The Best Sleep Position for Back Pain and 10 Other Health Problems

Back pain and heartburn and wrinkles—oh my! This handy guide will help you figure out how to lie down for optimal health for these conditions.

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Back pain


Sleeping wrong could do your spine major damage (along with these 10 other surpsising things that cause back pain). The trick to reducing back pain (without even needing these 7 home remedies for back pain) is keeping your spine in its natural curve. Your best bets are lying on your back or side with a pillow strategically placed to take stress off your lower back, says Jeffrey Goldstein, MD, chief of spine service education at NYU Langone’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. “Often people are more comfortable on their back if there’s a pillow behind their knees, or between the knees if they’re on their side,” he says. Here are 10 steps to take if your back hurts in the morning.

Shoulder pain


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Sleeping on the side with your pain-free shoulder could help, but you’ll run the risk of flipping over during the night and putting more pressure on the one that hurts, says Charles Bae, MD, sleep specialist at the Sleep Disorders Center at the Cleveland Clinic. “Some mattresses give a bit so there’s less pressure on the joints of your shoulders or hips, but if it’s firm or stiff, it’s like laying on the floor and experiencing discomfort, causing you to shift positions,” he says. (Don't miss these other 23 things pain doctors won't tell you.) Start on your back or stomach instead to lessen your chance of ending in an uncomfortable spot. Find out the one time you should never ignore shoulder pain.

Hip pain


Sore hips can get relief from lying on your back, which straightens out the curve of the spine to put less pressure on the hips, says Priyanka Yadav, DO, sleep medicine specialist at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. “You don’t want to put more pressure on the area that hurts, because that will cause even more pain and night, and the pain will cause even lighter stages of sleep,” she says. Find out how to tell if your leg pain is serious.

Neck pain


Are you guilty of these 7 innocent habits that hurt your neck? The right set of pillows will keep your head even with your shoulders, reducing neck pain during the night. Find a stack height that stops you from straining your neck up or down, says Dr. Goldstein. Just be careful not to use too many, warns Dr. Bae. “In an effort to find a comfortable sleep position, some people get a huge, fluffy pillow, or double up on pillows,” he says. “They’re comfortable, but they don’t think about their head in relation to their neck.” In the morning, try this mini workout to cut neck pain in half.

Knee pain


If you're a fitness fiend, these 6 exercises can reduce knee pain when you run. When you're asleep, though, you might not realize what's causing the aches. “A lot of knee pain is from when legs are touching each other,” says Dr. Bae. He recommends putting a pillow or something else soft between your legs to reduce the contact. Here are proven knee pain treatments and when you need them.



If your partner is complaining about your bear-like snores, try these 11 tricks to stop snoring, then shifting to sleep on your side. “On your back, gravity pushes everything back into the airways and makes the airways smaller with disturbances in airflows,” says Dr. Yadav. Elevate your head with two or three pillows to help drainage go down more easily too, she says. These home remedies for snoring could be life-changing. Just check with a doctor to make sure you don't have this deadly condition snoring signals.



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If you’ve got temporomandibular joint dysfunction or another type of jaw pain, keep your cheeks off your pillow by sleeping face up. “Don’t keep your face on its side, because that can put pressure on the joints or the jaw itself and make the pain worse,” says Ana Paula Ferraz-Dougherty, DDS, spokesperson for the American Dental Association. Find out how to tell if your mouth pain is turning into a dental emergency.

Obstructive sleep apnea


Check with a doctor to find out if your teeth grinding or snoring is caused obstructive sleep apnea. The condition happens when your upper airway is partially or totally blocked when you’re asleep, making you lurch awake when you finally get a good gulp of air. “It’s most commonly caused when you lay back at night and your tongue falls back naturally and your tongue causes the obstruction,” says Dr. Dougherty. (Here are silent signs of sleep apnea you might miss.) Stay off your back to keep your tongue from blocking your airway, she recommends. Don't miss these other 10 home remedies for sleep apnea.



When your stomach valve relaxes enough to let acid come up into the esophagus, you feel the burning sensation of acid reflux. (Check out these other 6 silent symptoms of acid refulx.) Studies have shown that sleeping on your left side helps heartburn symptoms, likely because it doesn’t let that valve open as easily, says David Johnson, MD, chief of gastroenterology and professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School, and past president of the American College of Gastroenterology. Use gravity to your advantage by keeping your upper body elevated with a wedge-shaped pillow. “They have a little gravity to help them,” Dr. Johnson says. “Acid will more likely go back down quicker if they have that elevation.” (Here are 13 more ways to relieve heartburn naturally.) For the best result, use a pillow that tapers down from about eight to ten inches—simply stacking flat pillows will engage your abs and increase pressure on your stomach, he says. Also try one of these 8 home remedies for heartburn.



Consistently sleeping on a certain side can put pressure on that side, creating wrinkles. (Here are 11 more everyday habits that cause wrinkles.) “Often I can tell what side a person sleeps on,” says Zakia Rahman, MD, FAAD, clinical associate professor of dermatology at Stanford University. “I can tell they must be a right- or left-side sleeper because one side of the face tends to age faster than the other.” (Memorize these other 9 things dermatologists wish you knew about wrinkles.) Sleeping on your back will keep your face from rubbing against your pillow, but if you can’t fall asleep that way, Dr. Rahman recommends alternating which side you lie on. Plus, learn how to eat to prevent wrinkles.

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