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Best sleeping position for good posture

By August 31, 2021Sleep Knowledge Base

You spend the day straining your neck. Looking down at your phone, your laptop, or even the chopping board when you’re making dinner.

It’s clear your posture suffers, and your spine is the one paying the price.

The good news? You can use the time you spend asleep to help fight the bad postures of the day.

Good posture at night is responsible for many benefits. From reduced back and neck pain, through lessened shoulder tension and improved circulation, all the way to decreased snoring and improved lung capacity.

The real question is, how do you achieve it?

First step to achieving good sleep posture is to position your body correctly. While you may move at night, you’re setting yourself up well if the position in which you fall asleep is optimised. And you may find that you’re not moving as much as you think, either.

The evidence

Since the late 80s, it’s been well evidenced by Gracovetsky et al (1987) that semi-foetal side lying is the best position for a neutral resting spine.

Neutral resting spine is a key component of good sleep posture. When your spine is neutral, it’s also straight. That means that the muscles around it don’t have to work, and get a chance to recover and rest. Think of it as giving your spine a chance to have a good night’s sleep.

The best position: side sleeping

What is semi-foetal side lying, you ask? Well, it looks like this:

avatar of a woman lying on her side with a pillow between her legs

Let’s break it down. As you can see from the picture, positioning yourself on your side isn’t the only box you have to tick to optimise your sleep posture.

The right pillow

The key step is to pick the right pillow for your head.

A categorical no? Memory foam – it’s just not good for you. As the name indicates, memory foam literally remembers. So, while it’s great for pressure relief, it does nothing for your posture except continuously remembering the bad one.

What we need to do though, is change the bad habits and replace them with new ones, fighting the bad postures of the day.

The perfect pillow to help you with this will also be one that considers your posture, rather than negating it (looking at you, memory foam).

A pillow that helps with your posture is the one that perfectly fills the space between your earlobe and the mattress, helping keep your neck neutral, and prevents the morning neck ache before it ever develops.

Look out for one that comes in different heights and pick the size that suits your body type. Levitex pillows tick all of these boxes.

Think of it this way: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Danny DeVito don’t wear the same shoe size, yet if they were to walk into John Lewis looking for a new pillow, it’s likely they would be offered the same one. It doesn’t make sense, does it?

Therefore, size personalisation is a must. You can find the one right for you here. Just make sure that you put in the position you want to sleep in, instead of the one you’re sleeping in right now.

Add in a second pillow

It’s also recommended that you sleep with a second pillow (or a scrunched-up part of your duvet if a pillow is a no-can-do), positioned between your knees and ankles.

Why?

The second pillow helps your hips remain neutral by stopping your leg from crossing over.

Look at the example photo below. Even if you already sleep on your side, it’s quite likely that you are the before picture. The three simple tweaks turn the before (bad sleep posture) into the after (good sleep posture).

woman sleeping on her side, the before is her with bad posture and the after is her with good posture
woman sleeping on her side, the before is her with bad posture and the after is her with good posture

We’ve got a neutral spine (thanks to side lying), a neutral neck (thanks to the right pillow) and neutral hips (thanks to the second pillow).

Three steps to positioning yourself in the best sleeping position for posture

Let’s summarise.

The three steps to achieving the best sleeping position for good posture are:

  1. Position yourself on your side (whichever one you prefer, although we recommend alternating)
  2. For your head, choose a pillow that fills up the space between your earlobe and your mattress. You don’t want your neck to be either too high or too low, so look out for a pillow that comes in different sizes. Levitex fits the bill.
  3. Ensure you have a second pillow (a scrunched up part of your duvet works too) to position between your knees and ankles
drawing that shows a person sleeping with a too large pillow and says don't sleep with a pillow that's too high
graphic showing a sleeping woman on a low pillow and saying 'or too low'
graphic of sleeping woman with writing 'do select the right pillow height for your body shape'
graphic with writing 'do try sleeping with a pillow between your knees and ankles'

The alternative: back sleeping

If you can’t handle sleeping on your side (or just hate it too much to try), there’s an alternative way in which you can position yourself on your back and still achieve good posture.

To ensure good posture while sleeping on your back, make sure you follow these steps.

  1. Choose a low pillow for your head. For most people (who aren’t The Rock) this will be around an 8cm height. If your pillow is too high, your neck will be pushed forward. That’s not good for your posture and puts the same strain on your neck as looking down on your phone does (imagine how you feel after doing this for 30 minutes, let alone a whole night).
  2. Don’t throw your old pillow away. Place it under your knees instead. This will instantly take the pressure off your spine. It also ‘anchors’ you in place, so you’re less likely to move around during the night.
avatar sleeping on its back with writing 'do select a low pillow to keep your neck and back aligned'
avatar sleeping on its back with writing 'don't sleep with a pillow that's too high'
pillow under legs with writing 'do try sleeping with a pillow under your knees'

Front sleeper? Stop immediately

There’s just no way to optimise front sleeping to achieve good posture. People are creatures of habit, so it’s tough to change to a new sleeping position if you’ve been a front sleeper for as long as you remember.

Do give one of the above options a try, though. Think of all the pregnant women who used to sleep on their front and had to give it up in favour of side sleeping because it’s safer for the baby. If they could do it, so can you!

It may be easiest to transition to side sleeping, over back, as it’s closer to your current position.

Your spine and neck will thank you.

Cheat sheet for sleeping positions that ensure good posture

Save it, memorise it, refer back to it. You will thank yourself in the morning, once you’ve woken up from a night of posture-optimised sleep feeling rested and without neck or back pain.

cheat sheet of the best positions for posture

At the end of the day, there’s a lot that good sleep posture can’t help you with – like night sweats or getting in a fight with someone that’s weighing on your mind.

However, you may as well ensure that the hours you spend asleep is the time your body spends actually resting and recovering, instead of being twisted into funny positions that you pay for with pain in the morning.

If you are ready to optimise your posture, find your pillow size now.