Best Position to Sleep? Suggestions for Back Pain, Neck Pain and Headache Sufferers

Below you find some suggestions for arranging pillows for your best sleep position, whether you sleep on your back, side or stomach. They should be good for anyone who suffers from headaches and neck and back pains. (I learned these pillow placement tricks from Lisa Morrone’s Overcoming Back and Neck Pain).

1. Sleeping on your back is the best position to sleep for most people.  However, if you use a wrong pillow or place your pillows incorrectly, sleeping on your back can cause problems (especially if you suffer from neck, shoulder and back pains).

If you sleep on your back, your pillow should be positioned under your head and neck, not under the shoulders. If you use several pillows, turn the top pillow lengthwise (parallel to the body) so it reaches under you mid-back, not just under your shoulders. That way your neck joints aren’t forced into an awkward angle even if you use several pillows.

For extra comfort, you may also like to place a pillow under your knees.

2. Sleeping on your side.  Sleeping on your side is the next best position to sleep. It comes with several qualifications though. 🙂 The basic rule is that there must be enough support under your head to keep your nose in line with your breastbone. If your pillow is too flat or too plump, it may be a good idea to change it. Your top arm should rest on your side.

To prevent your spine from rotating and side-bending, you should also place a pillow lengthwise between your legs. The lengthwise pillow also prevents you from pulling your legs in a fetal position, which is bad for your lower back.

Getting a bodypillow may be a good idea.You think you’re done with pillows? Dream on. If you suffer from headaches and neck pain, you may need a third pillow that is placed lengthwise in front of your trunk. The function of your pillow is to prevent you from sleeping in the forward shoulders position you easily adopt when you work too much in front of the computer (It appears that that hunchback posture haunts us even in our sleep!).

Getting a body pillow may be a good idea. Your bed can get quite crowded if you sleep with three pillows. I often wake up in the middle of the night and notice that one of my pillows is MIA.

3. Sleeping on your stomach. In general, sleeping on your stomach is a big no-no, because it forces your cervical spine at an 90-degree angle and puts stress on your low back.

To sleep comfortably on your stomach, you need three regular pillows or one body pillow and one regular pillow under your head. The placement of the pillows is similar to the side-lying example above, except you place your head on the edge of your pillow so that your face points toward the mattress in a 45-degree angle (instead of 90-degree angle). The top arm rests in front of your trunk, supported by the body pillow.

You aren’t really sleeping on your stomach, but it’s as close as you can get without putting your spine into risk.


What is your best position to sleep? Do you need special arrangements?

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