The Best (AND WORST!) Sleep Positions

If you ever wondered what the best and worst sleeping positions are for your body and health, then you are about to find out. In this video, I will break down the sleep positions that are doing more harm than good for your body. We hit the pillow every night with the intention of getting a restful night to help our bodies recover and to build back stronger. The problem is, when the position you put your body in at night is doing bad things to your body, making rest difficult to get, then you need to figure out a way to make a change.

We start by looking at the major categories of sleeping positions.

Most people are either a stomach sleeper, side sleeper or back sleeper. Within each category there are variations in how you can sleep in regards to the positions of your arms, head and legs.

Of these three however, there is one clear cut worst for almost everyone, and that is the stomach sleeping position. The issue here is that it places the lower back in an inordinate amount of extension at the lumbar spine. Even if you don’t have stenosis or spinal narrowing, this will be a bad position to put your back in for a long period of time.

Beyond the low back pain and sciatica aggravation that you can get here from the position of the low back we also have the thoracic rounding that this position manifests. As we know, rounding of the upper back is a chronic postural issue we see lots these days because of all the time we spend sitting and on our cell phones.

When you hit the gym and try to perform a front squat or any other exercise that demands good thoracic spine mobility, you will be reminded just how bad sleeping on your stomach is for achieving this needed range of motion.

It gets even worse however, since the shoulders and neck are also compromised by this sleep position. The shoulders have to be internally rotated and elevated in order to allow you to grip the pillow and the head has to be turned sideways in order to clear a passage to breathe. Both of these are a recipe for disaster when it comes to avoiding neck and shoulder orthopedic issues long term.

If you are a side sleeper you have three choices of how you want to position your legs.

First, you can keep them out long and stack them on top of each other. Here the downward torque on the top leg can place a strain on the lower back that should be avoided. Simply putting a pillow between your knees can help to create a better hip alignment and relieve the stress this is putting on your low back and body as a whole.

If you sleep with both legs pulled up, as in the fetal position, there is less of a chance for the hip related low back issues and less need for a pillow but you are inviting the risk that you get tighter psoas muscles from chronically sleeping in this way. Add this to the fact that you are essentially “sitting” while you sleep – a position you likely spend a great part of your waking day doing – and you’ll want to straighten those legs out instead.

Putting one leg up and the other down invites lumbar rotation into the mix. This is something that definitely should be avoided despite the fact that as a whole, this is a better sleep position than laying on your stomach.

Finally, the winner when it comes to how to sleep for best rest is the supine or on the back position. Some with already tight hip flexors are going to want to place a pillow under their knees to remove any excessive lumbar lordosis that could come from this position and help flatten the low back against the mattress. The arms can be kept either at your sides or held up behind the head to improve shoulder health.

Most importantly here, you want to fill the cervical lordotic curve with a pillow but still allow for the top of the head to slope down. You can do this by tucking the pillow the way I show you in the video. This allows for optimal airway clearance to not lead to obstructed breathing or apnea.

Bottom line, if you want to be healthy and feel great every day then you must be sure that you’re getting a restful night’s sleep. Use the information in this video to help you make a better more informed decision on what is best for your body and start adopting the changes. Your body will thank you for it.

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50 thoughts on “The Best (AND WORST!) Sleep Positions

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  2. Vitality - Fitness & Science says:

    We sleep 1/3rd of our life. The importance of sleep is therefore obvious! Great share Jeff.

  3. Sergio Almeida says:

    I have been having shoulder pain because I’m a side sleeper. It’s difficult to change position when you’re used to sleep only on your left side. Tks for the good information.

    • AMUN RA says:

      Yeah, I almost exclusively slept on my stomach growing up. Took a long time to break that habit, but I had to. It was destroying my lower back

    • Gillroy Garlic says:

      Try putting a pillow underneath your rib cage. I had the same problem and it realigned my spine/ shoulders to my skull.

  4. AJrenaline Studios says:

    For my fellow sleep paralysis sleepers, you have a greater chance to be induced into sleep paralysis when sleeping on your back according to studies. My recommendation is to sleep on your left side, it’s the most optimal for fluid flow throughout the organs according to studies. This decreases the chance of developing pneumonia when sick. Hope this helps!

