How To Sleep On Your Side
written by sleep expert Lauren Hall
How To Sleep On Your Side Properly: Side Sleeping 101:
Got into bad sleeping habits and find yourself waking up with back pain, shoulder pain, neck pain, all kinds of pain over your body? Well, this might be a sign that you’re sleeping position or mattress isn’t right for you. Sleeping on your back or side is the best sleep position for spinal alignment and pressure relief.
But the sleep position is the first step; getting the right mattress for your sleeping position is just as important.
Welcome to side sleeping 101, where I’m going to show you how to sleep on your side properly, the benefits of sleeping on your side, along which side is best to sleep on. It’s not only important to be comfortable while you sleep but also to help your muscles relax and spine remain neutral.
It’s not always natural for everyone to sleep on their side and maintain a good sleep posture. Many of us roll onto our stomachs or twist our spine, and then we wake up feeling sore and achy and wonder why. Your mattress may also be the culprit for this too.
Now, wait, let me tell you something.
Sleeping on a mattress that is too firm for you may be the reason for your aches and pains, especially if you sleep on your side. You should go for a conforming material like memory foam or latex to help relieve pressure points and provide support where needed.
But don’t worry, I will run over all this in detail shortly; it’s time to get the best night’s sleep of your life. Learning to sleep on your side can really benefit your health in more ways than many of us realize!
So let’s delve in, my friends, you won’t want to miss this.
Why Should You Sleep On Your Side?
There are some crazy benefits of the side sleeping position not only on comfort but also on your health if done properly. While sleeping on your back is an ideal sleeping position, much research supports that side sleeping can have just as many benefits.
When you are supported properly, with the right body alignment, sleeping on your side can reduce both joint and back pain, as well as chronic pain associated with conditions like fibromyalgia. It can even reduce snoring and obstructive sleep apnea, which causes serious disruptions in breathing.
Cognitive issues can also be prevented with good sleep hygiene; overall brain health can also benefit from sleeping on your side too. Sleeping on your side can even help your digestive system, which can help improve gut health and help with issues like heartburn, constipation, and bloating.
Who knew there were so many benefits for side sleepers when doing it the right way, well before I delve into how to train yourself to sleep in this sleeping position, let’s talk about the pros and cons in more detail!
Benefits Of Sleeping On Your Side:
All sleep positions come with their pros and cons, but the benefits of sleeping on your side definitely outweigh the drawbacks if you do it correctly. Here are the benefits of side sleeping.
Offers Back Pain Relief:
If you position your legs and arms correctly to promote a neutral position when side sleeping, it can really help with chronic pain, especially lower back pain. When sleeping in the wrong position, like the stomach sleep position, can increase pressure on your spine and cause aches and pains.
This is because when you sleep on your stomach, your sleep posture is poor as your spine is twisted, causing back pain, whereas side sleepers can actually relieve back pain relief when using the right mattress for side sleepers and sleeping in the correct position.
Many people who sleep on their side also find that their neck pain and shoulder pain are relieved when using the proper support. If you sleep on your side with poor sleep posture, this can pop a lot of pressure on your shoulders on hips, so ensure you have proper pillow position- I will go into this shortly.
Reduces Risk Of Snoring & Sleep Apnea
People snore up to 50% more often when sleeping on their back instead of their side. When sleeping on your back, your tongue tends to fall back into your throat, which causes an obstruction that results in snoring. This can damage sleep quality for both you and if you sleep with a partner.
Side sleepers can help keep their airways open in these sleeping positions, making it easier to breathe and make it easier to fall asleep. This is also why it is recommended for those with sleep apnea or sleep-related breathing disorders, as it can help relieve symptoms and promote healthy sleep.
Improves Gut Health:
Those who sleep on their side can help improve digestion as it makes your digestive system work better than sleeping on your back. This is because gas doesn’t clear your system as quickly as lying on your back.
