It’s normal to feel a little achey when you wake up in the morning. But your aches and pains could stem from how you sleep every night.

It might seem innocuous, but the position that you sleep in can have a major impact on your health. And sleeping on your stomach is the worst position to sleep in, according to sleep experts.

Here’s what you need to know about sleeping on your stomach — and how you should sleep instead.

Is it bad for you to sleep on your stomach?

According to Health, sleeping on your stomach might be the worst position to sleep in — but it can alleviate some health problems, such as sleep apnea and snoring.

But the risks likely outweigh the few benefits. Per Health, sleeping on your stomach “can put a strain on your spinal tissues and eventually lead to spinal pain upon waking.” Additionally, pregnant women should avoid sleeping on their stomachs.

According to the Sleep Foundation, sleeping on your stomach can cause the following health problems:

  • Spine misalignment: When you sleep on your stomach, your stomach/torso will sink “deeper into the mattress because of its weight.” This might cause your back to arch, “stretching your spine out of neutral alignment.” As a result, you might feel achey when you wake up.
  • Neck pain: Because you sleep on your stomach, you naturally twist your head (and neck) to the side to breathe. This can cause major neck pain, because twisting your neck in an unnatural position for multiple hours can move “it out of alignment with the rest of your spine.”
  • Face wrinkles: While sleeping on your stomach, one side of your face is compressed into your pillow all night — which can cause wrinkles.
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Per the Sleep Foundation, “Beyond back and neck pain, poor sleep posture can lead to additional complications such as headaches and shoulder or arm pain.”

What is the healthiest position to sleep in?

According to the Sleep Foundation, the best positions to sleep in are on your side or on your back.

“Sleeping on your back or your side offers significantly more health benefits and less discomfort than sleeping on your stomach,” it said.

If you are trying to change your sleep position — like from your stomach to your side — be patient.

According to Health, “A change in sleeping position can take up to four weeks.”

Sleeping on your back

Per the Sleep Foundation, sleeping on your back is the best position for spine alignment. It can also “help relieve back pain, and lessen your risk of facial wrinkles.”

But this position also might cause snoring or sleep apnea, so you have to be careful.

If you sleep on your back, the Mayo Clinic suggests placing a pillow under your knees to “relax your back muscles and maintain the curve of your lower back.” You can also place a small pillow or a rolled towel under your waist “if you need additional support.”

Make sure that your head pillow keeps your neck aligned with your chest and back.

Sleeping on your side

According to the Sleep Foundation, sleeping on your side can help alleviate sleep apnea and snoring, because sleeping on your side ”naturally keeps your airway open.”

Side-sleeping comes with many other health benefits, according to sleep experts. Beyond alleviating back pain and snoring, it can also help with heartburn, per the Sleep Foundation.

Sleeping on your side can also help your gut health, according to Healthline. “This position helps your digestive system function better, which can ease gastrointestinal issues such as heartburn, constipation, and bloating,” its article said.

If you sleep on your side, the Mayo Clinic suggests that you “draw your legs up slightly toward your chest and put a pillow between your legs.” This will take pressure off your spine, while keeping your spine, pelvis and hips aligned. You can even use a full-body pillow.

According to Healthline, sleeping on your side can still cause neck pain. If that’s the case, you can purchase a pillow specifically designed for side sleepers.

Tips for making sleeping on your stomach better

If you absolutely must sleep on your stomach, there are a few things you can do to improve your sleep, per Health:

  • To avoid neck pain, use a thin or medium pillow (roughly 10 centimeters thick) or no pillow at all.
  • Get a firmer mattress that provides neck, back and spine support.
  • Stretch as soon as you wake up in the morning, to “improve spine mobility and relieve lower back pain.”