is-the-wayWhen you suffer from chronic pain, you’re eager to latch onto just about anything that might help to lessen its impact on your daily life. One of the first things that most people reach for is sleep. Could it be that easy? Could simply changing the position you sleep in really have a big impact on your pain levels?

Actually, yes. It can definitely make a difference. There are four basic sleeping positions. We’ll cover each one below, along with their pros and cons. Pick the one that addresses the specific problem you’re dealing with.

Stomach – The biggest reason that people sleep on their stomachs is to prevent snoring, and it’s true. If you have sleep apnea, stomach sleeping is the best way to reduce, if not outright eliminate snoring. Unfortunately, it comes with a major drawback. It puts tremendous pressure on your spine, because your body just isn’t designed to sleep that way. No other sleeping position contributes more to back pain than stomach sleeping. If pain is your major issue, avoid this one.

Fetal – Sleeping in the fetal position is recommended for pregnant women. If you’re pregnant, this may, in fact, be about the only position you can sleep in comfortably. As with stomach sleeping, sleeping in the fetal position will do a lot to minimize snoring, but that’s about the only benefit it provides. Sleeping in that position causes you to spend most of the night with your spine in a highly compressed position, which can lead to adaptations of your muscles and ligaments, contributing to pain in your hips, neck and back. Not recommended in most cases.

Side Sleeping – A bit of a compromise, halfway between sleeping in the fetal position and sleeping on your back. Side sleeping is especially good for minimizing the symptoms of acid reflux, and has some benefits if the major pain you’re feeling is centered in your spine itself, because side sleeping helps keep your spine in a neutral position. It also provides some benefit if you snore, as you’re less likely to in this position.
Unfortunately, side sleeping may cause nerve compression in your shoulders and neck, so if your pain is centered in these areas, then side sleeping isn’t going to help you.

Back – Sleeping on your back is, overall, the best position for sleeping if you suffer from back, shoulder or neck pain. It helps keep your spine properly aligned all night, and offers the biggest reduction in pain levels. Unfortunately, sleeping on your back is also more likely to make you snore, so if you have sleep apnea, or other sleeping conditions, this may not be optimal, despite the benefits to your back and spine.

So which one is the best? Ultimately, that depends on what problem you’re trying to solve. There’s no simple answer here, but stomach sleeping is categorically the worst. The rest is at least somewhat subjective.