Best Sleeping Positions to Lose Weight and What Helps More

The best sleeping position to lose weight is the one that helps you get the most sleep. Low sleep debt and syncing up with your body clock are more important.
Published
2023-03-06
15 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.
Man sleeping on his side, which is one sleeping position to lose weight

Losing weight is hard. So, when you’re trying to shift the pounds, you want to do anything and everything that can help. And one easy way is sleeping in the right position. But not for the reason you think.

While your sleeping position is important, it’s not going to make or break your weight loss. What will have a huge impact is getting enough sleep — in any position — and getting this sleep at the right times for your body clock. 

Get these things right, and you’ll make losing weight much easier to do. Get them wrong, and you’ll not only be sabotaging your weight loss efforts, you’ll be upping your odds of gaining more weight. Plus, you’ll be damaging your overall health and wellness. So, finding the position that helps you get this sleep is important. 

Below, we’ll dive into the sleeping positions to consider for weight loss, why sleep duration and timing are more important, and how the RISE app can help you get it right.

 

What’s the Best Sleeping Position to Lose Weight?

Looking to lose weight? Here are the positions to consider when you crawl into bed at night. 

On Your Side

Sleeping on your side, any side, can have a few benefits. It’s been shown to be the best sleeping position for: 

You’re more likely to snore and have sleep apnea if you’re overweight, so side sleeping can help you improve your symptoms and get more sleep overall. 

But the higher your body mass index (BMI), the less likely you are to have position-dependent sleep apnea, or sleep apnea that gets better or worse in certain sleep positions. 

Sleep apnea can also cause weight gain, so becoming a side sleeper may help to reduce your symptoms and make your weight loss journey easier. There are ways to treat or improve sleep apnea if you have it. We’ve covered how to get rid of sleep apnea here.

How to improve sleeping on your side: Place a pillow between your knees to keep your spine aligned. Use a medium-firm mattress for spine alignment and to take pressure off your shoulder and hip points. If you get shoulder pain, roll over and avoid spending the whole night on the same side.

Left Side 

Sleeping on your left side specifically may be best for: 

You’re more likely to develop GERD, or chronic acid reflux, when you’re overweight. So, sleeping on your left may help improve symptoms that can keep you awake at night. Research from 2022 found left-side sleeping helped those with reflux have more reflux-free nights. 

Right Side 

Sleeping on your right side specifically may be best for those with heart failure, as they may feel less discomfort, but more research needs to be done.

There is some evidence right-side sleeping can help reduce sleep apnea symptoms more than left-side sleeping, but more research needs to be done here too to confirm. 

On Your Back 

Sleeping on your back, also known as the supine position, may make conditions like snoring, sleep apnea, and acid reflux worse. 

But it may help to reduce back and neck pain, as you can keep your spine aligned, and improve your breathing, as your diaphragm isn’t squashed (as it can be when on your side or front).

Another benefit of back sleeping? It may help improve your skin. It may prevent wrinkles as your skin won’t be squashed against your pillow, and keep your skin clear as it won’t be touching your pillowcase, which can absorb oil and dirt and transfer these onto your skin.

How to improve sleeping on your back: Place a pillow under your knees to support the natural curve of your spine. If you snore, have sleep apnea, or get heartburn, consider elevating your head with special pillows, which can reduce your symptoms. 

A 2021 study found sleeping with an elevated head on an adjustable base bed helped snorers get more deep sleep, wake up less often during the night, and reduce the duration of their snores — great news for anyone they share a bed with.

On Your Front 

There’s no evidence sleeping on your front can stop weight gain or belly fat gain. In fact, front sleeping, also known as the prone position, comes with quite a few drawbacks. 

You may wake up with a stiff neck and back pain as the position puts a lot of pressure on your neck and spine. It can be painful if you have cramps, bloating, or stomach pain as you're pushing down onto your stomach. And it’s not advised for those who are pregnant or who have lower back pain. 

How to improve sleeping on your front: If you can’t sleep in any other position, use a thin pillow or no pillow for your head and place a thin pillow under your hips to help keep your spine aligned. Try switching which way you face during the night to reduce neck pain.

The Final Verdict 

RISE app screenshot showing how much sleep debt you have
The RISE app can work out how much sleep debt you have.

While your sleeping position can help you get a good night’s sleep, it won’t make a huge difference to your weight. Getting enough sleep and getting this sleep at the right times for your body clock is far more important for weight loss. 

Need proof? Research shows people eat 385 more calories per day when they’re sleep deprived. Those who are short sleepers (defined in this research as getting five hours or less sleep a night) have increased odds of being obese. 

