Sleep Posture Important for a Good Night’s Sleep

By Dr. Cynthia Horner

In my last article How Sleep Creates Better Brain Function, I discussed why we sleep. In Part II, I will discuss healthy sleep postures and choices of pillows.

Sleep Postures

There are three good ways to sleep on your right side on your left side and on your back. Having a good sleep posture  can have a big impact on your health.

On your right side, on your left side or on your back.

On your right side, on your left side or on your back.

Sleeping on your stomach is a harmful way to sleep. Stomach sleeping dictates that you rotate your head to one side or the other with your chin close to your shoulder so you can breathe. Anytime you roll onto your stomach it is as if you are holding 8 pounds of pressure on the side of your head because the average head weighs about 8 pounds. This forces your chin to your shoulder.

This is a neck problem in the making.

This is a neck problem in the making.


In this position the muscles in your neck are stretched as well as your blood vessels and nerves. The tension of the muscles can remain long after your roll over onto your side or back causing prolonged compression to blood vessels and nerves. These blood vessels and nerves supply your arms and hands, and when they are compressed the result is often numbness, pain or tingling in the arms and/or hands.                                        


Sleeping on Your Side

If while you were sleeping on your side you drew an imaginary line from between your eyes down through your nose and chin then to the bottom of your breastbone, ideally that line should be straight. A pillow that is too low or too high will cause your line to curve. Also if you pretend you have attached a small camera to your chest and another camera to your naval or bellybutton they should take a picture of the same wall. Some who think they are sleeping on their side actually have their shoulders on the side (that camera would be taking a picture of a wall) but their hips are turned down toward the bed (that camera would take a picture of the floor or bed). One way to describe it is your chest and hips should be in the same plane.

A healthy way to sleep on your side.

 We have discussed your head and torso now what should your legs be doing? Your legs can be together at the knees, a pillow between them is good. Or legs can be separated in a stride position. With a stride position a pillow is very necessary between your knee and the bed. This pillow will also help in keeping your chest and hips in the same plane. The last finishing touch that creates a healthy, side sleeping posture is to allow your elbows to be separated and not crossed on your chest or wrapped around you or wrapped together. Your upper arm can lie comfortably along the side of your body. Your large chest muscles have a tendency to be tight and pull your shoulders forward. While sleeping you do not want to further promote tight short chest muscles. When these muscles are tight or in a state of increased tone they inhibit the tone of the muscles at the back of your shoulders and shoulder blades. This decreased tone in your posterior shoulders and upper back increased tone in your chest muscles set you up for neck, shoulder, shoulder blade pain and often headaches.

 Sleeping on Your Back

Not much can go wrong when you sleep on your back. The biggest mistake people make is choosing a pillow too high. A pillow that forces your chin to your chest is promoting flexion or forward bending of  your neck.

Incorrect Back Sleep


Correct Back Sleep

This forward bending inhibits tone in the muscles at the back of your neck creating front to back imbalances. A small low pillow that allows your chin to be up off your chest is ideal.

I am often asked is it necessary to put a pillow under your knees while sleeping on your back. My opinion is that it is optional but if you choose to put a pillow under your knees it should be a small, raising your knees not more than 3 or 4 inches. The picture to the right shows pillows under the neck and legs that are too high or too large.

What Kind of Pillow is Best?

What a pillow is filled with can be very important to how well and how healthy you sleep. Most  pillows are  filled with;

  • Polyester fiber fill
  • Cotton
  • Foam latex
  • Down
  • Water
  • Memory foam

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each of these.

Polyester fiber fill


Easy to wash

Holds shape well

Most are treated with an anti- microbial that combats, mildew, bacteria and dust mites

They are affordable


Polyester is a product made from petrochemicals. Over exposure can cause hormone disruption.




Easy to wash and fast drying therefore less apt to develop mildew, mold and bacteria

Fewer irritants then fiber fill

Ideal for allergy sufferers



Clumps easily and doesn’t hold shape well

Harbors dust mites


Foam or latex



Dust mites and mildew cannot thrive in foam or latex

Can reduce pressure on tender points in the head and neck


Does not hold shape well, breaks down easily

Made from petrochemicals, overexposure can cause hormone disruption

Long-term support is poor

Not a good choice if you are latex sensitive




Is very soft and moldable

Is good for sleeping on back


Can be expensive

Not good for side sleeping because it offers too support or height


Memory Foam


Contours to you



Gets hot

Gives off gases




Can fill to adjust to your preference

Easy to empty and travel with



When filled heavy

How About the Mattress?

Mattress preference is a different as people themselves. The main point is you should love your mattress. Sleep comfort mattresses allow a couple sleeping in the same bed to do just that. It has adjustable settings to inflate two side separately.Most mattresses are made with petroleum-based polyurethane, which emit harmful VOCs (volitale organic compounds which means they emit chemicals especially when they’re new).

Some good choices are mattresses that are made with:

Natural latex- This is a much better alternative to memory foam mattresses, which off-gas potentially dangerous chemicals due to the components of the materials they’re made from. Synthetic latex is an
acceptable substitute to natural, but natural is preferable.

• Wool- Organic wool is a great material for mattresses It is naturally moisture-resistant, antimicrobial, and even flame-retardant .

• Organic cotton- Organic cotton is breathable and safe. Sometimes used as internal batting and as wrapping material, .
Organic cotton mattresses may also be wrapped in wool for fire protection.

Buying a nontoxic mattress  in stores is not always easy often you have to order them online.

You can investigate on your own


Look for sleep part III – Things you can do to sleep well.


What my patients have taught me ” The most beautiful glow is not applied but cultivated from within”