Find Your Ideal Sleep Position

Article by Lucas Rockwood

Are you experiencing health challenges that affect how you sleep? Back pain, circulation problems, acid reflux, snoring, and sleep apnea can all make it difficult to find the best sleep position. Sound familiar? If so, this report is for you.

We spend around a third of our lives in bed, so it’s important to choose a nighttime position that’s optimal for health, not just comfort. Sleep position is very poorly understood and poor posture while sleeping can contribute to or even cause a cascade of health problems, some quite serious.

Your goal is to align your spine, optimize breathing, and find a position you can maintain for the whole night. In this report, we’ll explore the pros and cons of different sleep positions so you can determine which is best for you

The Lying Flat Myth

Many people mistakenly believe lying flat is the ideal way to sleep. The flat-on-your-back-is-best myth was largely propagated by manufacturers attempting to sell mattresses under the guise of back care, when really, supine sleeping is not ideal. Here are some of the negative effects of lying flat:

  • Snoring & Sleep Apnea. Your throat tends to collapse in on itself – resulting in wheezing, snoring, and in extreme cases, obstructive sleep apnea, which can be dangerous and even life-threatening.
  • Acid Reflux. You’re more prone to acid reflux in this position, as it’s easier for the acid from your stomach to travel up your esophagus when you’re lying flat.
  • Breathing. It negatively affects your breathing, which in turn affects your nervous system and heart rate.

Side Sleeping

If you’re among the lucky 50 percent of the population who successfully side sleep throughout the entire night—that’s great! Keep doing what you’re doing. Side sleeping is the best for your spine, for optimal breathing, and for your circulation.

Success with side sleeping often comes down to pillow choice. Aim for fewer pillows or a thinner pillow between your head and the bed, and experiment with adding pillows between your knees. Some people find a long, tube-shaped pregnancy pillow helpful to hug and straddle as they sleep on their sides. See what works for you. Your goal is to align your spine, optimize breathing, and find a position you can maintain for the whole night.

Fowler’s Positions (semi-upright)

Have you ever wondered why hospital beds are adjustable? Angled sleeping positions are optimal for health, recovery, circulation, and breathing, so when your health is top priority—like during a hospital stay—these beds are the obvious choice. If you suffer from back pain, snoring, and acid reflux, experimenting with elevated pillows can offer surprising relief from symptoms, and in some cases even solve the problem.

A standard Fowler’s position is 45-60 degrees, but some people go even higher for breathing. A Semi Fowler’s (30-45 degrees) or Low Fowler’s (15-30 degrees) position can sometimes be enough to give benefits without much of a trade-off in terms of comfort. Sleeping semi-upright takes some getting used to, and here’s how to get started.

  • Wedge Pillow. Buy an inexpensive wedged pillow from online retailers to mimic the effects of a hospital bed. You may need to add a few normal pillows on top to achieve the 45-60 degree target angle.
  • Under-the-knees Pillows. To reduce pressure on your lower back and bum, and to stop you from sliding down, prop up your legs with pillows and blankets. Aim for a 30-60 degree bend in your knees.
  • Be Patient! This position can feel very unnatural at first. Allow a couple of weeks to transition, and usually within a month at most, you’ll adjust.

Download PDF pose chart

Safety Disclaimer

Sleep problems can be very serious. Severe sleep apnea, circulation, and heart irregularities at night can even be life-threatening. Please check with your doctor before starting any self-care routine.

Sleep Tech and Apps

Apps such as SnoreLab and Sleep Cycle offer simple, free, and paid-for ways to monitor the quality of your sleep. The former records your nighttime sleep, so you can hear yourself breathing, snoring, wheezing, and listen out for any sleep apnea moments.

If you’re looking for more detailed insights, gadgets such as the WHOOP Band, Apple Watch, Oura Ring and Fitbit all offer much more accurate insights. Your goal is not to become a sleep scientist or to obsess over your sleep data, but since you spend one third of your life sleeping, why not make the most of this time to improve your health?

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