Dr. Becky Maes - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Becky Maes

Is Sleeping On Your Stomach Bad For You?

Also Known As: Prone sleeping position



Short answer

Stomach sleeping can pose risks to spinal alignment and lead to musculoskeletal discomfort. While not bad for everyone, it can trigger or worsen spinal issues and affect sleep quality and breathing. The use of appropriate mattresses and pillows may mitigate risks.



Long answer

Effects of Stomach Sleeping on Spinal Alignment

Sleeping on your stomach is a popular sleeping position, but it's important to consider how it might affect your body, especially your spine. When we talk about spinal alignment, we refer to how the vertebrae stack up and maintain an even, natural curve. Proper spinal alignment is crucial for avoiding pain and long-term health complications. Here's how stomach sleeping might impact this delicate balance.

Firstly, stomach sleeping often requires turning the head to one side to breathe comfortably, which can cause the neck to twist. Over time, this can strain muscles and nerves. Imagine holding your head turned to one side for several hours during the day; naturally, it would become uncomfortable. When you do this every night, it can lead to chronic neck pain, stiffness, or more serious conditions like cervical radiculopathy, where nerve function is impaired due to pressure from vertebrae or other tissues.

Moreover, the position of the spine itself is altered when you lie on your stomach. The spine's natural curve, particularly the lumbar region, is exaggerated. This increases the pressure on the vertebrae and the intervertebral discs, which can lead to or exacerbate lower back pain. A 2016 study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found that individuals with chronic low back pain tend to have poorer sleep quality, potentially creating a negative feedback loop where pain disrupts sleep, and poor sleep positions worsen pain.

Additionally, if you sleep on a mattress that does not provide adequate support, the issue compounds. The torso might sink into the bed, putting even more strain on the back muscles and spine. The importance of a firm mattress can be gleaned from recommendations by the American Chiropractic Association, which advocates using a mattress that provides support for the natural curves and alignment of the spine.

Other potential troubles come from not properly supporting the rest of your body. Without proper pillows or support, your pelvis and hips may end up out of alignment with the spine, further increasing the risk of pain and discomfort. The use of ergonomic pillows can help to keep the body more aligned, though finding the right setup can be a trial-and-error process.

Taking all of this into account, stomach sleeping can certainly trigger or worsen spinal issues for many people. However, it's also worth noting that individual factors such as body weight, muscle strength, and personal comfort can influence the extent of these effects. As such, it's wise for stomach sleepers, particularly those already experiencing back or neck pain, to discuss their sleeping posture with healthcare providers like physical therapists or chiropractors who can offer personalized advice.

Ultimately, while we cannot say that stomach sleeping is categorically bad for everyone, it does pose risks to spinal alignment and can contribute to musculoskeletal discomfort. Awareness and modifications to one's sleep environment, such as using appropriate mattresses and pillows, can mitigate some of these risks and improve overall sleep quality and spinal health.

Impact on Sleep Quality and Breathing Patterns

Sleeping positions can significantly influence the quality of your sleep and overall health. Stomach sleeping, in particular, has a unique set of impacts on both sleep quality and breathing patterns, which are important to consider.

Respiratory Considerations: When you sleep on your stomach, the weight of your body may press down on your lungs, potentially making breathing more labored. For those with respiratory conditions like asthma or sleep apnea, this position might exacerbate symptoms. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine also suggests that sleeping on your back or side is more favorable for individuals with sleep apnea.

Spinal Alignment and Muscle Strain: Stomach sleepers often turn their heads to one side which can twist the spine out of alignment. Over time, this can lead to muscle strain and discomfort, potentially disrupting sleep. The unnatural position can also place undue stress on the neck, possibly affecting nerves and leading to numbness or tingling in the arms. These disturbances may cause frequent awakenings or a decrease in the overall quality of sleep.

Impact on Sleep Cycles: Poor spinal alignment and breathing difficulties can lead to less time spent in the deep, restorative stages of sleep, which are crucial for physical recovery and cognitive function. As such, stomach sleeping might be associated with a less restful night's sleep, affecting one's ability to concentrate and perform tasks the following day. A research paper published in Sleep Medicine Reviews confirms the importance of sleep quality for cognitive performance.

Consideration for Infants: It's particularly important to note that stomach sleeping is strongly discouraged for infants due to the increased risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be placed on their backs for sleep.

  • Increased breathing effort
  • Potential exacerbation of respiratory conditions
  • Reduced spinal alignment
  • Possible nerve impact and muscle strain
  • Decreased time in restorative sleep stages
  • Elevated risk for infants (never recommended)

While personal preference and comfort play a significant role in choosing a sleeping position, it's essential to weigh these against the potential long-term effects on sleep quality and breathing. For those experiencing issues, adjustments to sleeping posture or consulting a healthcare professional may be beneficial.

