Sleep Resources

How to Properly Sleep on Your Side

If you want to take advantage of all the benefits of side sleeping, then you should check out these crucial tips on how to sleep on your side.

By Daniel Grogan

Mattress Nerd consulted Julia LeBlanc, PT/DPT to ensure that this article met our editorial standards

When you think of improving your sleep experience, you typically think about getting a new mattress (maybe from our best mattresses for side sleepers article) or pillow, avoiding certain foods before bedtime, and taking other measures to modify your environment. But did you know that different sleeping positions can also have a significant impact on your sleeping experience as well? That’s why you want to consider your sleep position the next time you hit the sack.

There are several different positions for sleepers. You can either be a stomach sleeper, a back sleeper, a side sleeper, or a combination sleeper, but if you’re like the majority of Americans, then you’re most likely a side sleeper. Overall, sleeping on your side seems to be the best sleep position since it comes with great health benefits, including lesser chances of acid reflux and heartburn, reduction of breathing difficulties that lead to snoring and obstructive sleep apnea, and better blood flow and circulation. However, side sleeping also comes with some drawbacks that you’ll need to consider, such as potentially putting extra pressure on your hips and shoulders, and causing possible neck pain, lower back pain, and shoulder pain.

At the end of the day, the benefits of side sleeping greatly outweigh the potential health problems it may cause, and if you decide to transition into a side sleeper, then you’ll want to make sure you do it in the proper fashion. Below, you’ll find a list of tips that will help you train yourself on how to sleep on your side.

Sleep on Your Left Side

Believe it or not, there is a major difference in sleeping on your right side in comparison to your left side, due to how our bodies are constructed. By sleeping on your left side, you can take advantage of various principles that not only enable a good night’s sleep, but an overall much improved level of health and wellness.

First off, sleeping on your left side can assist with digestion. Our small intestines work hard to transfer waste to our large intestines, especially at night when our bodies aren’t as active. By sleeping on your left side, gravity will assist in pushing the waste through the ileocecal valve, which is located in your lower right abdomen.

Next, sleeping on your left side can greatly reduce the chances of heartburn. This is based on the theory that our stomach and gastric juices will remain lower in our esophagus, thus preventing the chances of acid reflux. If you’re prone to back sleeping or stomach sleeping, it’s much easier for these substances to crawl up and irritate your throat.

In addition to the waste we carry in our stomachs, there is also waste in our brains, and sleeping on your left side can help cleanse it. Neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s can be attributed to interstitial waste, also sometimes known as “brain gunk.” When you sleep on your left side, you can help your body clear this waste for good instead of letting it sit in your head.

Finally, sleeping on your left side can keep your airway clear by preventing your tongue from falling into your throat, which is a common occurrence for someone who is back sleeping. That is why people who snore are advised to try sleeping on their sides to reduce this annoying habit.

As you start to make your transition into a side sleeper, keep these benefits in mind so that you end up gravitating toward left-side-sleeping. Your mind and body will thank you. For more info, head over to our article on the what is the best side to sleep on.

A Pillow Between Your Knees

Have you ever found yourself putting a pillow between your knees to help you fall asleep faster? You’re not the only one. In fact, there’s a whole science behind this practice, and it’s actually recommended for people who want to become side sleepers. Putting a pillow between your legs can eliminate pressure on your lower body by keeping your knees on top of each other and ensuring your hips and pelvic area are properly aligned. At the same time, it also reduces stress on your hips by stopping them from rotating in the middle of the night, which in turn leads to better spinal alignment. 

If you have sciatica or other similar lower back or leg issues, then you’ll be happy to know that a pillow between the legs can reduce pain and aggravation since it will prevent you from inadvertently rolling your leg forward onto the mattress.

One last benefit of keeping a pillow between your legs as you sleep is that it can improve blood circulation throughout your body. The pillow elevates your leg just high enough that it can promote healthy blood flow through your vena cava, a major vein that carries blood to both your heart and your back.

Watch Out for Your Arm

We mentioned previously how sleeping on your side can improve circulation and blood flow. However, you need to be careful of one common mistake many side sleepers make that can actually harm your circulation: sleeping on your arm.

While sleeping on your side, make sure you have your bottom arm under your pillow instead of pressed up against your body and pinned down to the mattress. Over time, this can lead to you cutting off circulation to your arm, hand, and fingers, which can cause numbness and pain in the middle of the night.

Use the Right Pillow

It’s important that you have the right type of mattress to accommodate your side sleeping position, but you also want to consider the pillow you use as well. The right pillow can make your side sleeping experience much easier, while the wrong one can lead to major pain and soreness in the morning.

A common misconception is that your pillow needs to be extra soft in order for it to be comfortable. The truth is that you need a pillow that will properly support your neck and keep it aligned with your spine. As you shop for new pillows, think of how your body is lying down on the mattress. A flat pillow or a pillow that’s too soft will lead to your head positioned too low, while a pillow that’s too firm may keep your head too high. You want a medium-firm pillow, preferably made of memory foam, that keeps your neck and head centered.

Related: Best Pillows for Side Sleepers

Summary

Sleeping on your side comes with numerous benefits that make it the best sleeping position, but you need to make sure you’re doing it properly. With these tips, you’ll get on the right track to improving your sleep experience and getting the restful sleep that you deserve.

Julia LeBlanc, PT/Doctor of physical therapy graduated from Simmons College and has been practicing outpatient orthopedic Physical Therapy for 15 years. During her career, she’s worked with high level collegiate and professional athletes in the Boston area, the Boston Ballet and also a wide range of post-operative, chronic pain and acute patients. Julia holds certifications in Dry Needling, Spinal Manipulation, Graston Technique, and is also a Certified of Yoga Instructor, allowing her to provide her skills to a wide variety of patients. Julia strives to integrate the benefits of physical therapy and yoga, while pursuing the most current information to provide her patients with the best care.

Julia LeBlanc is a medical reviewer to Mattress Nerd on the subject of sleep health. They provide important perspectives on the topics we discuss to help our readers make our content as authoritative as possible. They do not personally endorse any products, nor are they associated with any brands featured in our review content. 


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