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Best Direction to Sleep In? Sleep Expert Shares the Science

The best direction to sleep in is the direction that makes you feel calm and safe. For better sleep, we suggest prioritizing science-backed sleep hygiene first.
Published
2023-05-12
Updated
2024-02-16
18 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
Our Editorial Standards
We bring sleep research out of the lab and into your life. Every post begins with peer-reviewed studies — not third-party sources — to make sure we only share advice that can be defended to a room full of sleep scientists.
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Updated Regularly
We regularly update our articles to explain the latest research and shifts in scientific consensus in a simple and actionable way.
Couple making bed

Best Direction to Sleep In? It Depends, Here’s Why 

  • The best direction to sleep in is the direction that helps you get enough sleep. That could be the direction that makes you feel the most safe and calm, or direction might not make a difference to you. 
  • If you’re trying to improve your sleep, there’s much more research behind sleep hygiene than sleep direction. Improve your sleep hygiene to fall asleep faster and wake up less often in the night.
  • The RISE app can tell you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits to help you get a good night’s sleep in any direction.

Want better sleep and more energy? The direction you sleep in may make a difference. The keyword here is may

While the science on sleeping direction is lacking, there’s some evidence that feelings of safety and comfort may play a role in how well you sleep. However, if you’re considering a bedroom redo for the sake of getting more sleep, we recommend adopting some proven sleep-improvement strategies as well.

Below, we’ll dive into what the science says about the best direction for sleep and how the RISE app can help you fall asleep faster and wake up less often — no matter which direction your bed is facing.

Advice From a Sleep Doctor

Advice From a Sleep Doctor

“I’d recommend sleeping in any direction that makes you feel the most calm and safe, and trying not to worry too much about it,” says Rise Science sleep advisor and medical reviewer, Dr. Chester Wu, a double board certified doctor in psychiatry and sleep medicine.

“There’s not much solid research into the best direction to sleep in. But we know much more about how important it is to be calm and relaxed before bed.”

What’s the Best Direction to Sleep In? 

The best direction to sleep in may be the direction that makes you feel the most safe and calm because this can help you fall and stay asleep. But there’s no scientific evidence there’s a best direction to sleep in. 

Here’s what scientific research, Eastern medicine, and philosophy traditions have to say on sleeping directions:

  • Scientific research (although there’s not much of it) says the best direction may be the direction that makes you feel the most safe and calm. 
  • Vastu Shastra and Ayurveda say the best sleep direction is south-facing
  • Feng shui says the best sleeping direction is in the commanding position — you can see your bedroom door, but don’t have your feet pointing directly at it. 

Scientific Research Says the Best Sleeping Direction May Be the One That Makes You Feel Safe and Calm  

Sleep can be hard to get at the best of times, and any feelings of fear, stress, or anxiety will only make it harder to drift off. In fact, RISE users say stress and anxiety are their biggest challenges when it comes to sleep.

When you’re stressed or anxious, your sympathetic nervous system — aka fight-or-flight mode — fires up, increasing your heart rate and blood pressure. This isn’t what you want before bed when you’re trying to unwind and drift off.  

So, the best direction to sleep in may be whichever direction makes you feel relaxed and safe. That could be facing the door, with your back to a partner, or it could be south-facing if you follow Vastu Shastra or Ayurvedic practices (more on those soon).

It could also not make a difference to you, in which case, worrying about sleep direction will do much more harm than good.

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Is There Any Proven Benefit to Sleeping in the Direction That Makes You Feel Safe?

Yes, there is research showing our perceived safety can affect our sleep. 

When we’re unable to trust that our sleeping environment is secure, we may sleep less soundly and in shorter intervals. 

Research shows people almost always sleep poorly their first night in a new location — a phenomenon called the “first night effect.” For this reason, researchers sometimes don’t use the data from study participants’ first night in a sleep research lab. 

In your bedroom, the position of your bed in relation to doors and windows may affect how safe you feel at night as these access points make us potentially vulnerable to intruders. 

There’s research backing this up.

When participants of a 2010 study were asked to position a bed in an empty room, they overwhelmingly placed the bed so that it was both in view of the door and as far away from the door as possible. (Though it’s worth noting that this study didn’t investigate why participants chose their bed positions, and no actual sleeping took place in the rooms.)

