​Is Sleeping on Your Stomach Good for You?

Posted by Pam Johnson - Head of Buying on 8th Jun 2022

​Is Sleeping on Your Stomach Good for You?

After a long, hard day, there is probably nothing you crave more than slipping between crisp, freshly laundered sheets and adopting your preferred sleeping position.

Every one of us has a sleeping style we automatically adopt at lights out, whether it is sprawled on your back, star-shaped and catching flies or curled into a kitten-like circle, wrapped tightly in your duvet and hugging your pillow.

Some of us, however, prefer the more unusual practice of stomach sleeping.

That’s right, if you throw yourself facedown for your nightly snooze, you are a real rare bird.

Why do some people sleep on their stomachs?

Research tells us that only around 7% of people sleep on their stomachs, in a pose sometimes referred to as the ‘prone position’ usually with their head turned sideways and arms folded under the pillow or under their head, just like they are catching rays on a Mediterranean beach lounger (if only!).

Although there’s no way to be sure, the relatively low number of stomach sleepers (over half the population - 54% - sleep on their side could be because so many of us are told from a relatively young age that sleeping on your stomach is bad for your health and can, in particular, cause long term spinal problems.

Indeed, we are routinely told to place babies to sleep on their backs in order to lower the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) - so perhaps the urge to front sleep is simply trained out of most of us.

Is it bad to sleep on your stomach?

Is it bad to sleep on your stomach

While most of us prefer to side sleep, there are still those maverick snoozers who cannot resist the nocturnal belly flop.

So just how true is it then that your favourite bottoms up sleeping pose can be bad for you?

Is sleeping on your stomach really that bad for your overall health? And can it lead to painful back issues?

Although the short answer tends to be yes, the truth is that for many people, stomach sleeping can help to solve real, and sometimes serious, sleep problems.

For example, those with sleep apnoea can find that sleeping on their stomachs helps to better open the airways, making breathing easier by shifting the position of the internal organs and fleshy bits that can otherwise cause obstructions.

For the same reason, sleeping on your front can be an easy fix for problem snoring, releasing airways to minimise window rattling and give weary sleep partners a night of peace.

Generally speaking, however, stomach sleeping is not advised due to the pressure it can put on the spine and neck while you slumber.

Sleeping positions and your spine

Considering that, mathematically speaking, most of us will spend one third of our lifetime sleeping, it’s easy to see that both how you sleep and how well you sleep can really impact your health and wellbeing.

This is true of both your mental and your physical health. Sleeping uncomfortably can wreak havoc on your spine in particular –which is just one of the reasons why we think that putting careful thought into choosing a mattress is so important.

Front sleepers especially, may find that they suffer from ongoing pain problems related to their back, neck and joints.

This is chiefly because when you are regularly sleeping on your front, your body weight is concentrated into the middle of your body, making it almost impossible to maintain a healthy neutral spine position.

What is a neutral spine position and why is it so important?

Helping to minimise musculoskeletal stress, a neutral spine position keeps each segment of the spine in its preferred curve – for example, the neck or cervical segment is least under strain when it is in a lordosis (or arching backwards) position, while the thoracic spine (the central part in the middle of the back) arches forward with what is called a kyphosis.

Think of your body as a car (a sporty Merc or a second hand Corsa - we won’t judge). When the spine is in neutral, your body (aka the car) is gently idling, putting in the minimum of work.

But as soon as you take it out of neutral and shift into gear, even if it is a slow and steady first, those car parts start to activate and put in the work.

What we’re trying to get at is that, in neutral, your muscles and joints can rest easy, while your body’s automatic systems – breathing, digestion, etc., get on with the jobs that require no input from you.

But when your sleeping position activates your spine it, in turn, requires support from and puts strain on the ligaments, joints and muscles around it.

Which is why many stomach sleepers can often wake up with pain, not just in their back, but elsewhere in their bodies too.

Neck pain during sleep

Neck pains when sleeping

Most stomach sleepers don’t go face first into their pillow, and nor do we recommend it, meaning that for that small percentage of people who sleep front-to-mattress, the only solution is to turn their head to one side.

But while being able to breath while you sleep is, well, pretty vital, this position does put the head and spine out of alignment and can easily result in neck pain.

