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What is the best sleep position? An expert weighs in on the healthiest way to ensure rest

What goes into getting a good night's rest? Sleep has a profound impact on mood and overall health, so it's essential to get it right in both quantity and quality.

For many, the hardest part is falling asleep in the first place. Experts previously told ˽ýӳ rituals like writing to-do lists and picking a consistent bedtime can help.

But once you’ve hit the hay, is there a best way to sleep? We asked , the director of the Indiana Sleep Center, a medical review expert at Sleep Foundation, a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the author of “Sleep to Heal.” 

What is the healthiest sleep position?

Sleeping on your back is generally the best position for the spine and can help with chronic back or neck pain, Singh says. It’s also a more breathable position – with your face up toward the ceiling your skin can breathe, your diaphragm can expand fully and nasal congestion eases. 

Side sleeping is another comfortable position, especially during pregnancy. Side sleeping can or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) − when you're flat on your back, gravity no longer keeps the stomach acid down, making reflux more common.

This position can also help chronic snorers – you’re in the lateral position when your head is turned. Make sure you or a partner keeps an eye on your snoring habits when you sleep on your side, Singh says. If you continue snoring while lateral sleeping, it could be a sign of sleep apnea.

There's not much research to indicate one “best” position for sleeping, Singh explains. You should leave it up to your sleeping body to decide. Even sleeping on your belly, which can sometimes twist the neck unnaturally, is still normal. We typically turn over and change positions about 20-25 times in our sleep without remembering, Singh says.

“It’s like you’re in a washing machine – the washing machine is going to toggle the clothes in all directions for it to be washed well. If you sleep in different positions, all parts of your body can rest," Singh says. "The body is a very intelligent animal."

Turning in your sleep is different from restlessness, however. Waking up from turning is disruptive to your sleep quality. If you're experiencing regular pain or discomfort in the morning that may be a signal to talk to your doctor about your sleep habits. 

“If you wake up consistently unrefreshed, no matter what position, it’s time to say something,” Singh says. 

Why am I always tired?Possible causes and when to seek help

How to sleep with lower back pain

Sleeping on your back is often the most helpful position for back pain because it lets gravity do the work while you rest. 

Some may still find side-sleeping to be more comfortable, Singh says. It's largely a preference – your body knows how to soothe itself. 

“If they are in pain, the body will turn them around to find a comfortable position,” he says.

Best way to sleep with neck pain

Back sleeping is also helpful for chronic neck pain because it keeps the spine in alignment. Make sure you have a comfortable pillow that keeps your spine in its natural s-shape. But even the “best” pillow is subjective – everyone has a preference.

“In theory, any pillow that keeps your spine and its curvature preserved, that’s a good pillow for your neck,” Singh says. “If you wake up with neck pain, of course, that’s not a good pillow.”

It’s normal to have an “off night” or wake up with a stiff neck every now and then, but talk to your doctor if it becomes a regular occurrence, Singh says.

How to improve your sleep quality

There’s not much you need to do while you’re in bed – let the body take over and do its thing, Singh says. You can, however, control your environment and sleep hygiene habits to prepare for a good night's sleep. 

Here’s what Singh and other sleep experts recommended to ˽ýӳ:

  • Set a consistent sleep and wake time
  • Prioritize “wind-down” time before bed by meditating, taking a warm bath or shower, reading or listening to calming music
  • Establish a cool, dark, comfortable and quiet sleep space
  • Use breathable sheets and pillowcases, which allow the body to lose heat while sleeping
  • Avoid alcohol, food, caffeine and electronics before bed
  • Stretch before bed and first thing in the morning to relax the muscles

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