Sleeping Position

What Sleeping Position is Best?

Sleep is the best form of recovery for active people. Without sleep our mental and physical capacity slowly gets worse and training and performance can suffer. For some people the positions they sleep make their body sore enough that sleep is disturbed or even stopped. This article reviews the current views on sleep position and bedding to enable ever athlete to make night time the right time for recovery.

Back Sleeping

Back sleeping is ideal for those who don’t have a risk of snoring and have flexible enough hips to allow them to lie flat without their backs over-arching. Most people find that the can only last a limited time in this position, and many like to have a small pillow tucked under their knees, or cross their legs in order to bend one knee.

When sleeping on the back, a small to medium pillow is recommended. Many people feel like they a larger pillow, and while they may get to sleep more peacefully, they often wake with a sore neck.

Trying to train your body to cope with a smaller pillow when on your back teaches your body to get better at holding a straight position. Try just resting on your back in bed at first – without trying to go to sleep. You may find you learn how to cope better and better in this position.

For people with extension related back pain (spondylolysis and stress fractures), this position usually provides an increased risk of discomfort.

Side Sleeping

Side sleeping is usually described as the most common sleeping position. Pillow selection is critical here. The aim of a pillow with a side sleeper is to fill the gap between the bed and the side of your head. This is probably the thickest a pillow should be, and is therefore not much use in other positions of rest. A good idea is to use two thinned pillows in place of one large one. This allows you to use the two pillows under the neck when side sleeping, but switch to one when you are on your back.

Side sleeping is usually the least injurious position for neck and back pain, but can place undue stress on the shoulder you are sleeping on if you don’t take the opportunity to roll over in the night. Your body is designed to move, even in your sleep.

Stomach Sleeping

Stomach sleeping gets a bad rap from sleep experts, but is the most comfortable sleeping position for many flexible people. In truth there are not many who truly sleep on their stomach’s where many will sleep on their belly’s with one leg hooked up. A well placed pillow under the hips here will make for a comfortable and sustainable position especially when combined with a small pillow tucked under the chest to allow the head to comfortably be turned to one side.

A pillow is not recommended under the head at all in this position, however if one must be used – a very thin one is the main option. Stomach sleepers also generally like to have a firm bed.

Bed Selection

Bed selection based on sleeping posture has been found to correlate with sleep quality in a 2010 study of beds. 27 patients were given beds to use for 12 weeks based on their sleep position, and asked to rate their risk of pain and quality of sleep over the trial period. The results showed that choosing your bed firmness based on your sleeping posture decreases pain and increases sleep quality.

Using this simple guide, you can sleep to the fullest of your potential. Remember to move in your sleep, and as you move, shift your pillows accordingly. All positions are good positions if you are suited to them. Sleep well, and stay active.


Jacobson B, Boolani A, Dunklee G, Shepardson A, Acharya H. Effect of prescribed sleep surfaces on back pain and sleep quality in patients diagnosed with low back and shoulder pain. Applied Ergonomics [serial online]. December 2010;42(1):91-97.

Fong T, Choice Magazine Mattress Survey, Choice Australia, May 2010