UNC Health Talk

Are you sleeping in the right position?

Did you know you could actually improve your health while you sleep? It’s true. Your sleep position-whether you’re a side, back or stomach sleeper-not only affects the quality of your sleep, it also can help alleviate or aggravate certain conditions, like sleep apnea, acid reflux and more.

Wake up on the right side of the bed

While there’s no ‘right’ way to sleep, sleeping on your stomach generally isn’t recommended because of the position’s effects on your neck and back. If you find it hard to sleep in another position, though, place a pillow under your pelvis to help reduce strain. Avoid putting your neck at an awkward angle by using a very soft pillow under your head or sleeping sans pillow.

Restore, don’t snore

man snoring wife with pillow over ears
Snoring is loud: both miss sleep

If you snore or have obstructive sleep apnea, back sleeping may worsen the problem, so opt for your side instead. In fact, experts from the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Sleep Medicine say about 10 percent of sleep apnea sufferers may be cured simply by changing sleep positions. If you’re not able to change position, using a wedge pillow to elevate your head may help. Need more motivation to side sleep? Doing so can also help relieve acid reflux (heartburn), insomnia and chronic sleep deprivation.

Avoiding back, shoulder and neck pain

Woman sleeping on her side with pillow
Hug a pillow: you will slep better

Pillows can help lessen back pain in most positions. If you sleep on your back, a pillow under the knees or a rolled towel under the small of your back helps maintain the body’s natural curve. If you’re a side sleeper, a pillow between your knees can provide extra support while helping hip and knee issues, too. If you have spinal stenosis (pinched nerves in the lower back), bending your knees may also help ease discomfort.

For side sleepers with shoulder pain, avoid sleeping on the affected side. Instead, sleep on the opposite side and hug a pillow. Or, sleep on your back with a small pillow beneath the injured shoulder. For neck pain, use a pillow that fills the space between your neck and shoulders, positioned above the shoulders.