Expert reveals the best position to help you stay asleep all night if you keep waking up

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When it comes to improving our sleep, falling asleep quickly and staying asleep all night is what many of us aspire to. But even with the best mattress and a small army of pillows on our side, finding a sleep position that remains comfortable throughout the night can be difficult. So what is the best position for helping you to stay asleep all night if you keep waking up? We put that exact question to James Leinhardt, a sleep position expert and the founder of mattress brand Levitex

“We recommend two positions,” says Leinhardt, who explains that sleeping on your back (also known as the soldier) and sleeping on your side (also known as the dreamers) are the two best sleep positions for ensuring quality sleep and optimum spine health. 

“If you have no clinical reason not to, I would want somebody to alternate left and right side. And the second best sleep position is that somebody would go to sleep on their back,” explains Leinhardt. 

However, the best position to help you stay asleep all night may differ slightly depending on any existing clinical conditions you might have, such as pregnancy or high blood pressure, as well as the type of mattress you currently sleep on. So let’s take a closer look at the best sleep position to help you stay asleep all night if you keep waking up. 

What is the best sleep position for staying asleep all night?

There are two sleeping positions that Leinhardt recommends. The first is laying on your side in a semi-foetal position with a pillow tucked between your knees. “The reason for that specific position... you put the least amount of tension to your spine,” says Leinhardt, who explains that the addition of a pillow helps keep your hips, knees and ankles in proper alignment. 

What we want to do is put the least amount of tension to your spine and avoid what we call 'provocative postures'

James Leinhardt, sleep posture expert

The second position for helping you stay asleep all night is flat on your back with a pillow placed behind your knees to prevent your back from arching, which can shift your spine out of correct alignment. 

“You have the most even distribution of bodyweight in this position and your spine is instantaneously supported by the mattress, because that's the first thing it touches,” explains Leinhardt. “What we want to do is put the least amount of tension to your spine and avoid what we call 'provocative postures'.”

However, the best position for staying asleep all night will depend on your own specific health needs. It is recommended that pregnant people and those with acid reflux sleep on their left side, while those with high blood pressure are advised to sleep on their right side. 

For those with sleep apnea, it is recommended that you don’t sleep on your back. If you have an existing health condition and are concerned that your sleep position could be harmful to your health, check with your healthcare provider.

What is the worst sleep position for staying asleep all night?

If you’ve ever comfortably fallen asleep on your stomach, only to wake up soon afterwards with lower back or neck pain, you’ll know why sleeping on your stomach is not recommended by sleep posture experts. And yet, an estimated 7% of adults choose to sleep on their stomachs. Is sleeping on your stomach really that bad for you? 

A caucasian woman sleeps on her stomach in a white bed

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“If you lie on your stomach, there is no support for your spine,” explains Leinhardt. “Even if we ignore the fact that you have to turn your head all the way left, or all the way right, for a very long period of time, it's like watching TV to your left for seven hours. 

Even if we ignore that bit, gravity will fight the natural curves of your spine. But also by lying on your stomach, you will hyperextend your neck, particularly if you're sleeping on a pillow, you will compress the seven tiny vertebrae in your neck, which is of course no good.”

Sleeping on our stomachs can cause our spines to dip out of alignment, causing back pain and, subsequently, disrupted sleep. Sleeping in a different position is the best solution to this but if you always seem to end up on your front, choosing one of the best mattresses for stomach sleepers may help to mitigate any posture issues.

Is it even possible to stay asleep all night? 

While we’d all like to get a solid eight hours of sleep every night, external factors such as temperature, noise, light pollution and health conditions can make it hard to stay asleep all night. It is estimated that a third of US adults wake during the night three times a week, earning itself the term among sleep experts as ‘Wakefulness After Sleep Onset’ (or WASO).  

While some causes of sleep disruption are out of our control, establishing the right sleep position to help stay asleep all night is something we can all master. However, don’t be disheartened if you fall asleep in one position but wake in another. According to Leinhardt, it’s healthy to shift positions throughout the night. 

“We don't want [someone to stay in the same position all night], we want them to move,” explains Leinhardt, who works closely with the British National Health Service to ensure that critically ill patients who are unable to shift sleep positions themselves are moved every two to four hours to prevent pressure risks and help preserve good posture. 

3 quick tips for optimizing your sleep position

1. Support your sleep position

If laying on your side, placing a pillow between your knees will help keep your hips, knees and ankles in alignment. This prevents your top leg from shifting forwards towards the mattress, which can lead to hip and lower back pain. If laying on your back, a pillow behind your knees can prevent your back from overarching, which can lead to lower back pain. 

2. Choose the right mattress

Don't underestimate the importance of choosing the right mattress to support your sleeping position. The best mattress for side sleepers will provide pressure relief across your shoulders, your knees and hips, while the best mattress for back pain will provide outstanding lumbar support while ensuring that your spine is cradled in the correct position. 

A man with dark hair and a woman with red hair go mattress shopping together

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3. Invest in a good pillow

When discussing optimal sleep positions, it's important that we don't overlook the importance of your pillow. The best pillow for you will support your chosen sleep position, whether that is your back, side, or (whisper it), your stomach.

Nicola Appleton
Sleep Features Editor

Nicola Appleton is Sleep Features Editor at Tom’s Guide, specialising in quality news content surrounding sleep and wellbeing. Nicola cut her teeth as a journalist in a busy newsroom in Bristol, UK, 15 years ago as part of a team at Britain's largest independent press agency. Since then, her job as a journalist has taken her to the States, to Sydney, and then back to Blighty, where she has written and edited features for a whole host of prominent British and international brands, including  The Independent, The Sydney Morning Herald, HuffPost, Refinery29, Stylist and more. As well as tackling the vast topic of sleep, Nicola will be joining the raft of expert mattress reviewers at Tom's Guide, helping steer readers towards the very best mattresses on the market.