sleep in the freefall position.

Starfish Sleeping Position

Individuals who sleep in starfish sleeping position are on their back with their arms over their head. There are benefits of the starfish position. It may protect you against shoulder pain, relieve lower back pain, is unlikely to cause wrinkles, and protect against neck pain. But, similar to sleeping on your back, this position is prone to snoring. 

Sleep apnea can also be made worse by back sleeping. Likewise, with both arms up around the pillow, the Starfish may lead to snoring and disrupted sleep.

Stat: 5% of individuals choose to sleep in this position. 

The Log Sleeping Position

The log position is described as sleeping on your side with your arms to the side. With this position, sleepers are less likely to experience numbness because of their arms down at their side. This position is a good option if you or your partner snores, but if suffering from arthritis, you could wake up in pain. 

Stat: 15% of people like to sleep in the log position. 

Yearner Sleep Position

This position is described as sleeping on your side with both of your arms outward in front of you body as if they are reaching for something. If you have arthritis, like the log position, sleepers can awake up in pain. But, this position may be a good fit if you have breathing issues. 

Stat: 13% of people said they sleep in this position. 

Solider Sleeping Position

This is another back sleeping position. You sleep on your back, and your arms are down close to your side in this position. The solder is a position that can cause snoring and from getting quality sleep. But the Soldier -- back sleepers with both arms pinned to the sides -- can often lead to acid reflux, snoring, and a bad night's sleep for you (and maybe an unhappy partner, too).

Stat: 8% of people prefer the soldier sleep position.

While sleeping on your side may be best and common sleep position, it’s sleep quality that matters most of all. The National Institute of Health points out that a chronic lack of sleep increases the risk of disorders including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity.

Read: Side and Back Sleepers Cause Less Spinal Pain [1]

Deep Sleep and Brain Health

I’ve written before about how to get deeper sleep and that bad sleep can affect cognitive performance. Sleep affects your brain’s ability to absorb new information because glucose metabolism escalates during deep sleep, strengthening your memory and overall learning capability.

Stay with me here, because I was thrilled to find a link between sleep posture and brain health. It started back in 2013 when scientists looked at something called the glymphatic system. The glymphatic network -- often called the “front end” for waste clearance -- is connected downstream to the lymphatic network. That study found that restorative sleep clears over 60% of potentially neurotoxic waste products [2] in the brain that accumulates in the awake central nervous system.

Just two years later, scientists wanted to know if there was a link between body posture and brain glymphatic transport. It showed that side sleepers might have the advantage. When comparing how sleep position affected rats’ brains, researchers found that side sleeping is healthier because side sleeping helps clear waste from the brain: [3]

The glymphatic pathway expedites clearance of waste, including soluble amyloid β (Aβ) from the brain. To validate the MRI data and to assess specifically the influence of body posture on clearance of Aβ, we used fluorescence microscopy and radioactive tracers.

The analysis showed that glymphatic transport was most efficient in the lateral position compared with the supine or prone positions. In the prone position, in which the rat's head was in the most upright position (mimicking posture during the awake state), transport was characterized by 'retention' of the tracer [and] slower clearance.

The optical imaging and radiotracer studies confirmed that glymphatic transport and Aβ clearance were superior in the lateral and supine positions. We propose that the most popular sleep posture (lateral) has evolved to optimize waste removal during sleep.

Although glymphatic health is still a newer area of study, a comprehensive review by the journal Gerontology suggests that “maintaining efficient brain waste drainage across the lifespan – possibly by preserving normal sleep architecture” has emerged as a way to prevent cognitive dysfunction and decline.

Side-sleeping can also be good for cardiac patients. There have been studies, even dating back to 1937, that suggest cardiac output is better with right-side sleeping (due to gravity pulling the heart toward the center of the chest).

Final Thoughts

From early bird to night owl, each person’s sleep chronotype is unique -- so it makes sense that every human has a unique preference for how they sleep best. 

Read: How Your Chronotype Impacts Deep Sleep

What's the best sleeping position? While side sleeping has a lot going for it, the more important thing is sleep quality! The amount of restful sleep you get is critical because better sleep can increase your productivity, aid weight loss, prevent disease, and enhance cognitive thinking. 

Citations:

[1] Cary D, Briffa K, McKenna L Identifying relationships between sleep posture and non-specific spinal symptoms in adults: A scoping review 

[3] Hedok Lee, Lulu Xie, Mei Yu, Hongyi Kang, Tian Feng, Rashid Deane, Jean Logan, Maiken Nedergaard, Helene Benveniste 

About the Author

Tara Youngblood

Tara Youngblood

Tara Youngblood is ChiliSleep’s co-founder and CEO. An accomplished scientist, author, and speaker, Tara’s unique ideas are revolutionizing the future of sleep health by making sleep easy, approachable, and drug-free.
Learn more about Tara.

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