Understanding Types of Sleepers

Sleep is important, and knowing the different types can help you sleep better.

By Loren Bullock

From having conversations with friends, sleeping with a partner, or taking fun online personality quizzes, it is obvious that there are many types of sleepers. Usually, you fall asleep in a position that is comfortable for you, but it may not be the best position for your health.

Understanding the different types of sleepers and sleep positions can help you make important decisions regarding your sleep health, including the way you sleep, the pillow you use, and even the type of mattress you sleep on.

Types of Sleepers

There are four types of sleep positions: back, side, stomach, and combination. Most people are naturally combination sleepers, sleeping comfortably as we move around the bed throughout the night. But how do the rest differ?

Back sleepers are the ones who have chosen the best sleep position. They usually have great spinal alignment, but trouble with snoring. Side sleepers are the most common type, and they also have great alignment but often lose the feeling in the arm they sleep on. Stomach sleepers are the ones that professionals urge to change their position. They usually don’t have a problem with snoring, but are at an increased risk of neck and back pain.

Regardless of how you sleep, you want the comfort layer of your mattress to offer you pressure relief. Memory foam makes a good comfort layer for a great night’s sleep, and most mattresses feature this material.

There is more that goes into getting a better night’s sleep than just mattress material, however. Knowing what type of sleeper you are (especially for my fellow combination sleepers) is an important step in improving sleep health.

How to Know Which Type of Sleeper You Are?

The best indicator of what type of sleeper you are is to think about how you fall asleep versus how you wake up. Chances are, they aren’t the same position. This makes you a combination sleeper, so take advice for both sleep positions you find yourself in. However, if you wake up in the same position you drifted off in, then congratulations! You’ve found out what type of sleeper you are.

Now that you have this knowledge, it is going to be easier to solve the problems that cause you to wake up with aches and pains. Check out these pillow techniques that will get you a good night’s sleep:

  • Back Sleepers: Use a thin pillow behind your head. Not only will this allow your neck to sit in a neutral position, but it will keep your airways a little more open and reduce your risk of obstructive sleep apnea. If you are waking up with back pain, put a pillow under your knees to reduce the pressure on your back.
  • Side Sleepers: Put a pillow between your knees if you are struggling with hip or low back pain. This will take away some of the pressure. Also, make sure the loft on your head pillow is high enough to maintain spinal alignment, but not too high to where your neck tilts upwards.
  • Stomach Sleepers: Use a thin pillow under your head to put less strain on your neck, and place a pillow under your hips to put a curve in your spine.

Pros and Cons of Each Sleep Position

Back

Pros: Back sleeping is widely regarded as the best sleeping position when it comes to your health. Sleeping on your back allows the mattress to better support your spine. This position gets your neck and back in their best alignment, which could go a long way with reducing or eliminating neck pain.

Not only does this position help with spinal health, but skin health as well. Because your face isn’t smushed into your pillow, over time back sleeping can reduce wrinkles. It also helps prevent acne because your skin isn’t soaking up old dirt and oil.

Cons: Back sleeping isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. This position can severely increase your risk of snoring and sleep apnea—it can even cause it. There are two main reasons that sleeping on your back can cause this sleep disorder: your neck compresses and restricts your airways or your tongue lulls to the back of your mouth and restricts your airways.

The best solution to sleep apnea caused by back sleeping is to sleep on your side.

Side

Pros: Side sleeping is the most popular sleep position, so it’s a good thing that it has a few health benefits. When it comes to side sleeping, favoring the left side is key because of our organ arrangement. Sleeping on your side invites increased blood flow, improved digestion, and lessened heartburn.

Doctors recommend that pregnant women sleep on their left sides to reduce or prevent back pain.

Cons: One of the most well-known cons of side sleeping is that bothersome arm numbness that comes with lying your head on your arm or pressing your shoulder into the mattress. This happens because the pressure placed on that arm restricts blood flow and pinches your nerves.

The most common way people sleep on their side is curled up into the fetal position. While this may make for a comfortable night’s sleep, it puts pressure on your stomach and arches your spine too much, messing up your alignment.

Stomach

Pros: Stomach sleeping is great for eliminating snoring and sleep apnea by elongating the neck and freeing up the airways. People who sleep on their stomachs find hugging the mattress (and it hugging you back) extremely comfortable.

Cons: Though, comfortable, stomach sleeping is not great for your alignment. Stomach sleepers often lie flat, but turn their heads to the side, which can strain your neck muscles and have you waking up with a kink. Also, flattening the back so much can lead to low back pain.

Best Mattress for Your Sleep Type

The best way to get a good night’s sleep in any sleep position is to pick a good mattress that is compatible with your needs.

Back sleepers need contouring support to keep their spine’s natural curve. People who sleep in this position should search for mattresses that are medium-firm, so you get comfort that is supportive. These beds have enough give, so they’ll contour all the right spots. Back sleepers should check out a latex, hybrid, or memory foam mattress. To see our picks for the best mattress for back sleepers, check out our guide.

Side sleepers need a pressure relieving mattress that will hug all the right spots. Memory foam is the best material for this sleep type, but latex is a good alternative if you sleep hot. If you want to know which specific mattresses we recommend for side sleepers, read our best mattress for side sleepers guide.

Stomach sleepers need a firm mattress to keep them from sinking, with a top comfort layer that will ease pressure points in the hips and shoulders. Again, memory foam mattresses win out over other types, but latex mattresses, with that soft top layer, are a good cooling alternative. Our best mattress for stomach sleepers guide will help you navigate more specific needs.

Anything to avoid? Waterbeds are usually not a good fit for stomach sleepers, side sleepers should shy away from extremes—nothing too soft or too firm, and back sleepers should look away from innerspring mattresses as they tend to sag quickly, losing that much needed support.


Summary

Understanding the different types of sleepers will ultimately help you get better sleep. Stomach sleeping isn’t the healthiest way to do it, but it can keep you from sleep apnea. Side sleeping is the most popular, and sleeping on your left is great for circulation. Back sleeping keeps your skin looking youthful. Which sleep position is your favorite?


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