Best Sleeping Positions for These 12 Different Health Conditions

Learn how sleeping on your side, back or stomach can alleviate pain, make a cold more tolerable and help eliminate sleep apnea.

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
5 min read
Woman sleeping on her back with a sleep mask on.
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For a lot of us, the time we head to bed is the most relaxing part of the day. For those dealing with pain or certain health conditions, though, sleep time can bring on stress, knowing that 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 either hurt you or help you. Ahead, we'll help you target some health conditions that can be dealt with while you sleep.

What is the best sleeping position?

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

Plenty of people sleep on their backs because they find it comfortable, especially on the joints. Because your body is relaxing and practically sinking into your bed, it can be quite pleasant to sleep this way. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, this can be a problem if you're prone to snoring or sleep apnea because of the way your jaw hangs. 

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 considered by Mayo Clinic to be the best for your body, especially if you're propping your head up properly and keeping your body in a position where your joints are taken care of and your airway's unobstructed. 

There are also people who are considered combo sleepers, and they are the ones 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 day. This is also common.

12 health concerns 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 some health conditions.


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 pillow under your stomach and between your knees to alleviate any further stress on your joints.

Lower back pain

According to Keck Medicine of USC, 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. 

Breathing difficulty

The Cleveland Clinic recommends sleeping on your side with a pillow between your knees or sleeping on your back with a pillow under your knees. Both of these positions can help keep sleep apnea under control and keep airways clear.

A cold or the flu

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

Neck pain

Sleeping on your side or back will help alleviate neck pain, according to Harvard Health. 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 your spine stays neutral.

Sleep apnea

If you deal with sleep apnea, try sleeping on your side or stomach. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, both of these positions help keep your airways unobstructed, thus keeping sleep apnea in check.


Sleeping both on your side and on your back can help relieve sciatic pain. According to the Cleveland Clinic, 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 the way they're sleeping, try sleeping on your back. You can also sleep on the opposite side of the hip that's giving you trouble, the Center for Spine and Orthopedics suggests. You should also put a pillow between your knees to take some pressure off your joints.

Knee pain

Back sleeping and side sleeping can both help with knee pain, though back sleeping is generally more recommended. If you're sleeping on your back, the Arthritis Foundation recommends placing pillows under your knees to take any pressure off. If you choose to 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 and organs, as well as your back — all of which can help ease cramping. 

Ear infection

There are a couple of sleeping options if you have ear pain. The Cleveland Clinic advises you to sleep on the opposite side of the ear giving you trouble. You also want to sleep slightly elevated so that you're taking off any of the pressure from your inner ear. 

Overactive bladder 

The Cleveland Clinic recommends sleeping on your side if you have an overactive bladder so that 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 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.