The Best Sleep Position For What Ails You
Tummy, side, or back? How you lie down at night can make a big difference in how you feel in the morning.
One trick to reducing back pain is to keep your spine in its natural curve. Your best bet is lying on your back or side with a pillow or two strategically placed to take stress off your lower back, says Jeffrey Goldstein, MD, chief of the Spine Service for Education and the Spine Fellowship at NYU Langone Health. “Often people are more comfortable on their back if there’s a pillow behind their knees, or between the knees if they’re on their side,” he says. Whether your hip pain comes from osteoarthritis or overusing a tendon while running, the advice is the same: Lie on your back with a pillow under your knees, which will keep your spine neutral—twisting to neither the right nor the left—and put less pressure on the hips, says Priyanka Yadav, DO, a sleep-medicine specialist at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. “More pressure means more pain, which could keep you from getting a good night’s sleep,” she says.
“A lot of knee pain can be caused by the legs touching each other,” says Charles Bae, MD, a sleep specialist at the Penn Sleep Center at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. He recommends putting a pillow or something else soft between your legs to reduce the contact.
The right pillow or set of pillows will keep your head even with your shoulders, reducing neck pain. Find a height that stops you from straining your neck up or down, says Dr. Goldstein. Sleeping on your pain-free side could help but might eventually cause that shoulder to hurt, too, says Dr. Yadav. Lie on your back instead, with a rolled-up towel under your neck to help distribute the pressure more evenly. Or alternate between your back and your pain-free side. Placing a body pillow next to you can stop you from rolling onto the achy shoulder.
TMJ Pain Shoulder Pain
If you’ve got temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction or another type of jaw pain, sleep faceup. “Sleeping with your face on its side can put pressure on the joints or the
jaw itself and make the pain worse,” says Ana Paula Ferraz-dougherty, DDS, a spokesperson for the American Dental Association.
Your sheets can collect oil from your skin, leading to breakouts. While this isn’t the main cause of acne, try to keep your facial skin off your dirty pillowcase by sleeping on your back.
If your partner is complaining about your bearlike snores, try to sleep on your side. “When you’re on your back, gravity pushes everything into the airways and makes them smaller, with disturbances in airflows,” says Dr. Yadav. If your snoring is caused by nasal congestion, one less obvious trick she recommends is to elevate your head with two or three pillows to help drainage.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
On the other hand, if obstructive sleep apnea is the root of your snoring (or nighttime tooth grinding), lying on your side may stop it before it starts. “It’s most commonly caused when you lie on your back and your tongue
falls back and causes the obstruction,” says Dr. Ferraz-dougherty. When that happens, your upper airway is partially or totally blocked, so you wake up briefly—sometimes for too short a time to notice—for a good gulp of air. Talk to a doctor if your snoring persists even after you switch positions.
READER’S DIGEST When your stomach valve relaxes enough to let acid come up into the esophagus, you feel the burning sensation of acid reflux. Studies have shown that sleeping on your left side helps symptoms, likely because that position doesn’t let the valve open as easily, says David Johnson, MD, chief of gastroenterology and a professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School and past president of the American College of Gastroenterology. No matter what position you sleep in, use gravity to your advantage by keeping your upper body elevated with a wedge-shaped pillow that tapers down from a height of eight to ten inches. That’s better than using a big stack of flat pillows, which puts your body at a harsher angle, contracting your abs as if you’re in a sit-up and putting pressure on your stomach.