Muscle Strain and Neck Pain Associated with Stomach Sleeping

Sleeping on your stomach is often frowned upon by healthcare professionals, and for good reason. This sleep position puts you at risk for both muscle strain and neck pain. Let's explore why these issues occur and how they can impact your overall health and daily functioning.

Neck Alignment Issues: When you sleep on your stomach, your neck is turned to the side for hours at a time. This unnatural position can strain muscles and twist the spine, leading to neck pain and stiffness upon waking. Over time, consistent stomach sleeping can lead to chronic neck issues.

Spinal Misalignment: The spine's natural curves are there for a reason—they help absorb shock and support our body weight. However, stomach sleeping flattens these curves, especially in the lower back. This misalignment can put a strain on the entire spine and can result in both acute and chronic back pain.

Pressure Points: Stomach sleepers often put undue pressure on muscles and joints, particularly in the hips and shoulders. This can restrict blood flow and pinch nerves, causing tingling and numbness. It can also lead to muscle tenderness and a condition known as myofascial pain syndrome.

Impact on Breathing: Another concern is that stomach sleeping can compress the chest and diaphragm, impeding free breathing. Strained breathing during sleep doesn't just lead to poor sleep quality; it can also magnify muscle strain as the body tries to facilitate easier breaths.

Long-Term Implications: Taken as an occasional habit, stomach sleeping may not pose significant risks. However, as a regular practice, it can lead to long-term health issues such as chronic pain conditions, nerve irritation, and even degenerative spinal problems. Experts often recommend trying to switch to a back or side sleeping position to maintain proper spinal alignment and prevent muscle strain.

To alleviate the potential downsides of stomach sleeping, here are a few tips:

  • Use a thin pillow or no pillow at all to keep your neck as flat as possible.
  • Place a pillow under your pelvis to help keep the spine more neutral and to reduce the strain on your back.
  • Doing stretching exercises before bed and after waking up can help relieve muscle tension caused by stomach sleeping.
  • Consider a gradual transition to side sleeping, which can provide a balance between comfort and proper alignment.

Remember, while switching sleep positions may be challenging, it's worth the effort considering the potential health benefits. It's akin to adjusting your diet or incorporating a new exercise regime—initially tough, but ultimately rewarding.

For those struggling with neck pain and muscle strain due to stomach sleeping, it might be worth consulting with a healthcare provider. They can offer personalized advice and may suggest physical therapy exercises or ergonomic sleep products that can help. In some cases, they may also check for underlying conditions that could be exacerbated by stomach sleeping.

Research on sleep positions and their effects on musculoskeletal health remains an important area for further exploration. Studies such as those published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science have examined the impact of sleep posture on pain and quality of life, reinforcing the importance of aligning sleep habits with physical wellness.

Potential Benefits of Stomach Sleeping and Who It May Suit

While sleeping on your stomach is often painted in a negative light due to potential health concerns, it's not all bad news. In fact, certain individuals may find stomach sleeping not only comfortable but also beneficial in some specific instances. Let's explore the potential benefits of belly-down slumber and discuss who might be best suited for this sleeping position.

First on the list of potential positives is the reduction of snoring. Those who suffer from snoring or mild obstructive sleep apnea may find relief when sleeping on their stomachs. Lying face down can help keep the airways more open, reducing the vibration of respiratory structures and, thus, snoring. A study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine suggests that positional therapy, such as sleeping on the stomach, can be an effective measure for some people with sleep apnea.

  • Reduces Snoring: Helps keep airways open during sleep, which can decrease snoring and mild sleep apnea symptoms.
  • Eases Heartburn: For some individuals, particularly those with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), sleeping on the stomach can minimize episodes of heartburn. This could be due to the gravitational effect that discourages acid reflux.

Additionally, there's the digestive advantage. Anecdotal evidence suggests that for some, stomach sleeping may aid digestion. The gentle pressure on the stomach can encourage bowel movements, which for some individuals is helpful. However, this is highly individual and might not apply to everyone.

Let's not forget the group of people who simply find stomach sleeping to be the most comfortable. Comfort during sleep is crucial for good quality rest, and for some, this position could be the ticket to dreamland. Personal comfort can significantly impact sleep quality and duration, which are essential for overall health and wellbeing.

So, who does stomach sleeping really suit? It tends to be most favorable for the following populations:

  • Young, Healthy Adults: Those without any pre-existing conditions that affect breathing or spinal health may not experience the adverse effects of stomach sleeping as acutely.
  • Individuals Without Neck and Back Issues: Those who have healthy spines and are not prone to neck or back pain might find stomach sleeping doesn't cause discomfort.
  • Snorers and Some Sleep Apnea Sufferers: Stomach sleeping might offer a respite from these nighttime interruptions, though it's always recommended to consult with a healthcare provider for sleep-disordered breathing.

