Prone vs. Supine: Differences and Which Is Better for Sleep

"Prone" (face down) and "supine" (face up) are words healthcare providers use to describe the position in which you sleep or lie down. Optimal sleep position is individual and depends on your age and health status. Certain conditions, such as obstructive sleep apnea, are directly affected by your sleep position.

Keep reading to learn the difference between supine and prone positions and the pros and cons of each.

Overhead view of boys sleeping on bed

Cavan Images / Getty Images

What Does "Supine" Mean?

"Supine" means to lie on your back, facing upward. The term "supine" is often used in medical terminology to refer to the positioning of individuals during procedures or examinations. One study estimated that people spend about 38% of their sleep lying on their backs.

Supine and Prone: Remembering the Difference

Here is a trick to remember the difference between supine and prone:

  • "Supine" contains the word "up," reminding you that you are face up in this position.
  • "Prone" contains the word "on," which you can use to remember that you are lying on your face or stomach.

Benefits of Sleeping Supine

The supine position is a popular neutral posture for sleep and relaxation. Lying on your back can ease tension in your neck, shoulders, and back. Some specific benefits you may notice from sleeping on your back include less low-back pain and less facial aging or wrinkles.

Risks of Sleeping Supine

Some research suggests that fluid can shift from your legs to your upper body in the supine position, increasing pressure in your lungs. The increased pressure on your respiratory system decreases your lung capacity and restricts your airway.

Sleeping in the supine position has been linked to problems like snoring and obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that causes upper airway disruption. People who snore benefit from avoiding a supine position while sleeping and should opt for a prone or side position.

Some studies also reveal that lying on your back can increase the effects of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

In pregnancy—especially in the last trimester—sleeping on your back could cause circulation problems from the weight of the uterus on the vena cava, the vein that carries blood to your heart for oxygen.

Supine Position in Exercise

The supine position is popular for several poses in yoga, in Pilates, and in several types of exercise. In addition to being a neutral position that can relax your muscles and improve spinal alignment, supine poses help engage and strengthen your core muscles.

Exercises that use the supine position address issues like core strength, back pain, and improved posture.

What Does "Prone" Mean?

Prone is lying in a face-down or stomach-down positioning. For medical procedures, your care team places your neck in a neutral position, but during sleep, you may turn your face to either side in this position.

Benefits of Sleeping Prone

When you lie on your stomach, the pressure distribution in your body changes. Evidence suggests that your lungs can fill (and stay inflated after you exhale) more effectively in this position.

Several studies have shown some benefits in sleeping in a prone position for people with obstructive sleep apnea. One study estimated that many people with obstructive sleep apnea have a variation of the condition called positional sleep apnea, wherein your sleep position affects the obstruction. About 35% of study participants had obstructive sleep apnea, and of them, nearly 70% had positional sleep apnea.

Risks of Sleeping Prone

Sleeping in a prone position is bad for your spinal alignment and can lead to back, neck, and shoulder pain. If you are a chronic stomach sleeper, you may notice temporary imprints or wrinkles on your face from being pressed up against your pillow night after night.

Back Is Best

For babies, sleeping on the stomach is linked to an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents and caregivers place babies on their backs on a flat, firm surface, free of soft bedding, to sleep for the first 12 months.

Alternative Definitions

Healthcare providers often use the word "prone" to describe the position a person undergoing surgery will be in, or a sleeping position. However, "prone" can also mean "having a tendency" (e.g., accident prone).

Why Is Sleeping Position So Important?

Your sleep position can impact your health, especially as you age. Various factors contribute to choosing the proper sleep position, including:

  • Back and neck pain
  • Snoring and sleep apnea
  • Reflux and heartburn
  • Appearance
  • Pregnancy status

Is It Better to Sleep Prone or Supine?

There is no "right" way to sleep. Different positions have pros and cons, especially at various stages of life. Ultimately, it comes down to your health, body composition, and personal preference.

People who snore can benefit from sleeping in a prone position, assuming they do not have any health concerns or physical limitations that would prevent them from doing so.

Sleeping in a supine position may benefit people who:

  • Have low back pain or neck pain
  • Are worried about wrinkles
  • Have nasal congestion


Prone and supine are body positions when lying down. The terms "prone" and "supine" are used in the medical field to explain how you may lie for a surgery or medical procedure. There are certain benefits to each position that can translate to your sleep, but there is no right or wrong way to sleep. Your age and overall health will determine the proper sleep position for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is it called lying prone?

    Like many medical terms, the word "prone" is rooted in Latin. It is taken from the word "pronus," meaning bent forward.

  • What is the healthiest sleeping position?

    The healthiest sleep position for you depends on your overall health. Your healthcare provider may recommend you choose—or avoid—certain positions, including the supine position in late pregnancy, the supine position with obstructive sleep apnea, or the prone position in infancy.

  • Which sleep position is linked to Alzheimer’s?

    A 2019 study linked increased time sleeping in the supine position to a higher rate of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's, but more studies are needed to connect sleep position to Alzheimer's disease.

21 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Rachael Zimlich, BSN, RN
Rachael is a freelance healthcare writer and critical care nurse based near Cleveland, Ohio.