This position can even, in the most serious cases, lead to a herniated disc (sometimes called a slipped disc) in the spine, the number one symptom of which is – you guessed it – pain, with numbness and weakness in the arms and legs also occurring in many cases, particularly as the disc bulge characteristic of this spinal issue advances.

In addition, some front sleepers can experience jaw pain, due to the awkward position of their neck during sleep.

This can really take the joy out of chowing down on your morning muesli, as well as causing headaches and impacting the health of your teeth in the longer term.

While front sleepers are unlikely to feel anything more than a stiff neck in the morning to begin with, regularly sleeping in the prone position can cause neck issues to build and build over time and as they age.

And that’s why it is so important to do what you can to support your spine and neck right now, before those tell-tale aches and pains begin to develop.

Choosing the best pillow for stomach sleepers

The easiest solution to back pain is, of course, to change your nightly sleeping position.

But we know that is much easier said than done. After all, once you are well settled into a regular, comfortable way of sleeping, breaking that habit can be nigh on impossible.

When you’re uncomfortable in bed, getting a restorative night’s sleep probably is not on the cards. And, as we are all very well aware, poor sleep quality can cause just as many health issues as an awkward sleeping position, if not more.

So what are the alternatives to changing sleeping position?

If sleeping on your front is non-negotiable, there are ways to make sure your spine is better protected, and that starts with choosing the right pillow.

If you’re a front sleeper, you might have been told in the past that sleeping without a pillow is the best way to sleep without spinal damage.

However, most experts suggest that the best pillow for front sleepers could be one with a low, or medium loft (loft being the experts’ term for a pillow’s height), giving a little elevation, without curving your neck too far back and taking it out of alignment.

Because, again, keeping your spine as neutral as possible is the ultimate goal – a pillow that’s too high (or, equally, one that is too low) can push your spine, shoulders or neck out of alignment, increasing the likelihood of pain and long-lasting back complaints.

One pillow or two?

Another pillow may help too, not under your head this time, but tucked snugly beneath your pelvis. Experts suggest that this can help keep the spine in proper alignment and ease pressure on the delicate lower back region.

But nobody said that sorting out your sleep was going to be easy, and while a front sleeper pillow and a spot of pelvis support may be just the job if you spend an entire night flopped out on your stomach, it might not help if you toss and turn the night away, as most of us have a tendency to do.

The sleep shuffle: moving around while you sleep

Ever fallen asleep in one elegantly neat and tidy position but woken up the following morning on the other side of the bed, one leg dangling over the side of the divan and an arm casually slung over your partner’s face?

Ok, perhaps your night-time wanderings are not quite that extreme, but chances are that you do indeed move around at night, switching from your go-to dropping off position onto your side or back, adjusting your arms and legs or switching your head from side to side.

In fact, sleep experts say that nocturnal fidgeting is not just normal but that it is absolutely essential for keeping us well while we sleep.

It is scientific fact– all those night-time shifts in position are your brain and body’s way of making sure that circulation is not cut off to individual body parts for any length of time. Smart eh?

The problem is, of course, that if you are constantly on the move at night, choosing a pillow that suits every sleeping position can be a right pain in the neck.

For example, a stomach sleeper pillow may not be quite the right choice if you often shift onto your side or back while you sleep, while a moulded pillow ideal for back sleepers might become uncomfortable if you often roll to your side as the night wears on.

Pillows for all sleep positions

Tempur Comfort Pillow

TEMPUR Comfort Original Pillow

If you have a tendency to switch it up at night, sleeping on your front but often turning over to really let those snores sing, you might prefer to opt for a memory foam pillow which will mould to your head and neck, providing good support in any position.

Generally found to be more supportive than the majority of down or down alternative products, memory foam pillows may also help to alleviate spinal pressure by better supporting the head and neck. An important consideration for all sleepers, but particularly for those stomach sleepers who are the most at risk of neck and back discomfort.

Suitable for almost everyone, from foetal curlers to front floppers, memory foam can be a great choice for fidgety snoozers, forming to suit your sleeping position with no need to fluff or flip every time you move.

Alternatively, latex pillows retain their shape for additional support and with no need to readjust as you move.

