Whether you like to curl up on your side or sprawl flat out on your stomach, you probably have a favorite sleeping position. But did you know that if you suffer from common aches and pains, this familiar position might be aggravating your pain?

Here’s how to adapt your preferred sleeping style for pain relief and better sleep

 

Neck Pain

Back-sleeping is often said to be the best position for neck pain. But back–sleeping can actually increase neck discomfort when using a pillow that’s too thick (which causes the head to flex forward) or too thin (which causes the head to flex backward). 

For back-sleepers: Be sure to use a pillow that keeps the neck in a neutral position, in line with the spine. When viewed from the side, the ear should be in line with the shoulders or slightly above them. 

For side-sleepers: Add a thin pillow or rolled-up bath towel between the neck and the mattress in addition to your regular pillow to provide neck support and prevent the spine from bending to either side. 

For stomach-sleepers: This position is the worst for neck pain because you’ll need to turn your head to one side or the other, which puts strain on the neck. It’s best to try another position, if possible.   

Low-Back Pain

Many people say that their backs feel better when they sleep on their backs, particularly if they use a pillow or two to slightly elevate the knees. But side-sleeping often feels more natural.

For side-sleepers: Lie on one side in a “stacked” position, with your shoulders, knees and hips in up-and-down alignment and knees slightly bent. Helpful: Place a pillow between your knees. This helps to prevent the top leg from rolling over the bottom, which can twist the spine. 

For stomach-sleepers: This position can strain your lower back. However, if you find it difficult to try the positions above, place a pillow under your stomach to reduce excessive spinal extension. 

Knee Pain

With knee pain, back-sleeping can be painful because the knees are extended all night…but side-sleeping can cause irritation where the knees touch.

For back-sleepers: Try placing a pillow under the knees to prevent them from overstraightening. Note: This position can be painful for some people. 

For side-sleepers: Sleep with a pillow between your knees or use cloth knee pads (such as those that volleyball players wear), turning them sideways so that the area where the knees touch is well padded.

For stomach-sleepers: This position can put painful pressure on your knees. But if it’s tough for you to switch to one of the above positions, put a pillow under your stomach to take some pressure off the knees.

Hip Pain

For back- or stomach-sleepers: People with arthritis-related hip pain often have more pain when sleeping on their back or stomach. It’s best to try side-sleeping (see below). However, a small pillow under the knees (when lying on your back) or under the stomach (when lying on your stomach) may provide some relief. 

For side-sleepers: Side-sleeping is usually best for arthritis-related hip pain. Helpful: Keep your knees slightly bent and use a pillow (a body pillow works well) between the knees and thighs to keep the hip in a more neutral position. If lying on one side is more painful than the other, switch sides.  

You Can Change How You Sleep

When you get into bed, start in the position in which you would like to sleep. Then spend about a minute visualizing yourself staying in this position for the night. If you wake up and are out of position, calmly go back to the position you are trying to change to. In most cases, good progress can be made in four to six weeks, but it’s something you’ll need to keep working on—it’s easy to fall back into old habits.