Sleep loss also spikes your cortisol levels, which can promote belly fat gain specifically. 

And one study looked at those who got 8.5 or 5.5 hours of sleep a night and cut their calories for two weeks. The ones who got 8.5 hours of sleep lost more weight and felt less hungry while doing it. 

This is where sleep debt comes in. Sleep debt is the measure of how much sleep you owe your body compared to your sleep need, the genetically determined amount of sleep you need each night. 

When you don’t meet your sleep need, you start building up sleep debt. And this sleep debt can make losing weight much harder to do — and it may even cause you to gain weight. 

So, if you force yourself to try and sleep in a position that’s uncomfortable for you, you could do more harm than good as you may struggle to fall asleep and start racking up sleep debt. 

Similarly, if you’re anxious about falling asleep and staying in the best position for weight loss, this anxiety can keep you up, increasing your sleep debt and sabotaging your weight loss efforts. 

Sleep position is important for comfort, of course, and if you have certain health conditions (like sleep apnea or acid reflux), the “right” position (not always the right side) can reduce symptoms and help you get more sleep.

But, most of the time, the best position for weight loss is the position that helps you get the most sleep.

Want more tips on sleep positions? We’ve covered the best side to sleep on here, including how to sleep in the best position.

The RISE app can work out your individual sleep need and give you a number to aim for each night in hours and minutes. RISE can also work out how much sleep debt you’re carrying and track it as you pay it back. 

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

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

How to Lose Weight in Your Sleep?

When we want to lose weight, most of us think about diet and exercise. But sleep — both how much you get and when you get it — plays a huge role in our weight. 

Here’s what to focus on beyond position to help you lose weight in your sleep.

Lower Your Sleep Debt

Lowering your sleep debt can help you lose weight and prevent future weight gain. A 2022 study found when people slept for four hours a night for two weeks, they ate more calories, gained more weight, and gained more belly fat compared to sleeping for nine hours. 

Lowering your sleep debt will give you more energy, making it easier to do weight-loss activities like exercising. It’ll keep your hunger hormones — ghrelin and leptin — in check, and give you more self-control to resist the siren call of unhealthy snacks to help you keep choosing healthy foods. 

You can learn more about the connection between sleep and weight loss here.

We recommend keeping your sleep debt below five hours to maximize your health and energy. 

Got more sleep debt than that? You can pay it down by: 

  • Taking naps: Check RISE for the best time to do this. 
  • Going to bed a little earlier. 
  • Sleeping in a little later: Keep this to an hour or two to avoid messing up your circadian rhythm (more on that next). 
  • Improving your sleep hygiene: Good sleep hygiene can help you fall asleep faster and wake up less often during the night, helping you get more sleep overall.  More on what to do soon. 

The RISE app can work out how much sleep debt you have and keep track of it as you pay it back.

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

Get in Sync with Your Circadian Rhythm 

RISE app screenshot showing your energy peak and dip times
The RISE app can predict your circadian rhythm each day.

Beyond getting enough sleep, you need to focus on getting this sleep at the right times for you. And this is where your circadian rhythm comes in. 

Your circadian rhythm is your body’s roughly 24-hour internal clock. It dictates your sleep-wake cycle, when your body produces certain hormones, and your body temperature fluctuations, among many other things. 

If you’re living out of sync with your circadian rhythm, you’ll be upping your odds of serious health conditions like obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and cancer.  

A 2022 paper states circadian misalignment can cause you to burn fewer calories, eat unhealthier foods, and do less physical activity — all of which can lead to weight gain over time.

One study looked at participants who slept and ate about 12 hours out of sync, which you might do if you work night shifts. They experienced a 17% decrease in leptin (the hormone that makes you feel full), a 6% increase in glucose, and a 22% increase in insulin — which could lead to weight gain, overeating, and poor metabolic health.

You don’t need to be 12 hours out of sync for your weight to suffer, though. A 2021 study looked at mice who were three hours out of sync and found they gained more weight and had higher blood pressures and fattier livers. The good news? All of this was reversed when they got back in sync.

Here’s how to sync up with your circadian rhythm:

  • Keep a consistent sleep pattern: Find a sleep schedule that works for you and stick to it, even on your days off and weekends. 
  • Eat meals at roughly the same times and during the day: Eating can change the timing of your circadian rhythm. Eat at regular meal times and avoid eating too close to bedtime or eating at night.
  • Go to bed during your Melatonin Window: Melatonin is your body’s natural sleep hormone, and there’s a time of night when your rate of melatonin production is at its highest. We call this roughly one-hour window your Melatonin Window. Head to bed at this time and you’ll have an easier time falling and staying asleep.

