This Is the Best Way to Sleep, According to a Sleep Specialist

published Aug 17, 2022
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: PeopleImages/Getty

The way you sleep could impact your health — in a good way. It’s not just about how many hours you spend in bed or the discipline you show in keeping electronics out of the bedroom. The position you sleep in could help ease ailments or illness.

“We spend about one-third of our time sleeping and we usually don’t move as much when we sleep as during the day when we are awake, so if we are in an uncomfortable position, we may experience neck, back, shoulder or hip pain,” says Sara E. Benjamin, Clinical Associate and Medical Director of Clinical Operations at Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep and Wellness. 

A study found that more than half of adults sleep on their sides. One-third of adults prefer to sleep on their backs, and the rest are stomach sleepers. As for the best way to sleep? That will depend on your body and its needs. 

Hip or Shoulder Pain

For side sleepers, it’s not uncommon to feel hip or shoulder pain in the side you sleep on. If you’re feeling hip or shoulder pain, sleeping on your back might help relieve pressure. You could also try rolling to your other side.

Back Pain

If you have back pain, sleeping on your back might relieve pain. One thing to watch, though, is the height of your pillow. You want your spine and neck in a straight line when you sleep. Sleeping with a pillow roll or towel under your knees can also take pressure off your back.

Sleep Apnea

For people with sleep apnea, sleeping on their stomach or side is often better than back sleeping. People with sleep apnea who sleep on their backs tend to have poorer sleep quality.

Credit: Getty Images/ Westend61

Acid Reflux

For people with acid reflux, sleeping on their left side could be most beneficial. A study found that people were exposed to acid for a shorter amount of time when they slept on their left side rather than their backs or right side.


Sleeping with a cold can be a challenge, which is unfortunate because you need sleep to feel better. Lying flat can lead to post-nasal drip that leads to sore throat or a cough. Sleeping on your stomach, side, or on your back with an extra pillow to elevate the head can help. 

How do you switch sides?

If you’re sick or have an injury, your usual sleeping position might not work, and you may sleep better in a different position. But sleep habits can be hard to break and change isn’t always easy. Benjamin says some props can help.

“You can use a pillow placed horizontally next to you so that if you roll to your back you are semi-supported and not flat,” she explains. “There are sleep positioning devices like ZZoma and Slumber Bump to help patients with OSA (obstructive sleep apnea) avoid supine (back) sleep. Some people may try a hip pack stuffed with socks.”

Pick a proper pillow.

Another prop for sleeping better that most people already own is a pillow, but not just any pillow will do. “Pay attention to the height of your pillow,” Benjamin advises.

For most people, the pillow should support your head, so your neck is parallel to the mattress. A pillow that is too high for you will tilt your chin toward your chest. For some people, raising their heads will help them breathe better. You can go to a mattress store to try out several pillows to see what feels best. Salespeople are often trained in helping you find the right pillow height for your sleep needs, and if you’re still unsure, you can also talk to your doctor about what sleep position might be best for you.