A 2015 study published in Sleep Health looked at sleep and feelings of safety among almost 6,000 people. The study concluded, “Our primary finding suggests that feeling unsafe in the home is associated with poor sleep quality and shorter sleep duration, and this association is more pronounced among women.”

It’s not just how safe your bedroom feels, either. A 2016 study found participants who felt safe from crime and violence in their neighborhoods tended to sleep better than those who felt less safe. 

And a 2017 study on 580 homosexual men in Paris found living in a neighborhood perceived as unsafe for them was linked to: 

  • Poor sleep quality 
  • Short sleep duration 
  • Problems falling asleep 
  • Problems staying awake during the day 

There are a few problems with all this research, however. Firstly, there’s not a lot of it. 

Beyond that, many studies use self-reported sleep measures, rather than measuring sleep with a device or in a lab. It can be hard to tell how long you slept, for example, and this may affect results. Plus, there’s no set definition for sleep quality, which many studies look at.

There’s also a potential chicken and egg situation. In the 2016 study, the researchers write, “Although we suggest that feeling insecure and vulnerable in one’s neighborhood environment could disturb healthy sleep patterns, it is also plausible that sleep problems could enhance feelings of fear (in the first place) by disrupting the natural circadian rhythm.”

Heads-up: Your circadian rhythm is your internal body clock. A disrupted circadian rhythm (from sleeping at irregular times, for example) and sleep deprivation can make mental health issues like stress and anxiety worse, which could then make it harder to sleep. 

RISE can predict the timing of your circadian rhythm. With this, you can see when your body naturally wants to sleep and wake up and sync up with these times for the best energy and health. 

RISE app screenshot showing your energy schedule
The RISE app predicts your daily circadian rhythm.

Final verdict: Feeling unsafe can make it harder to fall and stay asleep, and get enough sleep overall. But there’s no research linking safety with a certain sleep direction. The best direction to sleep in scientifically may be the one that makes you feel safest, whichever direction that happens to be. 

You may feel safest with your bed away from your bedroom window, for example. If it doesn’t make a difference to you — try not to worry about it.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can see their circadian rhythm on the Energy screen here

Is There Any Proven Benefit to Sleeping in the Direction That Makes You Feel Most Calm?

Yes, there is plenty of research showing how calm you feel can affect your sleep.

A 2022 study found stress was the main attributed cause of sleep disturbances — something RISE users agree with. 

A small 2007 study found stress and worries at bedtime were linked to a significantly lower sleep efficiency (less time asleep in bed), higher percentage of wake time, and taking longer to reach deep sleep. Stress was also higher the next day after a restless night, which could create a vicious circle.

Research shows sleep disturbances, especially insomnia, affect about 50% of people with anxiety. 

However, there’s no research on which direction makes you feel the most calm — if there is one at all.

It’s likely that the direction that makes you feel the safest, also helps you feel calm and relaxed. But this might be different for each of us. 

Final verdict: Feeling stressed or anxious can make it harder to fall and stay asleep, and get enough sleep overall. But there’s no research linking stress and anxiety with a specific sleep direction. The best direction to sleep in scientifically may be the one that makes you feel the most calm, whichever direction that happens to be. 

For example, you may feel most calm facing your bedroom door or following feng shui practices (more on those soon). 

We’ve covered what to do when you’re too stressed to sleep here. 

Vastu Shastra and Ayurveda Say the Best Sleeping Direction in South-Facing 

Vastu Shastra and Ayurveda are both ancient Indian Vedic practices centered around living in energetic harmony with nature and our surroundings, and are often used in tandem with each other. 

Drawing on Hindu beliefs, both Vastu Shastra and Ayurveda claim that, like earth, the human body has its own magnetic energies, including a positive pole and negative pole. When our living spaces are arranged so that our own “poles” are in alignment with the earth’s electromagnetic field (EMF), it improves our sleep and supports good health.

Per Vastu Shastra and Ayurveda, the best direction for sleep is south-facing. That is, with our head — or our “north pole” — pointed in the direction of the earth’s south pole. 

This way, the opposite energies attract rather than repel each other (think the magnetic pull of magnets), and the energies flow smoothly, benefiting our sleep and overall health. 

