The Most Common Sleeping Positions & Their Meanings
8 min read
Last Modified 11 July 2023 First Added 22 May 2017
We all favour certain sleeping positions to send us off to the land of nod each night, with most of us choosing one when young and sticking to it throughout our entire lives.
From the foetal position to lying spread-eagled, let’s explore what these sleeping positions mean…
This sleeper hugs a pillow close to their body, and they usually have their limbs wrapped around it in some way.
Meaning: Fancy a hug?
Pillow huggers like to get cosy and be cuddled, cherishing the relationships they have with the important people in their lives above all else.
Somewhat severe looking, you can imagine exactly what this position is like; a soldier lying on his back with arms straight by his sides. You may be familiar with this sleeping position, commonly known as sleeping on your back or in a supine position.
Sleeping in this way will usually mean that you’re quite quiet and reserved. It may also mean you expect both yourself and other people to adhere to strict moral codes and high standards.
A true mattress hogging type of position, the starfish sleeper spreads their limbs in a carefree manner over the entire bed surface.
Meaning: A flexible friend
Chances are you’re a true friend if you like to sleep in this way, eager to listen to anyone that needs to talk or help anyone that needs a hand. Surprisingly, you probably don’t really like to be the centre of attention.
The Foetal Position is Britain’s most popular sleeping position with 41% of people tending to adopt this position at night. Interestingly, double the amount of women than men tend to sleep in this way. It involves curling your knees towards your chest, as if sleeping in the womb.
Meaning: Secret Softy
This sleeping position means you’re tough on the outside and soft on the inside. You can be shy to begin with, though usually open up and relax quite quickly.
This position isn’t the most popular, possibly because it can mean the sleeper gets a little too cool in the night. The position is quite a vulnerable one, with stargazers lying on their backs with their arms wrapped around their head.
Meaning: The Best BFF’s
Stargazers prioritise their friends, doing everything they can for those they hold dear. Usually these sleepers will have a happy, easy-going disposition.
This sleep position makes you look a little like a relaxed skydiver freefalling through the sky, with your arms wrapped around your pillow as you sleep on your stomach.
Sleeping in freefall means you’re bold and sociable, though you might not have the thick skin necessary to deal with criticism or situations you aren’t comfortable with.
15% of people enjoy sleeping in the log position, making it Britain’s second most popular sleeping position which means it must be comfortable even if it doesn’t look it. Want to try snoozing in this way? Sleep on your side with your arms straight.
Meaning: Naturally carefree
If you tend to sleep like this chances are you’re a bit of a social butterfly, friendly, carefree and popular. However, your trusting nature means you can also fall into the trap of being gullible.
Another sleeping shape that’s like the foetal position, the thinker will sleep curled up with a hand gently resting on their chin, as if pondering something.
Meaning: Emotional evaluator
Those that habitually sleep in this position are more emotional than other sleepers, with both positive and negative emotions running high for those that favour this position.
This is Britain’s third most common sleeping position and involves sleeping on your side with arms stretched in front of you, as if trying to reach something.
Meaning: Complex Characters
People that sleep like this are a bit of a mixed bag, being both open-minded, yet cynical. They are suspicious of their own decisions, though have a firm resolve once they’ve come to a conclusion.
The link between sleeping positions and any meaning may be tenuous for some. However, existing studies suggest that how we sleep and the positions we adopt relate to differences in our defence mechanisms, how we interact with others and our personalities. This, therefore, maybe the key to understanding our dream position’s meaning.
Samuel Dunkell’s pioneering work, Sleep Positions: The Night Language of the Body, proposes that our limbs’ position when we sleep sheds light on our personalities. Dunkell identified 17 different types of sleeping positions – many of them the same as outlined above. For the four most common positions he noted that i) semi-foetal sleepers were conciliatory and amenable to compromise, ii) full-foetal and prone (face-down with arms extended above the head) were anxious and emotional and iii) royal sleepers i.e. Soldier sleepers, were self-confident.
Similar experiments have been conducted to verify the results reported by Dunkell. Consistent with Dunkell, Domino and Bohn in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found the full-foetal position was associated with lower sociability and well-being. The semi-foetal position was reflective of higher social maturity. They also found that sleep positions are highly reliable and we stick to certain positions once we have adopted them. However, their results showed that the prone and royal positions were uncommon, a significant inconsistency with Dunkell’s results.
A 2002 study of college students in the North American Journal of Psychology found four distinct groups of sleeping positions aligning with Dunkell’s observations. The study also found that the prone position was associated with anxiety and lower self-confidence.
However, the sample sizes in the experiments above were woefully small and Dunkell took a neo-Freudian approach with a distinct lack of referenced objective data. A 2012 study conducted by Kamau, Luber & Jumar across a much larger sample size found that:
“the results supporting the relationship of sleep positions and personality were too weak, with small effects sizes, to be useful for any theoretical or clinical purposes”.
Personality, as a way of giving meanings to sleep positions, may have hit a dead end.
Sleeping on your back, commonly known as the supine position, is easy on your spine as gravity keeps you centred over it. It is widely recognised as a sleeping posture that promotes better sleep quality as it may offer advantages such as reducing or alleviating neck and back pain. However, it has not been significantly studied enough to prove this is true. There are also medical studies out there that show it can help reduce the formation of facial sleep wrinkles.
To help with back pain, you should sleep symmetrically on your back, as keeping one arm up or down may strain your shoulders and neck. But remember, back sleeping isn’t recommended for those with sleep apnea or bad snoring. This is because it allows gravity to pull soft tissue in the throat downwards, increasing the chance of airway blockages.
Regarding the best mattress for back sleepers, anything between medium to very firm is recommended depending on your body type and preference.
Side sleeping as the most popular sleeping position also confers numerous benefits. Side sleeping is beneficial for those suffering from sleep apnoea and obstructive snoring. It may also benefit those suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). For late pregnant women, side sleeping may provide maternal and fetal health benefit, with minimal effect on the perception of sleep quality and objectively estimated sleep time.
Regarding the best mattress for side sleepers, medium or soft mattresses are recommended, but side sleepers should also consider that they have greater pressure points that should be considered.
Front sleeping or stomach sleeping is the least popular sleep position. However, evidence suggests that it is beneficial for those suffering from obstructive sleep apnoea. Despite this, however, you may find breathing while on your stomach more challenging. If you experience neck or back pain when in this position, this is because when you sleep on your stomach, your torso naturally sinks due to its weight causing your back to arch out of its natural alignment. Consider a different position if this occurs.
Regarding the best mattress for front sleepers, a firmer mattress is recommended to support the spine with pocket springs or memory foam to ensure even weight distribution.
The sleeping position you favour could be indicative of your personality or you could just really like spreading out when it’s time to catch those zzz’s . . .Whatever the meaning behind your sleeping position, making sure you’re comfortable is key to a good night’s sleep.