So many people who sleep on their stomach or back experience heartburn, constipation, bloating, and other gastrointestinal issues, which can be relieved by side sleeping. This can improve comfort when sleeping, especially if you have eaten dinner slightly later than usual.
Improves Brain Health:
When you are asleep, your brain is most active; it makes cognitive connections and helps you make decisions by connecting the broken connections. This is where the saying “sleep on it” came from, as when you wake up the next day, your decision will be much clearer.
This is also because your brain gets rid of waste throughout the day and night but does the majority of this while you sleep. Your sleep position actually affects how effectively your brain can get rid of this waste, and the side sleeping position allows for faster waste removal than stomach or back sleep positions.
Benefits On Pregnancy:
Side sleeping is highly recommended for pregnant people as it improves blood flow throughout the body in this sleeping position; it also prevents the baby from putting too much pressure on the vein that carries the blood from the mother’s leg to their heart.
Side sleeping is highly recommended by the National Sleep Foundation as it is far safer during pregnancy, while back sleeping can actually increase the risk of late stillbirth in some studies. So training yourself to sleep on your side with a pregnancy pillow is highly recommended.
Is Sleeping On Your Side Bad?
With any sleeping position, there are a few drawbacks; while side sleeping is the most recommended sleeping position, there are a few cons to this sleeping position, particularly on shoulder pain. Let’s talk about these limitations in more detail!
This is also known as the sensation of “pins and needles,” otherwise known as the part of your body that “falls asleep” because blood flow is restricted to that area for some period of time. This can cause a numb, tingling, or burning feeling.
Some side sleepers experience this in their arm when sleeping on their side at night, which is uncomfortable, but occasionally switching from side to side or from back to the side can really help combat this. Don’t turn to sleep on your back when pregnant though.
Or you can sleep with your arm stretched out in front of you to avoid excessive pressure on your lower arm and make sleeping on your side much more comfortable.
Hip & Shoulder Pain:
This is mainly caused by sleeping on your side incorrectly or not sleeping on a supportive mattress if your mattress is too firm like if you have an innerspring mattress, it won’t conform to your body like memory foam, so it won’t work to relieve pressure points around your shoulders and hips, so you wake up with these related aches.
Buying a new, high-quality mattress can help with this concern, but if you cannot afford a new mattress, then many companies offer brilliant memory foam mattress toppers which can help ease pressure points and make your mattress feels brand new at a fraction of the price.
Sleeping with a pillow for side sleepers is also important as you need slightly more support, over sleeping on your back, it should provide support between your neck and shoulders so you can rest easy and help relieve these pressure points even further. A thin pillow in-between your knees is also recommended.
Can Cause Facial Wrinkles:
Many people often ask, does sleeping on one side of your face cause asymmetry? One of the main drawbacks of side sleeping is that your skin naturally folds on the preferred side, making wrinkles deeper on that side.
Sleeping with your hand on your face can also cause facial asymmetries, but these are often escalated by sun damage or smoking.
Squishing your face against the pillow can lead to wrinkles due to prolonged pressure on the pillow. The wrinkles on your pillow can also temporary indentations on the face, so satin or silk pillows are recommended to protect your face from this issue.
What Side Should You Sleep On?
Typically provide medical advice it is best to sleep on your left side; it can really help those suffering from obstructive sleep apnea or acid reflux as it prevents acid from leaking up your esophagus, which can worsen heartburn and sleep apnea symptoms. This can happen when sleeping on your right side.
There are some serious benefits of sleeping on your left side vs your right side.
If you are pregnant or experience gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) then sleeping on your left is best. But for those who suffer from heart failure, then sleeping on their left side may be uncomfortable, so many prefer to sleep on their right side.
When pregnant, it is recommended that you sleep on your left side; this can help improve blood flow and circulation between the heart, fetus, uterus, and kidneys while taking pressure off the liver. Using a full-body pregnancy pillow can help make this position much more comfortable and support areas.
