Experts say there is no one right position to sleep in, but for people with certain medical conditions, there are positions that can help ease their pain.
In some cases, sleeping in the same position every night can create pain, such as neck or shoulder problems.
Here are some common conditions that may be helped by specific sleep positions.
Obstructive sleep apnea/snoring. Stay off your back. This potentially dangerous sleep disorder results in breathing interruptions caused by a blockage or narrowing of the airway, often resulting from the tongue or tissue in the throat collapsing. It's often accompanied by snoring. While there are many sleep products designed to keep people off their backs, experts recommend sewing a tennis ball onto the back of your night shirt to avoid rolling on to your back. And for people who want to stay on their back, they suggest elevating the head by at least 30 degrees or using a wedge pillow.
Acid Reflux. Sleeping on your side can help this condition, commonly known as heartburn. Back sleeping can pose problems because the head isn't elevated relative to the stomach so gastric contents can bubble up to the esophagus or back of the throat. Another solution is to prop up your head with pillows or to raise the head of the bed by two to four inches by placing bricks or large books under the front legs. Some studies suggest that sleeping on your left side is better than the right in terms of alleviating reflux, but experts say the evidence isn't conclusive.
Back pain. The rule of thumb for many back problems is that sleeping on the back is the most comfortable. Keep a neutral position, with your spine aligned as if standing straight. Avoid flexing forward, for instance, by sinking into a mattress that is too soft, or bending backward.
For people suffering from lumbar spinal stenosis, in which nerves are pinched in the lower back, lying in any position can create significant pain except, perhaps, when the knees are bent: Because "that brings the legs up and opens up the back of their spine." Spinal stenosis patients often place a pillow under their knees when sleeping on their back or between their legs if sleeping on their side. Adopting a fetal position while sleeping also helps ease pain for many patients.
Shoulder pain. Avoid sleeping on the side with the painful shoulder. Sleep on your back with a small pillow to support the bad shoulder. Or, if you sleep on the other side, hug a pillow.
Neck pain. Avoid sleeping on your stomach. Turning the neck to the side compresses the joints. "Sleep on your side or back".
Also, use a pillow that is as thick as the space between your neck and shoulder, and position it above the shoulders so they don't become hunched. "You want a soft down pillow or something similar that you can kind of bulk and put into the hollow of your neck and support your head".