However you sleep, choosing a pillow can be a minefield, so we have prepared a handy A-Z guide that give you all the information you will need to help you find your new best rest friend.

Is sleeping on your back bad for you?

Is sleeping on your back bad for you

We know now that front sleeping is linked to a whole host of potential problems, especially neck and spine related issues, but is flipping the situation really any help to your health?

After, all back sleepers are, as we’ve already mentioned, more likely to snore, causing disturbance to sleeping partners and disrupting your own snooze schedule at the same time (be honest, who amongst us hasn’t woken themselves with a particularly exuberant nasal roar?).

Those with sleep apnoea are also advised to avoid sleeping on their backs, as this position increases the risk of airway obstruction, with the tongue and surrounding soft tissue more likely to relax and fall back over the airways, causing the lack of oxygen that results in the characteristic sleep apnoea jolt into wakefulness.

Additionally, sleeping on your back without adequate support can cause lower back pain or exacerbate existing problems in the lumbar region.

The key to better spinal health is investing in supportive beds and bedding.

Sleeping on your back with an appropriate pillow – one with a medium loft, higher than those used by front sleepers (but conversely, lower than the loft on a side sleeper pillow) – is a simple and comfortable way to get that demanding spine into its preferred neutral position, minimising the risks of neck and back pain.

The ideal back sleeper pillow provides gentle support, keeping the head from sinking too low during sleep but without propping you up so far that your head is pushed forward, and strain is put on the neck.

Who shouldn’t front sleep?

While for most of us, front sleeping is inadvisable but acceptable with the right pillow and a supportive bed set-up, there are nonetheless some people – and not just newborn babies - who should avoid sleeping on their front altogether.

For example, some experts think that back or stomach sleeping can aggravate GERD, or gastrointestinal reflux disease, which is characterised by heartburn, chest pain and the feeling of a lump in your throat, among other frustrating and uncomfortable symptoms.

This may be because the flatter you lie, the more reflux can occur, with the acid that causes symptoms able to travel back up the oesophagus more easily. And what does the discomfort of reflux equal? You’ve guessed it – disrupted sleep.

Those who experience the symptoms of GERD are generally advised to sleep on their left side and/or on a slight incline.

This reflux-busting incline can be achieved by simply raising the top of your mattress (some people choose to do this by placing blocks under the top end of their mattress).

Even better, by choosing an adjustable bed, you will have the ability to raise the head of your bed to the most effective and comfortable height for you. This adjustability also makes reading in bed a real joy.

Expectant mothers are also strongly advised to avoid front sleeping and, for that matter, sleeping on their backs too.

Front sleeping in pregnancy

Finding a comfortable sleeping position during pregnancy can be tough, especially in those later stages when you have long lost sight of your toes and cannot get out of the bath without a winch (or a helpful and strong partner).

We know that you’re unlikely to even attempt stomach sleeping when heavily pregnant, but it might feel tempting earlier in the pregnancy before your bump starts to develop but while nausea, sore hips or other pregnancy nuisances have you tossing and turning.

However, experts in all things burgeoning baby warn strongly against front sleeping, even during the very earliest weeks.

There are two very good reasons for this advice.

Firstly, avoiding stomach sleeping can help to protect your spine. All that extra weight – which develops even at an early stage, before the bump balloons – can pull on your delicate spinal column, causing pain and discomfort (the last thing you need during pregnancy) with the potential of long-lasting damage.

Sleeping on your front is thought to be pretty uncomfortable for baby too, squashed between the weight of your spine (bear in mind that each lumbar vertebra can weigh an average of 17.9g and the mattress.

That is why during pregnancy, you will be advised to sleep on your left side, which increases the flow of blood and oxygen to baby and gives them as much room as possible in already cramped living quarters.

Find comfort with Bensons for Beds, however you sleep

For help finding the best bedding, beds, and mattresses for your needs, speak with one of our experts today. Get in touch with us on 0808 144 6160, or place an order online now.










authors profile
Pam Johnson
Head of Buying
Pam has worked within Bensons for Beds for 16 years and has a great deal of experience in both developing and sourcing new product ranges. As Head of Buying specialising in mattresses, divans and headboards, Pam is dedicated to providing solutions that help customers to get a great night’s sleep.
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