Nonetheless, while the potential benefits might suit certain individuals, it's crucial to note that everyone's body is different. What works for one person might not work for another. Listening to your body and recognizing how your sleep position affects your sleep quality and overall health plays a critical role in identifying the best sleep posture for you. It might take some experimentation with pillow positioning and mattress type to optimize stomach sleeping for comfort and health benefits.

Conclusively, while there are some benefits to stomach sleeping, and it may suit particular individuals, it's essential to weigh these benefits against any potential downsides. If you're experiencing any discomfort or health issues potentially caused by stomach sleeping, it might be time to explore other sleeping positions or consult with a health professional for personalized advice.

Alternatives and Tips for Stomach Sleepers

Sleeping on your stomach can be a hard habit to break, but with some patience and the right techniques, it's possible to transition to a sleeping position that's more beneficial for your health. For some, stomach sleeping is the only way they feel they can get a good night's rest, but it's worth considering that other positions can also provide comfort and better support for your body. Let's explore some alternatives and helpful tips to optimize your slumber:

  • Switch to Side Sleeping: One of the more natural transitions from stomach sleeping is to start sleeping on your side. This position supports the natural curvature of your spine. For added comfort, place a pillow between your knees to help keep your hips in alignment, which can prevent lower back pain.
  • Adopt the Back Sleeping Position: While it might take some getting used to, back sleeping is considered one of the best positions for spinal health and can reduce the risk of wrinkles and skin breakouts. A thin pillow under your knees can alleviate any additional stress on your lower back.
  • Pillows are Pivotal: The type and placement of pillows can make a significant difference. For side sleepers, a thicker pillow will help keep your neck aligned with your spine. If you're giving back sleeping a try, opt for a flatter pillow to prevent your head from being pushed too far forward.
  • Gradual Shift: If entirely changing positions seems too challenging, begin by gradually shifting your position throughout the night. You can start by lying on your stomach with a thin pillow under one side of your pelvis to slowly acclimate your body to a different posture.
  • Body Pillows for Comfort: Investing in a body pillow can provide the additional support and comfort needed to maintain a new sleeping position. It can also serve as a barrier to prevent turning onto your stomach throughout the night.

Forming new habits takes time, and the body may resist changes to your sleeping posture initially. It's a gradual process, and you might find yourself reverting to stomach sleeping on some nights. Don’t be discouraged; consistency is key.

Beyond switching positions, there are also general sleep hygiene practices that can improve the quality of your rest, such as:

  • Establishing a regular sleep schedule
  • Creating a comfortable, dark, and quiet sleep environment
  • Engaging in relaxing activities before bed, like reading or meditation
  • Avoiding heavy meals, caffeine, and electronic screens before bedtime

Remember, your body spent quite some time getting used to one position, and it will need time to adjust to another. Making small adjustments, one at a time, can make the process more manageable. If you frequently experience discomfort or pain despite trying new positions, it may be worth consulting a healthcare professional or a sleep specialist. They can offer personalized advice and potentially recommend sleep studies if they feel there's an underlying issue affecting your sleep quality.

Transitioning from stomach sleeping isn't just about physical adjustments; it's also about setting the intention for a healthier sleep routine. With a bit of dedication and the right setup, you can enjoy restful nights and energized mornings, all while taking good care of your back and neck.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, there are pillows designed to support stomach sleepers, often featuring a flatter profile to reduce neck strain and sometimes with contours to accommodate the face. These pillows aim to help maintain a neutral spine position and can contribute to a more comfortable sleep without compromising spinal health.

Chronic stomach sleeping can lead to long-term issues such as chronic pain conditions, nerve irritation, and degenerative spinal problems due to constant misalignment and pressure. However, occasional stomach sleeping is less likely to cause permanent damage. For those concerned about potential damage, it's recommended to consult with a healthcare professional.

Transitioning can be done gradually by using a body pillow for support, placing a pillow between your knees to align your hips, and using a thicker pillow to keep your neck aligned with your spine. A gradual shift like lying on your stomach with a pillow under one side of your pelvis can also help acclimate your body to side sleeping.

Switching to side sleeping from stomach sleeping could potentially increase snoring for some people, as stomach sleeping tends to keep airways more open. However, side sleeping is still recommended over back sleeping for snorers. It's best to consult with a healthcare provider to find a position that supports both spinal health and minimizes snoring.

Ask a question about Sleeping On Your Stomach and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • neck pain
  • muscle stiffness
  • increased breathing effort
  • numbness in arms
  • sleep disruptions

Possible long-term side effects

  • chronic neck issues
  • chronic back pain
  • myofascial pain syndrome
  • degenerative spinal problems
  • exacerbation of sleep apnea
  • increased risk of sids in infants


  • reduces snoring
  • potentially eases heartburn
  • may aid digestion for some

Healthier alternatives

  • side sleeping
  • back sleeping
  • body pillows
  • firm mattress
  • ergonomic pillows

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Desmond Richard
Published on: 05-03-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Desmond Richard
Published on: 05-03-2024

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