Getting plenty of sleep is one of the most basic steps people can take when it comes to being healthy. And the way you position your body in bed can have a huge impact on your slumber – as well as your overall health.
The best position to sleep in is on your back — as long as snoring isn’t an issue.
“This keeps your head, neck, and back aligned,” says sleep consultant Alanna McGinn, founder of Good Night Sleep Site.
An added bonus: when you lie on your back, you improve the health of your skin, with gravity working in your skin’s favour.
“Sleeping on your back will not only eliminate the morning puffiness, but you’ll also avoid those sleep lines from your pillow, which can take longer to fade as you age” McGinn says. “It’s a natural facelift for your skin.”
Lying on your back also helps prevent acid reflux, since it’s less likely for digested substances to come back up when the stomach is below the esophagus.
The next best way to go? Sleeping on your side in the “lateral” position.
According to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, side sleeping is good for your brain, and may help protect against neurological disease. The brain’s glymphatic pathway clears harmful waste, a contributor to the development of neurological disorders, especially during sleep. Using brain scans of rodents, researchers found that the side position could prove to be the best position for the brain-waste clearance process.
“It is interesting that the lateral sleep position is already the most popular in humans and most animals—even in the wild—and it appears that we have adapted the lateral sleep position to most efficiently clear our brain of the metabolic waste products that built up while we are awake,” University of Rochester researcher Maiken Nedergaard said in a release.
Experts suggest placing a firm pillow between the knees to prevent the upper leg from pulling the spine out of alignment and to reduce stress on the hips and lower back.
When it comes to picking sides, the left is the best. Women who have had kids know this, because their doctors inform them during pregnancy that it helps promote blood flow. As McGinn puts it, “it makes it easier for the heart to pump downhill” and “helps circulation back to the heart.”
There are other reasons the left-hand side is where it’s at.
“Sleeping on your left side is the better side to sleep on as facilitates lymphatic drainage, supports better elimination, supports healthy spleen function, encourages proper digestion, and helps bile flow more freely,” McGinn says.
Sleeping on the right side, meanwhile, can have the opposite effects.
Be sure to be as straight as possible during side sleep. If you’re curled up too tightly in the fetal position (with your knees up to your chest), it can restrict breathing in the diaphragm, according to the Arlington, Va.-based National Sleep Foundation
People who sleep on their stomach find themselves in the worst position of all.
“It goes against the natural curve of your spine and can put strain on your neck,” McGinn says. That can cause numbness, tingling, pain and irritated nerves.
Sleeping on your tummy also forces the neck to be in a rotated, tight position, which can compromise your breathing and circulation.
If you must sleep on your stomach, the National Sleep Foundation suggests lying face-down to keep the upper airways open—rather than with your head turned to one side—with your forehead propped up on a pillow to allow room to breathe.