The Best Sleeping Positions for Your Health — And Which to Avoid

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You could say that the best sleeping position is the one that helps you dooze off the fastest and stay asleep the longest. And while, quality sleep — and enough of it — is critcal to your overall health, the best sleeping position for your health does matter. Learn more about what sleeping position might be right for you, and which sleeping positions you should stop getting into from here on out.

01 of 06

What Is the Best Sleeping Position?

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A study by the Institute of Medicine found that a whopping 50–70 million U.S. adults suffer from sleep or wakefulness disorders. That's a lot of folks nodding off at their desks or standing in a Starbucks line for their third cup of java. But let's face it: You're a creature of habit, and your favorite sleeping positions aren't likely to change (after all, you are sleeping).

Here's what your sleeping positions are doing to your health — and what small changes you could make to improve them. (

02 of 06

The Best Sleeping Position: Back

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If back-sleeping is your position of preference, you're scoring more benefits during shut-eye than you'd think. "Your head is facing straight up and weight is evenly distributed on your spine," making it the most orthopedically sound position, says Michael Breus, clinical psychologist and author of The Sleep Doctor's Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep. And unlike when your face is buried in a pillow, sleeping on your back allows gravity to pull down on your face and chest, which is beneficial for those suffering from acid reflux. With your head slightly elevated, your stomach sits below your esophagus so acid and food are far less likely to come back up.

But snorers, beware: Lying on your back is NOT the best sleeping position for sleep apnea — in fact, it's the worst sleeping position if you suffer from the condition. "Your throat and belly are being pulled down by gravity, making it harder for you to breathe," explains Andrew Westwood, assistant professor of clinical neurology at Columbia University Medical Center. "If you [lie on your side or] get pushed by your bed partner, that snoring goes away." (

Score Better Sleep: Unless you're a habitual snorer, back-sleeping the best sleeping position someone could choose for optimal health and day-to-day physical comfort.

03 of 06

Sleeping Position: Left Side

Next Best: Left Side

If snuggling up on your side is the most comfortable, experts recommend lying on your left side. "Sleeping on your right side pushes on blood vessels, preventing maximum circulation," says Breus. Because of this added pressure on your veins, your body moves more frequently through the night to accommodate the lack of circulation, resulting in all that fitful sleep your activity tracker is noting. The left side, however, allows for cardiovascular return, says Christopher Winter, medical director at Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine. "Meaning your heart can easily pump blood throughout your body when there's less pressure on that region."

Score Better Sleep: No matter which side you're sticking to, Jen Robart, physical therapist at Northeast Rehabilitation Hospital, recommends placing a firm pillow between the knees to support good alignment between the hips and joints. Doing so will help evenly distribute your weight throughout the night, easing that creaky feeling of discomfort some wake up with in the morning, according to the American Chiropractic Association. (

04 of 06

Sleeping Position: Right Side

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If the best sleeping position for you means nodding off on your right, you could be increasing your health risk for certain issues. Your right side houses your entire cardiovascular system, so added pressure on this part of the body actually constricts your rib cage and strains your lungs. "You're most likely to experience acid reflux and even heart failure" [in extreme circumstances for those with heart disease, says Winter.

But don't freak out quite yet: If you're in good overall health, there's no reason to worry that sleeping on your right side could cause major harm. However, if you have certain medical conditions such as heartburn, or if you're pregnant, you may want to move to the left side STAT.

Score Better Sleep: If you need to stick to the right, Robart suggests rolling up a small towel and "placing it in the small of your waist to avoid sinking into the mattress," which can alleviate pressure on your organs and help you snooze soundly.

05 of 06

Sleeping Position: with One Leg Up

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Hiking one limb higher — higher, as in closer to your head, not elevated vertically) while you snooze isn't giving you a leg up on your health. Opting for the "horizontal tree" sleeping position, where one leg is bent higher than the other (usually coming in toward your chest), may do more harm than good.

"Having both legs up during sleep would pull weight off the pelvis, and could potentially help someone with low back pain, but one leg up may do the opposite," says Breus. The uneven displacement of pressure on one limb versus the other may cause back damage down the road. Tl;dr one of the best sleeping positions for someone with lower back pain is double legs in, never one. (

Score Better Sleep: If you do find yourself waking in the middle of the night with your right or left leg curled up toward your stomach, try placing a pillow between your legs, suggests Robart. "Not only does it take pressure off your pelvis, but it can also help stabilize the leg that keeps moving upward during sleep."

06 of 06

Sleeping Position: Stomach

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If you love to flop face down on the bed, experts say this sleeping position a direct route to waking up with pain and discomfort the next morning. "Sleeping on the stomach pulls the belly down, hurts the curvature of the spine, and forces your head to turn on a 90-degree angle, which winds up placing strain on your neck," says Breus. Bottom line: This would not be the best sleeping position for neck pain.

Score Better Sleep: Trade in those fat, fluffy pillows for a thin, firm one. It won't prop your neck up too high, allowing for a more even curvature of your spine, says Westwood. And for better circulation, Robart suggests placing a pillow or two under your pelvic region. "It'll decrease compression on the arch of your lower back, allowing for a more natural alignment of the spine," she says.

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