Apparent benefits of south-facing sleep include:

  • Alleviates symptoms of insomnia and restless sleep
  • Reverses high blood pressure
  • Improves circulation by encouraging proper blood flow
  • Improves our mental health and capacity for self-love
  • Helps minimize daytime lethargy
  • Promotes longevity
  • More deep sleep

When our head is oriented north, however, the reverse is true. Vastu Shastra and Ayurveda say this sleeping position can cause insomnia and a host of other health problems, and should be avoided at all costs. 

According to Vastu Shastra, south-facing is the ideal sleeping direction. However, this tradition says east-facing may be helpful for those who want to improve their memory and focus

Facing east also aligns with the sun’s natural path, which may help you wake to more direct sunlight, supporting your circadian rhythm, or body clock. But morning light might also wake you up too early if you don’t have blackout blinds. 

Those seeking fame, power, wealth, and/or prestige are encouraged to sleep in the west direction.

Is There Any Proven Benefit to South-Facing Sleep? 

There hasn’t been much scientific investigation into the best sleeping direction and the studies we have aren’t particularly useful.

Studies of domestic cattle and two species of deer have shown that the animals sleep and graze with their bodies positioned along the north-south axis, and it’s true that many other animals rely on the earth’s EMF for migration and nest-building, among other things. 

So while it’s not out of the question that our bodies may too be influenced by the earth’s magnetic energies, studies on the impact of EMFs and/or directional alignment on human biology and behavior — including one study that attempted to determine whether EMFs may affect our sleep-wake cycle — have been less conclusive to date. 

One small 2019 study investigated how bedroom design orientation may impact sleep. Researchers found young adults who napped in east-west facing rooms had more arousals and awakenings during their naps, and spent less time asleep overall, compared to those who slept in the north-south rooms. 

However, the study was small — only 21 participants — and there were a few other problems — like the fact avoiding caffeine for four hours prior to napping was a recommendation not a requirement. 

And not only that, researchers in this study didn’t appear to differentiate between north-facing and south-facing for those sleeping along the north-south axis. So more research is needed. 

Final verdict: There’s no evidence Vastu Shastra and Ayurveda's recommendation of sleeping in a south-facing direction is best for sleep. 

Feng Shui Says the Best Sleeping Direction is in the Commanding Position 

Though geographical direction isn’t dismissed in feng shui, the ideal bed position isn’t quite as straightforward as aligning our bodies with the earth’s magnetic poles. 

Feng shui — which is often considered to be Vastu Shastra’s Chinese counterpart — additionally focuses on optimizing the flow of positive energy, or chi, in our bedrooms, which is said to be impacted by the position of our bed in relation to things like doors, windows, and other furniture and household objects. 

Good chi in the bedroom is said to promote feelings of calm, balance, and security, and support our sleep and overall well-being. 

According to feng shui, the ideal bed setup involves the following:

  • Your bed should be in the “commanding position”: This means you should be able to see your bedroom door easily from bed, but not have your feet pointing directly at it (this is called “coffin position,” and is believed to make us susceptible to negative energies).
  • The head of your bed should be placed along a solid wall: Positioning your bed beneath a window can make you vulnerable to unwanted intruders. Whether this “intruder” might be a person or so-called “unlucky energies,” either way it puts us unconsciously on guard and keeps us from being able to relax fully. 
  • There should be space on both sides of your bed: In feng shui, you don’t want your bed pushed into a corner, as it blocks the flow of chi. (Likewise, the space beneath the bed should be free of clutter or storage.)

Is There Any Proven Benefit to Sleeping in the Commanding Position?

Whether we buy into the idea of chi or not, feng shui may be onto something.

How well a person sleeps based on the position of their bed relative to the door and windows hasn’t been meaningfully studied either. But the commanding position, as well as the placement of the bed away from windows, may still benefit our sleep by making us feel safe and relaxed in our bedroom environment — two things that have been proven to impact on sleep. More on that next. 

However, what feels safe may be different for everyone, and there’s no research on the commanding position for sleep specifically. 

Final verdict: There’s no evidence feng shui’s recommendation of sleeping in the commanding position is best for sleep.

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Does it Matter Which Direction You Sleep?

It may not matter which direction you sleep in. There’s not much research into the best sleep direction. 

You should sleep in a direction that: 

  • Makes you feel safe
  • Makes you feel calm and relaxed 

This could be any direction that suits your bedroom and preferences, or it may be the south direction if that aligns with your beliefs. 

