How to Sleep on Your Side – Find The Best Position For You

You have tried everything to stop snoring: nose strips, mouthpieces, nasal spray, chewable tablets (yes, those are real). And yet, nothing has worked. Well, there is a solution that could save you a bit of money.

Learning how to sleep on your side may just do the trick; it is the best position for those who struggle with snoring and apnea, as it opens up the airway making it easier to breathe. For those who do not snore or have apnea, laying on your side has many other benefits and could potentially give you a more restful and healthy night’s rest by aiding digestion, clearing more toxins, and alleviating pressure on the back and neck.

What is side sleeping?

Side sleeping is exactly what it sounds like, where people spend the majority of their night resting on their hips and shoulders rather than their stomach or back. If you are a lateral sleeper, you are in the majority of 74 percent of Americans; it is the most popular position, according to a survey from the National Sleep Foundation.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Can help apnea and snoring problems – The lateral position is less restrictive on airways, allowing them to remain unblocked, which is a common cause of apnea and snoring.
  • Good for pregnancy – Back sleeping can create breathing problems leading to low blood pressure and poor blood circulation to the baby and heart. Resting on your stomach is physically more difficult as the pregnancy develops.
  • Clears toxins – Sleeping naturally flushes out toxins, but researchers have found that resting laterally can clear up to 25 percent more toxins and plaque from your brain that may lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Can alleviate neck and back pain – Stomach snoozers put strain on their necks because they are constantly turned, and some have back pain because of spine misalignment.

Cons

  • Paresthesia – Also known as the sensation of “pins and needles,” paresthesia is when a body part is restricted from blood flow long enough to feel numbing, tingling, or burning. Many experience this most often in the arm that they are putting pressure on during the night.
  • Possible hip and shoulder pain – It may cause your hips and shoulders to sink into the mattress leading to back, neck, and shoulder pain.
  • Can cause facial wrinkles and sagging breasts – Smooshing your face against the pillow can lead to wrinkles. Gravity is to blame for sagging breasts; as skin loses elasticity, the weight of breasts can result in a loss of perkiness.

Can it cause shoulder pain?

Although it is generally the most comfortable position for most, side sleeping can definitely cause shoulder pain for some. If your mattress or pillow is not offering enough support for your shoulder, you might feel especially unpleasant in the morning. There are a few things that you can do to assuage this.

Although there is an ideal side to rest on, if you are waking up with shoulder pain, moving positions throughout the night will help share the strain between both shoulders. Stretching and exercise during the day can help increase blood flow and relax your joints. You can also try pulling your pillow down lower to decrease the stress on your shoulder.

Last, make sure your pillow and mattress are best suited for you. The wrong firmness level could put stress on the spine, causing neck, back, and hip, or shoulder pain. We will talk more about this later.

content woman is sleeping

How to Train Yourself to Sleep This Way

Stomach or back resters that are experiencing aches and pains may want to consider changing positions, as sleeping on your side is generally the most comfortable for most. Stomach sleepers tend to twist their spines in unnatural positions and spend the night with their necks turned 90 degrees causing soreness, while those who spend the night on their backs may experience some back discomfort or snoring.

If you were nodding your head while reading any of that, you might want to convert to your side. Although it is not as simple as just telling yourself to start napping laterally (if only), you can train your body naturally using a couple of tricks.

Try positioning pillows next to you, propping them to prevent you from reverting to your back or stomach. A pillow under the arm may assist those who rest on their stomach, and a pillow behind the back should keep back sleepers in the lateral position. A body or pregnancy pillow may also come in handy if you tend to move around a lot throughout the night.

You can also snooze on a couch or a narrow surface for a couple of nights to essentially force yourself not to turn. When we have the space to move, we will probably use it. Our bodies should be able to sense that there is not enough room to lay comfortably on the back or stomach.

If you are really gung-ho about staying on your side, some recommend taping or sewing a tennis ball (or any type of round object) to the front or back of their shirts in order to make it uncomfortable when turning over. Extremely stubborn sleepers may figure out a way around this in the night by pulling the shirt off or in a position where it no longer bothers them, but there is no harm in trying.

After all of that, maybe you fall asleep on your side with all the good intentions of staying there but then wake up in your old position. Keep trying—each time you find yourself lying somewhere other than your side, move back. Eventually, your body will train itself to do this without your conscious intervention.