You can wrap your arms and legs around the pregnancy pillow and have an area that can support your back and stomach, making it much easier to train yourself to sleep on your side if you naturally sleep on your back.
Doctors recommend sleeping on your right side if the left is uncomfortable, over sleeping on your back.
For those with GERD, then the left sleep position is recommended; it helps reduce heartburn, then sleeping on your right side can cause acid to leak up into your esophagus, which can worsen symptoms of heartburn, whereas, on your left side, this doesn’t happen as frequently.
But these heartburn episodes not only happen more frequently on your right side but also long longer, not ideal.
Pregnant people can also experience heartburn because pregnancy causes the digestive system to move more, sleeping. This is why it is also recommended to sleep on your left side during pregnancy. As I said earlier, it also helps pump blood around your body and to the fetus.
The only time it is better to sleep on your right side is when suffering from heart failure; side sleepers with heart failure avoid sleeping on their left side as it impacts the way the heart functions, which causes discomfort and disruption when sleeping in this position.
Those suffering from heart failure should also avoid sleeping on their backs because it puts pressure on the lungs, which can contribute to sleep apnea symptoms. Many who suffer from heart failure also suffer from sleep apnea too.
How To Train Yourself To Sleep On Your Side:
Side sleeping isn’t always comfortable for everyone; many people prefer sprawling onto their stomachs or resting comfortably on their backs; however, training yourself to sleep on your side has some crazy benefits. Plus, it is pretty easy to do so too.
Using the right pillow position to provide extra support in the right areas can not only prevent you from rolling around in the night but also provide extra support where needed in the night. Something as simple as a thin pillow between your legs and hugging a pillow can help provide crazy comfort in this position.
A full-body pregnancy pillow works wonders for offering relief for side sleepers; just wrap your arms and legs around this pillow. It will help provide support in these sleeping positions and make sleeping on the side super comfortable.
How To Sleep Comfortably On Your Side:
If you’re a stomach or back sleeper who experiences aches and pains, then sleeping on your side may offer the relief you need. There are some super benefits of sleeping on your side, as I spoke about earlier, so knowing how to sleep properly on your side will be worth it.
Stomach sleepers tend to twist their spine into unnatural positions and spend the night with their necks turned up. Many stomach sleepers experience soreness in their lower back and neck, while those who sleep on their back may have back pain or snoring.
So to help sleep on your side more comfortably, try positioning your pillows next to you; this will prevent you from rolling onto your back or stomach. So for stomach sleepers, you might need to place a pillow underneath your stomach to prevent rolling onto your stomach.
A full body pillow may come in handy when training to sleep on your side as you can wrap your leg and arms around it as well as have a support on the back. Hugging a full-body position will make sleeping on your left side super comfortable, especially if you get a memory foam one.
When our body can move, we tend to, so wrapping ourselves in pillows or using a full body pillow will prevent your body from turning. Our body will sense that there is not enough room to lay comfortably on our back or stomach.
For the first few times after tying this, you might find yourself waking up in your old position; this is normal. Just keep trying and if you wake up in the night on your back, then move back to your side. Your brain should eventually make the cognitions stay on your side.
How To Sleep On Your Side Without Hurting Your Shoulder:
This may be down to the mattress you’re sleeping on and the pillows you’re using. If you sleep on a mattress that is too firm or too soft, then it won’t provide the appropriate pressure relief or support you need when sleeping on your side. This is why innerspring mattresses are not recommended for side sleepers.
Instead, opt for a memory foam mattress, latex, or hybrid mattress. Memory foam and latex offer a brilliant level of body contouring and pressure relief since these materials mold around your body to promote healthy sleep, over a firm mattress.
Memory foam especially will cradle your curves and provide firmness and support where you need it and softness around sensitive pressure points to offer adequate pressure relief. By gently lifting your pressure points, it helps promote spinal alignment and relieves aches and pains and pressure around your hips and shoulders.
Having the right mattress for your sleeping position is crucial for comfort and preventing aches and pains.
