This is the worst sleep position for back pain, according to a chiropractor

A woman wearing a white singlet and pink pyjamas bottoms sleeps on her stomach on top of a white duvet and pillows
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When it comes to keeping back pain at bay, experts have warned that some sleep positions are better for you than others. According to a chiropractor, sleeping on your stomach is the worst sleep position for back pain, while sleeping on your back is considered the healthiest. 

Sleeping on the 2024's best mattresses for your sleep needs can help provide relief from niggling back pain. However, Dr. Tony Nalda, a chiropractor who leads the Scoliosis Reduction Center in Florida, reveals that sleeping on your front can cause muscle tightness, inflammation, which can lead to neck and back pain.

Here, we’ll take a closer look at how sleeping on your stomach can cause and worsen back and neck pain, and how that could impact the quality of your sleep. Plus, Dr Nalda shares how to stop sleeping on your stomach. Let’s get started. 

Which is the worst sleep position for back pain? 

Sleeping on your stomach is the worst sleep position for back health. When we sleep on our fronts, our necks and spines are placed under pressure. After sleeping in this position for a prolonged period of time, it’s common to wake with a stiff neck and throbbing lower lumbar. 

“Front sleeping flattens the natural curve of your spine, which can cause lower back pain,” explains Dr Nalda. “If you already have neck and back problems, sleeping in this position is almost guaranteed to make them worse.”

As well as potentially straining your vertebrae and the surrounding muscles due to the extra pressure on your spine, stomach sleeping can also impact your oxygen levels. When you sleep on your front, your diaphragm is compressed and it becomes harder to breathe deeply. This can lower your oxygen intake overnight, which can disrupt the quality of your sleep, says Dr Nalda. 

Which is the best sleep position for back pain?  

Sleeping on your back is considered by experts to be the best sleep position for back pain, while sleeping on the best mattress for back pain will provide the blissful pressure relief and support that you require.

A man with dark hair sleeps on his side covered by a white comforter

(Image credit: Getty)

“Back sleeping is best as it maintains the natural curve of the spine and minimizes pressure on the joints,” says Dr Nalda. Sleeping on your side, also known at the fetal position, with a pillow between your knees is also recommended. “Alternatively, side sleeping improves heart health and reduces snoring.”

Sleeping on one of the best mattresses for side sleepers with a pillow between your knees will help align the hips, which will reduce pressure on the lower back.  

3 ways to stop sleeping on your stomach

"Research shows that between 7 to 17% of people are front sleepers," says Dr Nalda. "By changing your habits, you can improve your health and sleep better each night." Here are three ways to stop sleeping on your stomach...

1. Place a pillow under the small of your back 

“A body pillow can provide extra support for the back or side position, and discourage rolling onto your stomach,” says Dr Nalda.  

2. Place a pillow between your knees  

A woman with a pillow placed between her knees in order to encourage her to sleep on her side

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Placing a pillow between your knees while lying on your side makes it harder to roll on to your stomach in your sleep. 

3. Surround yourself with pillows  

For some, surrounding yourself in a fort of pillows can help train yourself to fall asleep on your back, which is the best position for spine health. 

What is the best mattress for stomach sleepers?

If you’ve tried (and failed) to get comfortable in any other position other than on your front, sleeping on one of the best mattresses for stomach sleepers will help keep your spine properly supported. 

The best mattresses for stomach sleepers are firmer, which prevents your spine and hips  from dipping too far out of alignment. Softer mattresses cause your spine to sink lower, which puts your spine under strain, leading to back pain. Similarly, the best pillow for stomach sleepers will be one with a lower loft. This places your neck under less strain, which means that there is less of a buildup of tension. 

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.