Benefits of Side Sleeping
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Some folks snooze on their stomachs, some curl up in a ball on their side, and others sprawl out starfish-style on their backs. There isn’t one “right” way to sleep, but there is some evidence that suggests certain positions may be better for your health.
Sleeping on your side, in particular, has been linked to some impressive perks. Here’s some of the potential health benefits of side sleeping and how to become a side sleeper, even if it’s not your go-to sleeping position.
Benefits of Side Sleeping
Side sleeping is a snuggly way to snooze, but it’s not just good for comfort. Check out some of side sleeping’s health benefits, according to the latest research.
May Reduce Back Pain
Waking up with a sore back is no fun. Some research suggests that sleeping on your side could help reduce back pain. The position may help alleviate some of the strain and pressure that leads to back pain by properly aligning your spine.
Try keeping your legs out straight and position a pillow between your legs for added support. This method of side sleeping may also be beneficial if you experience hip or knee pain.
Could Ease Sleep Apnea Symptoms
If you have obstructive sleep apnea, a condition in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts throughout the night, sleeping on your side may help keep your airway more open. While laying flat means gravity’s working against you, sleeping on your side is beneficial for both air flow and blood flow.
May Reduce Snoring
Gurgling and snorting sounds in the middle of the night not only disturb your sleep partner, but they can even disrupt your sleep. Similar to sleep apnea, snoring is often the result of a partially blocked airway.
In many cases, snoring sounds are a product of your tongue relaxing and settling back toward your throat. Switching to your side may help because gravity will pull your tongue to the side of your mouth rather than back toward your throat.
Could Improve Digestion
Eating a big meal close to bedtime can sometimes lead to indigestion and heartburn. But there is some evidence that sleeping on your left side can help keep those symptoms at bay.
That’s thanks to the position of your stomach. Your stomach is lower than your esophagus when you’re laying on your left side. That makes it more difficult for stomach acid to come up and irritate your esophagus.
Might Support Brain Health
Here’s where things get really interesting. New research has opened up experts to the idea that sleeping on your right side can actually improve your cognitive function. Studies have only been done in animals, but they suggest that this position helps the brain optimize its natural cleansing process by ridding itself of toxins.
And because brain waste plays a major role in how Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases develop, this could potentially have major implications for human health.
May Improve Bloodflow During Pregnancy
The American Pregnancy Association recommends that pregnant people sleep on their side, even if it’s not their normal sleep position. Sleeping on your side can help improve circulation to the baby and increase the nutrients that reach the placenta.
Having strong blood flow during sleep helps to reduce any swelling, varicose veins, and even the risk of hemorrhoids for soon-to-be moms. Elevating yourself with pillows or laying one between your legs can also take some of the pressure off your back.
Tips to Transition to Side Sleeping
Side sleeping is arguably one of the most popular positions for snoozing. In fact, one of the biggest sleep studies ever conducted found that participants spent over half of the night in a side sleeping position.
But what if side sleeping doesn’t come naturally to you? Here are a few tips to make the transition a little smoother.
- Use body pillows to prop you up or between the knees. Bending your knees too much can actually put strain on your hips. If you like to sleep with your legs bent, a body pillow can help support that position and take some of the pressure off.
- Try a fetal position. If you’re not prone to hip or back pain, curling up in a little ball can actually help you feel more supported on your side. Pull your knees close to your chest and tuck your head down.
- Upgrade your mattress. No position is comfortable enough to sleep in if your mattress is old and lumpy. If you’re due for an upgrade, consider investing in a quality mattress designed for side sleeping that will contour to your body and provide the support you need.
- Choose the right pillow. Just like your mattress, your pillow plays a big role in how comfortable you are at night. If you’re a side sleeper, look for a pillow that’s soft enough to provide some cushioning for your head but firm enough to keep your neck aligned with your spine.
- Switch sides. As long as you don’t have issues with acid reflux, it’s helpful to switch sides every now and then. This can help prevent any pain or discomfort in your shoulders, neck, and back that may come from sleeping on the same side night after night.
- Position pillows around you. One of the best things about side sleeping is that you can pretty much customize your sleeping setup to fit your needs. If you like to have something to hug, try placing a pillow in front of you. If you need extra support for your back or hips, place a pillow behind you. And if you want to keep your head elevated, put a pillow under your head or between your legs.
Don’t be concerned if you wake up and find yourself in your old sleeping position. Adjusting takes time, and it’s totally normal to revert back to what’s comfortable. With some persistence, you might find that you become a side sleeper for life.
Five Tips for Better Side Sleeping
- It may sound obvious, but make sure you have a mattress suited to side sleeping. You’ll need something that provides adequate pressure relief around your shoulders and hips, so a soft to medium-soft mattress will generally be the best bet for you.
- Once you have the right mattress, your next priority should be your pillow. A foam pillow with a high loft is a great option, as it will fill the gap between your head and shoulder and allow your head to rest in a position that doesn’t put strain on your neck.
- Your hands and arms should rest below your neck, not above or around your head. Placing your hands or arms underneath your head might feel nice initially, but will likely result in discomfort in the long run.
- Place a pillow between your knees. Doing this not only feels nice, it can also help keep your hips from sinking and throwing your spine out of alignment.
- Pull your knees up toward your chest, but only slightly. This can help reduce the pressure placed on your back.
For more information, check out our article on how to properly sleep on your side.
There’s exciting research that suggests side sleeping could offer a number of health benefits. But that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. Ultimately, feel free to sleep however you feel most comfortable. If you’re looking to improve your sleep quality or ease some pain, though, it may be worth giving side sleeping a try. Who knows, you may just find yourself sleeping better than ever before.
Best Sleeping Positions During Pregnancy. (2022). https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-health-wellness/sleeping-positions-while-pregnant/
Desouzart G, et al. (2016). Effects of sleeping position on back pain in physically active seniors: A controlled pilot study. https://content.iospress.com/articles/work/wor2243
Good Sleeping Posture Helps Your Back. (2022). https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID=4460
Lee H, et al. (2015). The Effect of Body Posture on Brain Glymphatic Transport. https://www.jneurosci.org/content/35/31/11034
Person E. et al. (2015). A Novel Sleep Positioning Device Reduces Gastroesophageal Reflux: A Randomized Controlled Trial. https://opa.org.uk/the-best-side-to-sleep-on-for-digestion-and-other-benefits/
Skarpsno ES, et al. (2017). Sleep positions and nocturnal body movements based on free-living accelerometer recordings: association with demographics, lifestyle, and insomnia symptoms. https://www.dovepress.com/sleep-positions-and-nocturnal-body-movements-based-on-free-living-acce-peer-reviewed-fulltext-article-NSS
Svensson M, et al. (2008). Daytime sleepiness relates to snoring independent of the apnea-hypopnea index in women from the general population. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18753465/
The Best — and Worst — Sleep Positions for Back Pain. (2019). https://www.keckmedicine.org/blog/the-best-and-worst-sleep-positions-for-back-pain/
The Sleeping Positions for Sleep Apnea Patients. (2020). https://www.okoa.org/articles/the-sleeping-positions-for-sleep-apnea-patients
What Is Sleep Apnea? (2022). https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep-apnea
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Mattress Nerd consulted Dr. Tom Ingegno to ensure that this article met our editorial standards. Did you know that about 74 percent of adults sleep on their sides for at least a portion of the night? For many, there’s no cozier position than side sleeping. Whether you like to extend your legs fully, keep one straight, or pulling […]