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Rest Easy: The Best Sleeping Positions for 12 Health Conditions

These are the best sleeping positions for people who are pregnant, dealing with pain, have a cold and other common health conditions.

Hedy Phillips CNET Contributor
Hedy Phillips is a freelance lifestyle writer based in New York. While she's not writing on topics like living on a budget and tips for city dwelling, she can usually be found at a concert or sightseeing in a new city. Over the past 10 years, her bylines have appeared in a number of publications, including POPSUGAR, Hunker, and more.
Hedy Phillips
4 min read
A woman with dark brown, long curly hair sleeping on her side in a bed with white bedding.
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For many people, going to bed is the most relaxing part of the day. However, for those who deal with chronic pain or certain health conditions, sleep time can bring on stress, as you might wake up in even more pain if you're not careful. The position you sleep in at night (and how you arrange your pillows) can hurt or help you. So that your sleep position will do the latter, we'll help you target some health conditions that can be dealt with while you sleep.

Read more: Stop Accepting Bad Sleep. 42 Expert Ways to Take Charge of Your Sleep Quality

What is the best sleeping position?

There are several different ways people will position themselves while sleeping: on their backs, on their stomachs and on their sides. All of these sleeping positions have pros and cons, and some of that comes down to what is the most comfortable for you. 

Many people are back sleepers because they find it comfortable, especially on the joints. Sleeping this way can be quite pleasant because your body is relaxing and practically sinking into your bed. However, this can be a problem if you're prone to snoring or sleep apnea because gravity causes the tongue to fall back, creating a slight airway obstruction. 

Stomach sleepers may find comfort in resting face down in bed, but it can be hard on your neck to be turned to the side and hard on your back to have it arched. There are pillows you can sleep with that make stomach sleeping a bit easier on your body if that's your position of choice, though.

Side sleeping is the most popular sleeping position and is considered to be the best for sleep quality, especially if you support your head properly and keep your body in a position where your joints are taken care of and your airway is unobstructed. 

People who are considered combination sleepers are those who don't adhere to any one sleeping position. They might move around during the night or favor one sleeping position one day and a different one another. This is also common.

12 health conditions and the best sleeping positions

Pregnant woman sleeps on her side with a pregnancy pillow between her knees.
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If you're dealing with pain, the way you sleep can make it better (or worse, if you're not careful). Find out how you can sleep soundly and minimize the effects of certain health conditions.

Pregnancy

The universally accepted best position for sleeping while pregnant is on your side. This takes the pressure off your spine and allows your stomach to rest comfortably. You may also want to put a pregnancy pillow under your stomach and between your knees to alleviate further stress on your joints.

Lower back pain

The best sleeping position for lower back pain is to lie on your back so your spine stays neutral. For lower back pain specifically, it can also help to use a pillow under your knees so that your legs aren't pulling on your spine. 

Read more: Best Mattress for Back Pain in 2024

Breathing difficulty

To reduce shortness of breath, it is recommended that you sleep on your side with a pillow between your knees or on your back with a pillow under your knees. You will want to make sure your head is elevated. Both of these positions can help control sleep apnea and keep airways clear.

A cold or the flu

If you have a cold or the flu, try sleeping on your back with your head propped up. This can help keep your sinuses from becoming more congested than they already are and can help you rest easier. 

Neck pain

Sleeping on your side or back can help alleviate neck pain. If you're on your back, you'll want a rounded pillow under your neck for support. If you're on your side, you'll also want a pillow directly under your neck for support so that your spine stays neutral.

Sleep apnea

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If you deal with sleep apnea, try sleeping on your side or stomach. Both of these positions help keep your airways unobstructed, thus keeping sleep apnea in check.

Sciatica

Sleeping both on your side and on your back can help relieve sciatic pain. Either of these options will keep your spine neutral and take pressure off the sciatic nerve. Support your neck and head with a pillow, but not your shoulders, as that can throw your spine out of alignment. 

Hip pain

For those who wake up in the morning with hip pain or who find their hip pain exacerbated by their sleeping position, try sleeping on your back. Sleep on the opposite side of the hip that's giving you trouble. You should also put a pillow between your knees to take some pressure off your joints.

Knee pain

Both back and side sleeping can help with knee pain, though back sleeping is generally more recommended. If you're sleeping on your back, it is advised that you place pillows under your knees to relieve pressure. If you sleep on your side, place a pillow between your knees.

Menstrual cramps

Sleeping on your back can help with period pains. This position, especially with a pillow under your knees, takes the pressure off your stomach, organs and back, which can help ease cramping. 

Ear infection

There are a couple of helpful sleeping options if you have ear pain. Firstly, you can sleep on the opposite side of the ear that's giving you trouble. You also want to sleep slightly elevated so that you're alleviating the pressure on your inner ear. 

Overactive bladder 

If you have an overactive bladder, sleep on your side so there's no pressure on your bladder. You can also elevate your legs during the night to keep the need to urinate at bay.

Bottom line

Man sleeping on her side in his bed
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Plenty of aches and pains can be dealt with while you're sleeping -- at the very least, so they don't get any worse by the time you wake up in the morning. Understanding the benefits of each sleeping position can help you target different parts of your body that you want to help.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.