    • Janelle T says:

      @AJrenaline I’m sorry to hear about your chronic sleep paralysis I’ve experienced it many times as well . Ive heard that it happens because evil spirits are attacking you , you’re not just dreaming that .I’ve strengthened my relationship with god and prayed for my home and rebuked any evil spirts in the name of Jesus and I haven’t had it in a long time knock on wood LOL I hope you find your peace ☮️

    • SniperShiv says:

      I don’t have a sleep paralysis disorder so I’m not too qualified to say anything, however in my personal experience I was aware during sleep paralysis once and i literally just went back to sleep because I couldn’t, and the other time I felt like my chest was heavy. It was honestly not that scary for me. Sad to see people suffer from it though, especially who experience scary stuff during the awareness

  5. Nadeem2604xo says:

    Jeff the type of guy to sleep on his back with no pillow, and keep his hands supinated by the side to prevent internal rotation of the shoulders.

  6. hadrien cuvelier says:

    Look at Jesse having his best time while Jeff is explaining stuff.
    Thanks for all the content!! Keep it up

  7. The Dude Abides says:

    Jeff, Excellent points on all of this. I am a side sleeper and in an unfortunate way, I have wide hips and large thighs, small knees, and large calves. Aesthetically, I look great with solid legs. However, when I sleep, since my knees don’t touch, when my top leg settles, I can literally feel it pulling my lower back down sideways. I started sleeping with a pillow between my knees and it helped so much. After chiros told me about the neutral spine position. I try to do that whenever possible. Great video.

    • Bruce The Snoose says:

      I swear he’s out to break us all down piece by piece. Gaslighting us into getting fit, I can dig it. Thanks Jeff?

  8. dot says:

    the position you sleep in is directly related to the mattress you sleep on. I’ve been selling mattresses for years and the importance of sleep is huge. Get yourself a good mattress, try it out in the store – every body needs a different mattress. Your spine should be straight, your hips should melt into the mattress a bit, lumbar area supported and shoulders(most importan btw) should be deep inside the mattress. Also if you have spine problems make sure to tell that to the mattress guy. Stay healthy everyone!

  9. Pallios says:

    You know, I’ve been struggling with this very issue these past few months and Jeff delivers once again!

  10. HZB _33 says:

    These are great tips and they’re much appreciated! I think the only issue unfortunately for certain people like myself is I move around a lot throughout the night. Whatever position or even area that I fall asleep in, is definitely not how or where I wake up lol.

    • Astor Ezequiel says:

      @HZB _33 Welp, that can definitely be the root of the problem, your snoring can be loud enough that it wakes you up, which leads you to move around. You don’t also experience sleep apnea, do you?

    • رضوان حس says:

      @Astor Ezequiel if you stay in one place blood is gonna have a harder time passing because of the pressure that you put on the body while laying down

  11. Robert Davis says:

    After a lot of self experimentation over the last few years, I’ve found the biggest predictors of quality sleep for me were: temperature, how long I spent preparing to sleep (reading), and what I ate in the latter half of the day. Room too warm? Definitely going to toss and turn. Went straight from a night out into bed? Going to struggle to fall asleep. Ate a huge cheeseburger an hour before trying to sleep? Probably going to get shoddy sleep in the middle of the night. Caffeine, level of activity, amount of sunlight etc seem to have very little effect. It’s always wise to heed the Pythian Oracle and know thyself, since everyone is a little different with these things.

    • Reudig123 lol says:

      Even when i do these things, i still need 3 hours to fall asleep atleast… except when im laying on my stomach i fall asleep after 10 minutes

    • SniperShiv says:

      @Reudig123 lol Try changing the position and clear your bias for that sleeping position. If you can’t get yourself to do that, then put a pillow under your stomach when you’re sleeping like that to create more of a neutral lower back. It’s advisable that the pillow is not too soft

    • High Definist says:

      Interesting. I also have somewhat conflicting information about whether caffeine is really disrupting my sleep or not… at least, it does not seem to cause me any significant problems. However, I did indeed also notice that eating a lot before going to bed often causes me to wake up sweating about 3-4 hours into the night (which is probably related to some temperature cycles, as explained by Huberman), which is obviously quite disruptive.
      Btw., what really helps me a lot in general is looking at a bright light in the morning (20000 lux for 10 minutes) – that, plus getting up roughly around the same time each day, seems to be THE single most important thing, at least for me.

  12. Bob Davenport says:

    Having done some research on this over the last few years as I have been dealing with some back pain, I now know that it’s a combination of sleep position AND the bed you are sleeping on. You have to match the firmness/type of your bed to your sleep position. And everyone is different as far as what causes them pain and pressure points. There are tons of videos like this on YouTube but unfortunately, it really isn’t as simple as “sleep in this position–don’t sleep in that position”

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