The RISE app predicts your circadian rhythm each day and shows you when your body wants to naturally wake up, wind down for bed, and go to sleep, helping you sync up your daily life to it. 

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

Improve Your Sleep Hygiene 

Want to make keeping your sleep debt low and staying in sync with your circadian rhythm easier? Sleep hygiene can help. 

Sleep hygiene is the name for the set of healthy sleep habits you can do to help you fall and stay asleep. 

A 2022 study looked at overweight participants who habitually slept less than 6.5 hours a night. They got one sleep hygiene counseling session to help them increase their sleep duration to 8.5 hours a night — and it worked. 

After just one session, participants got about 1.2 hours more sleep a night, and this resulted in them eating about 270 fewer calories per day. If maintained over three years, this would lead to them losing about 26 pounds — just by sleeping a little longer. 

“Now we’ve shown that in real life, without making any other lifestyle changes, you can extend your sleep and eat fewer calories,” said lead researcher Esra Tasali, MD. “This could really help people trying to lose weight.”

One change that helped? “Limiting the use of electronic devices before bedtime appeared as a key intervention,” according to Tasali. 

Here’s how else you can improve your sleep hygiene:

  • Get bright light first thing: Good sleep starts first thing in the morning. Light in the morning resets your circadian rhythm for the day, helping you feel sleepy come bedtime. Get at least 10 minutes of light as soon as possible after waking up. Aim for 15 to 20 minutes if it's overcast or you’re getting light through a window.
  • Avoid light close to bedtime: Light can keep you up in the evening as it suppresses melatonin production. Dim the lights and put on blue-light blocking glasses 90 minutes before bed to stop this from happening. 
  • Avoid caffeine, large meals, intense exercise, and alcohol too late in the day: All four can keep you up or wake you up during the night, but you don’t have to give them up altogether. Check RISE for when to avoid each one daily. 
  • Do a calming bedtime routine: Whether you’re stressed about weight loss, the best sleeping position, or something else entirely, this stress can easily keep you up past bedtime. A calming bedtime routine can help lower stress and slow your brain and body down for sleep. Try reading, listening to music, journaling, or doing yoga. RISE can walk you through relaxation techniques for better sleep.
  • Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet: A noisy, warm, and bright sleep environment will disturb your sleep, no matter what position you choose to sleep in. Aim for 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, use blackout curtains, and wear earplugs and an eye mask

The RISE app can help you stay on top of 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day and tell you the ideal time to do each one based on your circadian rhythm to make them more effective.

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

Want more weight loss tips? We’ve covered more on how to lose belly fat overnight and the best way to lose weight here.

Focus on Your Overall Sleep, Not Just Your Position  

Your sleep position is important for weight loss, but not for the reason you think. Getting enough sleep is key for losing weight and preventing weight gain. So, finding a position that’s comfortable and reduces any symptoms of snoring, sleep apnea, or acid reflux is key. 

Keeping your sleep debt low and living in sync with your circadian rhythm will have a much bigger impact on your body weight and fat loss than the position you sleep in. 

To help you shift the pounds, the RISE app can work out how much sleep debt you have and predict your circadian rhythm each day to help you sync up to it. 

RISE can also guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits to help you get the sleep you need, at the best times, to help you lose weight the right way.

Summary FAQs

Sleeping position to lose belly fat

The best sleeping position to lose belly fat is any sleeping position that helps you get the most sleep. Not getting enough sleep, and not getting this sleep at the right times for your body clock, has been linked to having more belly fat. Unless you have a health condition like sleep apnea or acid reflux, your sleep position won’t make that much of a difference.

Does sleeping on your back reduce belly fat?

There’s no evidence that sleeping on your back can reduce belly fat. Getting enough sleep and getting this sleep at the right times for your body clock can help you lose belly fat, however. So, if sleeping on your back helps you do this, it may be the best position for you. If not, any position that helps you get enough sleep can help reduce belly fat.

How to lose belly fat while sleeping?

Lose belly fat while sleeping by making sure you get enough sleep for you each night and get this sleep at the right times for your body clock. Maintaining excellent sleep hygiene can help you do both of these things.

What is the best way to lose weight while sleeping?

The best way to lose weight while sleeping is to get enough sleep for you each night and get this sleep at the right times for your body clock. Maintaining excellent sleep hygiene can help you do both of these things.

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