Which Side is Best?

Could there really be a better side to rest on, and can it actually make a difference? Research says yes. Left-side sleepers experience less heartburn and acid reflux, and doctors recommend pregnant women to lay on their left to increase blood flow and circulation. It also helps your brain filter out more toxins than the right.

Snoozing exclusively on the left may cause some problems, however. Pressure can be placed on the stomach and lungs, making it uncomfortable after a while. More shoulder and hip pain can come from laying in one place for too long, as well.

How the Left Aids Digestion

According to a study in The Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, scientists found that laying on the left led to a lower frequency of heartburn in participants. They fed a group of volunteers high-fat meals on different days, had some lay on their right and others on their left for four hours after eating, then measured esophageal activity. Heartburn was significantly greater for those on their right.

This is not the only research ending with the same result. How does this work, exactly? Well, due to the placement of your stomach and other organs, laying on the left allows gravity to do its thing and help digest food more quickly and easily.

Right-resting can actually make heartburn worse, as your body has to work against gravity in order to digest properly. If you are having trouble staying on the left and are still experiencing heartburn or acid reflux, scientists recommend snoozing at an incline to assure your head is above your stomach. You can use pillows to prop yourself up or bed risers at the head of the bed to avoid possible neck pain.

a man is sleeping on the side

Side Sleeping Position Variations

The fetal position is the most common way people snooze. This is when the person is huddled up with their legs tucked in close to their body. It resembles the way a baby is naturally positioned in the womb.

But there are all kinds of ways to position your side-sleeping self, and some come with more benefits than others. Using a pillow can really step up your napping game and give you both a healthy and comfortable night’s rest.

Placing a pillow between the knees can relieve pressure on those hips and can keep the knees from rubbing against each other, avoiding discomfort. This can alleviate back pain as well because it encourages spine alignment.

A cushion behind the back can also keep that spine straight while assuring support when you may want to turn onto your backside. Hugging a pillow can put your shoulder pain to rest—the position will open your shoulder joints to lessen the pressure.

Play around with pillow placement to find what is most comfortable, and focus on those areas that might feel more pressure than others. Everyone is different, and what works for one person may not work for you.

Additional Considerations

Is there a better mattress for side sleepers?

We recommend side sleepers find a medium-firm mattress for two reasons: One, a firm mattress may not allow proper pressure relief for those shoulder and hip problem areas. The hips and shoulders may not sink in enough to keep the spine straight, leading to all sorts of discomfort. Two, a mattress that is too soft may not provide the proper support for those same problem areas, and too much sinkage can cause the same problems as a mattress that is too firm.

Generally speaking, those who sleep laterally prefer a softer mattress than people who rest on their back or stomach, so keep that in mind when shopping.

Learn more: Our Top Rated List of Mattresses For Side Sleepers

Is there a better pillow for this position?

Side snoozers usually benefit from a firm, thick pillow to assure that the neck stays aligned with their spine. Your head is pretty heavy—around 10 or 11 pounds. If the pillow is too thin or soft (think feather pillows), your head might sink in too far, and you could wake up with an achy neck or back.

Memory foam pillows can be a good option. They provide support while also contouring to the shape of your head and neck. If you want to rest your shoulder on the pillow as well, it may help relieve some of that pressure.

Learn more: Out List of Top Rated Side Sleeper Pillows

Conclusion


Easily the most popular sleeping position, lateral resting is about more than comfort; it is healthy, too. While it may not be the best choice for those with chronic shoulder or hip pain, it can help alleviate a lot of problems that back and stomach sleepers may come across. It can also aid in digestion, clear toxins, and lessen heartburn and acid reflux.

If you are struggling with apnea or keeping your partner up at night with your snoring, give side sleeping a chance. You—and your partner—may wake up more rested than ever.

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Author: Sleep Advisor

Our team covers as many areas of expertise as we do time zones, but none of us started here as a so-called expert on sleep. What we do share is a willingness to ask questions (lots of them), seek experts, and dig deep into conventional wisdom to see if maybe there might be a better path towards healthy living. We apply what we learn not only to our company culture, but also how we deliver information to our over 12.7M readers.

Sleep research is changing all the time, and we are 100% dedicated to keeping up with breakthroughs and innovations. You live better if you sleep better. Whatever has brought you here, we wish you luck on your journey towards better rest.

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