In terms of the pillow, it is best to go for a pillow with a medium-high loft to help fill the gap between your neck and shoulders. Also, hugging a pillow can help provide the support you need when training to sleep on your side. Pair this with a thin pillow between your knees to help with hip and neck pain.
Side Sleeping Tips:
If you struggle with sleeping on your side, there are a few tips to help promote a better night’s sleep and help training to sleep on the side much easier.
Pick A Mattress Ideal For Side Sleeping:
Choosing a mattress designed for side sleepers is best as instead of waking up feeling achy and restless, a mattress for side sleepers will help you wake up feeling refreshed and revived for the day. The firmness is mainly down to your weight and preferences.
Many side sleepers prefer a medium-firm mattress as it has the most research to improve body posture, provide support, keep your spine in a neutral position and reduce pain. If you’re slightly overweight, then you might want to opt for a firmer mattress, so you don’t sink too far, especially if you’re going for memory foam.
Mattresses that are too soft won’t provide enough support on the heavier parts of your body like your hips and shoulders, so you might sink too deeply into the mattress, causing your spine to become unaligned throughout the night, whereas one too firm won’t offer enough cushioning on sensitive pressure points.
As a result, a mattress that is too firm may cause a gap between your waist and mattress surface, causing your abdomen to sink into this space which can lead to discomfort and spinal misalignment.
Memory foam, latex, or hybrid mattresses with a medium-firm firmness level is recommended for side sleepers as it offers body contouring, pressure relief, and cushioning around the areas of your body that need it—allowing your body to sink far enough to relieve aches and pains but not too far to detriment spinal alignment.
If you’re buying online, always go for a brand that offers sleep trials as you can test the mattress out from anything from 30 days to 365 days, and if it’s not a right fit, you can send it back worry-free. Just make sure you’re not caught out with a hefty shipment cost in the fine print!
Choosing The Right Pillow:
The best pillows for side sleepers are ones that promote proper spinal alignment and comfort around your neck. Your neck should stay aligned with your upper back, and try not to be tucked in. This can help relieve any aches and pains around your neck when waking up.
Sleeping on your side makes you prone to neck aches, so you should steer clear of feather pillows and opt for a memory foam or latex pillow instead. This should help keep your neck and spine in a neutral position and help prevent your neck from tucking in to cause aches.
Measure the space between your neck and the edge of your shoulder; this will help when shopping for pillows as you’ll know which pillow loft is best for your side sleepers. We need extra support to keep our spine neutral and offer comfort.
You can then use a thin pillow between your knees to help keep your hips aligned which can help reduce pressure on your knee joints and relieve the strain on your lower back.
Should You Sleep In A Fetal Position?
Some of us may find ourselves sleeping in a fetal position, but is the fetal position bad? Should you stop sleeping in this position? It is not recommended as it can cause extreme curvature of the spine, which can cause strain and discomfort in the neck and back.
Sleeping in a tightly curled position while sleeping can also limit space for the diaphragm, which can restrict breathing. However, there is mixed research about sleeping in the fetal position; some researchers say that it is brilliant for reducing lower back pain in pregnancy and reducing snoring.
However, to prevent this strain, you should place a thin pillow in between your knees, but for pregnant women, there are a few benefits of the fetal position.
So there you have it, side sleepers you are winning with your sleeping positions. Learning to sleep on your left side can really benefit your health; with the right pillow positioning and a bit of training, it can also be super comfortable too.
So whether you’re looking to relieve aches and pains, improve acid reflux symptoms or just improve quality of sleep, then sleeping on your left side is the best way to do this. Just opt for a silk or satin pillow to help prevent sleep wrinkles.
But if you want to look at other sleep positions be sure to check out my guide of how to sleep on your back, it will give you comfort like no other.
No more spontaneous sleep positions, but rather a comfort when sleeping on your left side. It’s time to get the best night’s sleep possible!
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