T Nation

Sleeping Posture

There has been plenty of discussion regarding various sleeping surfaces, but what about sleeping posture? The only thing that I have heard repeatedly is that sleeping on your stomach contributes to poor lower back health. Is there a “better” way to sleep (e.g. on the back versus on the side) that promotes good posture and spine health?

Contrary to what some people might profess, I’ve found that there is no one perfect sleeping posture for everyone.

Actually, I think that being able to sleep comfortably in several positions is more beneficial, as keeping the body in one position too long can lead to problems (which is one reason why old debilitated people often develop pressure (bed) sores from laying in one position for so long.

Some people with back problems do better laying on their stomach and some do better on their side or back. One problem with stomach sleeping is that you have your head turned to one side, so your neck is torqued for long periods.

For side sleeping I suggest putting a pillow between your legs to prevent your pelvis from twisting and then tucking another pillow firmly behind your back so that you can lean back onto it slightly to remove pressure from the ‘down’ shoulder and then the upper arm can either rest at your side or you can hug around another pillow. You just don’t want it to flop forward and hang in front of your body. The neck pillow should keep your head and neck in a neutral position and not either bend your head upward or let it drop downward.

For sleeping on your back, place a small pillow underneath your knees. Also, some people find that placing a small towel roll under their lumbar lordotic curvature helps. The pillow should support the cervical spine curve and cradle the head and not be so thick that the head and neck are flexed or so thin that their is no support for the cervical spine curve.

I have found that the contoured memory foam pillows work well for both positions.

Ideally you want to find positions that allow you to sleep comfortably, without having to toss and turn too frequently that it disturbs the quality of your sleep. Someone could place you in the perfect position, but if you can not get to sleep and rest comfortably in it, then you would be doing more harm than good.

I hope this helps. If you have any other questions, please let me know.


I had my LEFT knee scoped about 4 years ago this upcoming summer. I guess what had happened was in the doctors quote “the fat inside your knee got into a space in between your tendon, so that everytime you moved it, the tendon pinched the fat” i was only 17 at the time and was just happy they finally found out what was wrong (after a year of doctors xraying and saying nothing was wrong with it, ori had jumpers knee)my doc found out because i told him to go inside and look… anyways, whenever i do barbell lunges, or any type of single leg workout, my left leg is weaker than my right.

Granted its not alot, i can do the same weight, its just always a bit harder. So what do you think i should/can do about that?

Dr. Ryan,

I really appreciate the detailed response. I’m definitely going to apply the ideas you mentioned. Thanks again.

i got a tempurpedic matress. that thing is the shit.

Follow-up question:

If I fall asleep on my stomach, or on my side, I often find my arms falling asleep (tingling painfully) when I wake up. This never happened before I started weightlifting (bulking up slightly). Sleeping with a pillow between my arms sometimes fixes this problem. Could this be a serious problem? My father’s friend actually had this symptom in his feet, and due to poor circulation, had his feet (and later, legs) amputated from poor circulation, and I’m concerned I might have the same problem. Or is this just from a nerve being pinched while I’m sleeping? Has anyone else ever experienced this problem, and found any good solutions?


The numbness is possibly due to your lifting, its happened to me before, I know a guy who has to sleep with a pillow between his legs so they dont go numb (he’s 5’8, 240 ish) so big legs.