Health: There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to sleeping with back pain.
What is the best sleep position? Unfortunately, there’s no one ideal sleep position to rule them all, says Jennifer Y. So, MD, a pulmonologist and the medical director of the University of Maryland Sleep Laboratory. “Depending on someone’s stage of life or individual health conditions, the best sleep position can vary,” Dr. So tells Health.
Two types of people particularly benefit from sleeping on their sides. According to Alon Avidan, MD, MPH, the head of UCLA’s Sleep Disorder Center, people with obstructive sleep apnea should sleep on their sides to keep their airways open. Essentially, back-sleeping creates a gravitational pull on the tongue, which can block the airway. “When you’re on your side, you partially remove that obstruction,” Dr. Avidan tells Health. People who persistently snore but don’t have sleep apnea might also find they sleep better (and more quietly) on their sides.
If you don’t have breathing problems and you’re not pregnant, it’s perfectly fine to sleep on your back. In fact, Dr. Yo says people with back pain or any type of spine problem may benefit from back-sleeping. “These individuals may experience that sleeping on their backs leads to less back pain because it allows for more natural alignment of the spine,” she says.
There’s one exception: Memmini says people with lower back problems may find back-sleeping to exacerbate pain. In that case, it can be helpful to sleep with a pillow under your knees so your legs aren’t pulling down.