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Health

What Are the Best Sleeping Positions?

Tara Youngblood

15.02.21

What are the best sleeping positions

Maybe you’re looking for deep sleep hacks -- and want to know whether sleeping on your back, side, or stomach is best for quality sleep.

What is the best sleeping position for you? The truth is, there’s no universally approved sleeping position.

My husband Todd and I have totally different sleeping styles -- we often joke that the best sleep position is a restful one!

Even The Cleveland Clinic, in a new blog that examined which sleep position is best, didn't choose the best sleeping position either. Instead, it recommends alternating between your back and sides, which is less stressful to the spine. That movement is key, since static positions may increase back symptoms. Always sleeping on your right side can cause pain in your right shoulder or always sleeping on your stomach can trigger back and neck pain.

This echoes a 2019 review of literature on the best sleeping position for sleep posture and back pain. In that study, the results showed that although the side-lying position was generally protective against back pain and stiffness, it was far from conclusive. The study noted that while there’s probably a relationship between sleep posture and spinal symptoms, “there were not enough high-quality studies to adequately answer our research question.”

But people ask me questions all the time about how to improve their sleep quality when dealing with insomnia, illness, or injury. I needed to dig into this a little more -- how could I simply tell them to flip over like a pancake during the night?

We're all unique and there’s no one correct way to sleep. So my individual advice will vary based on your personal issues. After all, what works as the best sleeping position for neck pain is going to be different than the best sleep position for acid reflux.

Still, based on my research, I’m giving a slight advantage to side sleeping, and here’s why: it’s been shown to boost your cognitive abilities!

Deep Sleep and Brain Health: Sleep Your Way Smarter

I’ve written before about hacks for deep sleep and that bad sleep can affect cognitive performance. Sleep affects your brain’s ability to absorb new information because glucose metabolism escalates during deep sleep, strengthening your memory and overall learning capability.

Stay with me here, because I was thrilled to find a link between sleep posture and brain health. It started back in 2013 when scientists looked at something called the glymphatic system. The glymphatic network -- often called the “front end” for waste clearance -- is connected downstream to the lymphatic network. That study found that restorative sleep clears over 60% of potentially neurotoxic waste products in the brain that accumulates in the awake central nervous system.

Just two years later, scientists wanted to know if there was a link between body posture and brain glymphatic transport. It showed that side sleepers might have the advantage. When comparing how sleep position affected rats’ brains, researchers found that side sleeping is healthier because side sleeping helps clear waste from the brain:

The glymphatic pathway expedites clearance of waste, including soluble amyloid β (Aβ) from the brain. To validate the MRI data and to assess specifically the influence of body posture on clearance of Aβ, we used fluorescence microscopy and radioactive tracers. The analysis showed that glymphatic transport was most efficient in the lateral position compared with the supine or prone positions. In the prone position, in which the rat's head was in the most upright position (mimicking posture during the awake state), transport was characterized by 'retention' of the tracer [and] slower clearance. The optical imaging and radiotracer studies confirmed that glymphatic transport and Aβ clearance were superior in the lateral and supine positions. We propose that the most popular sleep posture (lateral) has evolved to optimize waste removal during sleep.

Although glymphatic health is still a newer area of study, a comprehensive review by the journal Gerontology suggests that “maintaining efficient brain waste drainage across the lifespan – possibly by preserving normal sleep architecture” has emerged as a way to prevent cognitive dysfunction and decline.

Side-sleeping can also be good for cardiac patients. There have been studies, even dating back to 1937, that suggest cardiac output is better with right-side sleeping (due to gravity pulling the heart toward the center of the chest).

Best Sleeping Position: So How ARE We Sleeping?

While side sleeping may be best, it’s sleep quality that matters most of all. The National Institute of Health points out that a chronic lack of sleep increases the risk of disorders including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity.

But what’s the best sleeping position in terms of popularity?

According to UK Professor Chris Idzikowski, the fetal position is the most common. This makes sense since we all did this in the womb. This position is favored by more women than men.

Most Popular Sleep Positoins

Source: BBC News

The Log position came in second place, followed by the Yearner (side sleeping with both arms out in front). Stomach sleeping, as in the Freefaller, is said to be good for improved digestion.

But the Soldier -- back sleepers with both arms pinned to the sides -- can often lead to acid reflux, snoring, and a bad night's sleep for you (and maybe an unhappy partner, too). Sleep apnea can also be made worse by back sleeping. Likewise, the Starfish -- with both arms up around the pillow a la Da Vinci’s famous Vitruvian Man -- may lead to snoring and disrupted sleep.

Bottom Line: Cooler Sleep Helps to Improve Sleep Quality

From early bird to night owl, each person’s sleep chronotype is unique -- so it makes sense that every human has a unique preference for how they sleep best.

While side sleeping has a lot going for it, the more important thing is sleep quality! The amount of restful sleep you get is critical because better sleep can increase your productivity, aid weight loss, prevent disease, and enhance cognitive thinking.

If you’re struggling to achieve deep sleep, start by setting the stage hours before bedtime -- keep your bedroom tidy, dim the lights, and keep the bedroom cool and dark. If you tend to sleep hot and toss and turn throughout the night, lowering your core body temperature can definitely help. Find your ideal sleep temperature by adding either the cooling bed pad Cube or the OOLER, a heating and cooling mattress topper to transform the performance of your current mattress into a haven of blissful, sweat-free comfort.

No matter which way you snooze best -- side, stomach, or back -- our products let you set the perfect temperature to boost your time spent in deep sleep.

About Tara Youngblood

Tara Youngblood is ChiliSleep’s co-founder and CEO. An accomplished scientist, author, and speaker, Tara’s unique ideas are revolutionizing the future of sleep health by making sleep easy, approachable, and drug-free.
Learn more about Tara.