A guide to sleeping positions and choosing the right mattress and pillow

When it comes to sleeping positions, most of us don’t think about it. We just do what feels comfortable. So, which are the best and worst positions for sleeping?

And is there an optimal mattress type and pillow shape that’s a perfect match for your preferred position in bed?

Which is better: sleeping on your right side or your left side?

The good news: there isn’t a perfect sleeping position.

When it comes to sleeping position preferences, people fall into four main categories:

  • Side-sleepers who prefer lying on their left side
  • Side-sleepers who prefer lying on their right side
  • Back-sleepers, and,
  • People who prefer to sleep on their front.

During a typical night’s sleep, people often change positions. For example, some people start sleeping on their back and will move to a side position during the night.

With all of these positions, physiotherapists recommend a posture which ensures the back and neck remain in alignment and you avoid unnecessary stress on your joints. A good sleeping posture helps reduce joint aches and pains and guarantees a better night’s sleep.

Tips for Side-Sleepers

According to a US sleep survey, around 47% of people prefer to lie on their side when sleeping. A UK survey confirmed that 41% slept in the foetal position on their side.

  • Lying on either side can help relax the structures of the back, including the discs, muscles and ligaments.
  • To achieve a good posture, your knees should be bent and a pillow placed between your knees. This helps support the hips in the midline position. This is especially good for pregnant women who often have trouble sleeping in the latter months of their pregnancy.
  • You may also place pillows under the side(s) of the body to support the back in the midline position.
  • The best mattress for a side-sleeper is comfortable and provides good support to keep your back in alignment. Because side-sleepers lie on their shoulder, they may find using a softer mattress or mattress topper relieves the pressure. 
  • The ideal pillow for a side-sleeper has a medium to high profile. 

Tips for Stomach-Sleepers

Sleeping on your stomach can help reduce snoring and sleep apnoea, but many health experts recommend against it. Their reasoning is that sleeping on your front can put extra strain on your neck and back.

  • If you can’t get to sleep any other way, try and sleep with your shoulder slightly back. Or place a pillow under your pelvis. This helps to keep your back in a neutral position and takes the pressure off your spine.
  • A very soft mattress may not provide the support you need and may put an asymmetrical strain on your spine. We suggest that a medium to firm mattress will ensure you have the right amount of support. 
  • Use a low-profile or soft pillow so that your head and neck are less angled. 

    Tips for Back-Sleepers

    Around 10% of the population find sleeping on their back the most comfortable position in bed.

    • If lying on your back is your preferred position, place pillows under your knees to off-load the lower back.
    • Make sure there are enough pillows to support the neck and head in the mid-line position. This prevents the head and neck from sloping forward or back.
    • Back-sleepers are more likely to snore or have sleep apnoea. This may result in a disturbed sleep. A supportive, comfortable mattress is recommended for back-sleepers. If you’re not sure, a medium-firm mattress is a good place to start. 
    • A low-profile pillow is ideal if you sleep on your back. 

       The Pros & Cons: A quick summary on sleeping positions

      • Though there’s no ‘right’ position to sleep in bed, sleeping on your back can increase the likelihood you’ll snore or develop sleep apnoea.
      • To minimise the strain on your back, it’s crucial to select the right pillow and mattress based on how you sleep.
      • It’s important that your mattress and pillow help to keep your spine correctly aligned to avoid tiredness and aches in the morning.
      • Using extra pillows - under your knees for back-sleepers, under your pelvis for stomach-sleepers, and between your knees for side-sleepers – can help support your body.

      Finally, here are some tips for how to get out of bed after sleep

      No matter what your sleeping position, making the most of a great night’s sleep is key to starting the day off well. People are at their most vulnerable after a night's sleep because the discs are full of fluid.

      Experts advise that we should:

      • Avoid any strenuous exercises first thing.
      • When getting out of bed, roll onto your side, bend your knees, use your hands to raise yourself up and lower your legs over the side of the bed. This will minimise too much movement on the back.
      • Finally, have a good stretch.