Other behaviors — like doing breathing exercises before bed or double checking you’ve locked the front door as part of your bedtime routine — may help you feel safe and calm more than changing your sleeping direction.

Expert tip: Your sleeping position (broadly) will also probably make more of a difference to your sleep — and therefore your health and energy levels — than which direction your bed’s facing.

We’ve covered the best side to sleep on here for many health issues and scenarios.

What’s the Best Head Position While Sleeping?

The best head position while sleeping is the one that’s most comfortable for you and the one that allows you to get enough sleep. 

Beyond this, you should aim to keep your head, neck, and spine aligned while sleeping to avoid any pain or discomfort, either during the night or the next day. And if you snore, have sleep apnea, or are trying to stop mouth breathing at night, sleeping with your head elevated may help. 

We’ve covered the proper pillow position for sleeping here, and whether you should sleep without a pillow altogether here.

In Which Direction Should We Not Sleep?

There may not be one direction you shouldn’t sleep in specifically. There’s not much evidence showing it matters which direction you sleep in. There are, however, studies linking feeling safe and relaxed with better sleep. 

So you shouldn’t sleep in a direction that makes you feel unsafe or anxious, as you may struggle to fall and stay asleep. This direction may be different for everyone, though. 

The most important thing is that you’re getting enough sleep for you. This is known as your sleep need and — just like which direction feels best — it’s different for everyone. 

When we looked at the sleep needs of 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and up, we found it ranged from five hours to 11 hours 30 minutes. 

Check RISE to find out how much sleep you need.

The RISE app can tell you how  much sleep you need.
RISE users' sleep needs.

RISE also tracks your sleep debt, which is how much sleep you owe your body. You can check to see if sleeping in a different direction causes you to build up sleep debt or helps you get more sleep overall. 

Learn more about sleep debt here, including how to pay it back.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can view their sleep need here and view their sleep debt here.

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How to Sleep Better In Any Direction?

Sleep better in any direction by improving your sleep hygiene. These are the daily behaviors that have been proven to help you fall asleep faster and wake up less often. 

While there’s not much conclusive research on sleep direction, there’s plenty on sleep hygiene. 

Here’s what to do: 

  • Get bright light first thing: Exposure to morning light triggers our circadian rhythm to begin its daily countdown to bedtime, meaning that light in the morning helps us to feel sleepy when it’s time for bed. Aim for at least 10 minutes of sunlight as soon as possible after waking up. If it’s overcast or you’re getting light through a window, give yourself 15 to 20 minutes. While sleeping facing east can mean you wake up facing morning sunlight, it may also mean you get woken up too early in some months if you don’t use blackout blinds or an eye mask.
  • Avoid light close to bedtime: Bright light tricks our bodies into thinking it’s daytime, making us less likely to feel tired. Dim the lights and put on blue-light blocking glasses 90 minutes before bed to help you drift off on time. 
  • Avoid caffeine, large meals, intense exercise, and alcohol too late in the day: All four can make it harder to fall asleep, and potentially disrupt the sleep we do get. Check RISE for recommended cut-off times for each.
  • Do a calming bedtime routine: You want to feel as relaxed as possible before bed. Yoga, journaling, listening to music, and reading can help slow your brain and body down for sleep. RISE also has audio guides that walk you through relaxation techniques for better sleep
  • Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet: Aim for 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, use blackout curtains, and wear earplugs and an eye mask

The RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day and tell you the ideal time to do each one to make them more effective.

RISE app screenshot showing sleep hygiene habit reminders
The RISE app can guide you through daily sleep hygiene habits.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications here

Sleep Soundly in Any Direction 

There’s no one best sleep direction according to science. The best direction may be whichever one helps you feel the most safe and calm. If making some tweaks to your bedroom floor plan allows you to sleep better, we say go for it! But if not, don’t lose sleep worrying about your bed position too much. 

RISE helps you keep tabs on your sleep debt, stay in sync with your circadian rhythm, and optimize your sleep hygiene — things that are scientifically proven to help you sleep better and have more energy during the day. 

Users agree: 

“After using RISE for a few months, I started noticing all the small things that significantly impact my sleep. Just becoming more aware of when’s the best time to drink caffeine, eat dinner, and get sunlight according to my circadian rhythm has helped my sleep quality tremendously.” Read the review

And it's almost as quick as rearranging your bedroom furniture — 80% of RISE users get better sleep within five days. 

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