The Sleep Position Experts Warn Against—And How to Snooze Instead

Many chiropractors and sleep experts are in agreement when it comes to the worst sleeping position: It’s the stomach.

Not many people sleep on their stomachs—only about 7 percent of adults choose this position, according to News Medical. A majority of adults sleep on their side, and about 38 percent prefer sleeping on their back.

There are neck, back and shoulder pain risks for stomach sleepers, according to the Cleveland Clinic. In a June Cleveland Clinic article on health essentials, chiropractor Andrew Bang, DC, compared the body’s spine to a car when it comes to the importance of alignment. When a person sleeps on their stomach, they throw off their spine and risk throwing off their entire body.

“It puts added stress on your lower back—and that’s a part of the body that most of us are already taxing in our day-to-day activities,” Bang said.

Experts say stomach sleeping is worst
A person sleeps on the beach during Memorial Day weekend on May 28, 2023, in Wildwood, New Jersey. Experts have weighed in on sleeping positions and say sleeping on the stomach is the worst option.
Hannah Beier/Getty Images

Sleeping on the stomach also requires twisting the head in one direction or another while lying down, which can bring about neck pain. In turn, this can create a feeling of being “wired but tired,” chiropractor and counselor Dr. Sarah Jane told Newsweek earlier this year. Stomach sleeping also brings shoulder pain risks because humans naturally lift their arms while at rest, which adds tension to the shoulders and arms while sleeping on the stomach.

All these factors contribute to the stomach being sleep experts’ “least favorable” sleeping position, Jane had said.

Experts widely agree that sleeping on the back or side is preferable to stomach sleeping. Back sleeping is the best way to avoid adding pressure on the spine, according to the Cleveland Clinic. But Mayo Clinic experts warn it’s not the best choice for people who struggle with sleep apnea or snoring.

“Sleeping on the back means that your tongue and jaw can fall down and crowd your airway,” Mayo Clinic sleep specialist Dr. Lois Krahn said in a “Mayo Clinic Minute” released in March.

Meanwhile, sleeping on the side is viewed as the best option for people with back or neck issues. Experts say side sleeping also helps with breathing and posture. Chiropractor Grant Radermacher previously told Newsweek a person’s posture while sleeping can further benefit from the use of a pillow placed between the knees.

Which side a person sleeps on matters, as well. According to the AARP, sleeping on the right side is better for people with heart issues because that position prevents the heart from moving unnecessarily during sleep. For people with digestion issues, sleeping on the left side is preferred because the position doesn’t add extra pressure on the stomach.

Though some sleep positions bring more risks than others, experts with the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) noted in an email to Newsweek that deciding which position to sleep in is ultimately a “very personal decision.”

“What works for one person, may or may not work well for others,” according to NSF Vice President of Research and Scientific Affairs Joseph Dzierzewski. “Generally, sleeping on one’s stomach might result in pain in the back, neck, or shoulders. This is due to misalignment and stress placed on the spine. If you sleep on your stomach and notice pain in your back, neck, or shoulders upon awakening in the morning, perhaps sleeping in a different position might be a better fit.”

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