Transparency Disclosure — We may receive a referral fee for products purchased through the links on our site…Read More.

How to Sleep on Your Side

Disclaimer – Nothing on this website is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment… Read More Here.

Learning how to sleep on your side may not sound ideal when you’ve been comfortably resting on your stomach or back for years. We’ve researched a few tricks to help you make the transition comfortably.

Side sleepers typically enjoy this position due to improved back alignment, which helps with snoring and sleep apnea. In addition, this lateral posture opens up your airways making it easier to breathe. Laying on your side offers other benefits like a reduced risk of back pain and improved abdominal health, potentially providing a more restful and healthy night’s sleep.

By shifting your sleep position, you could aid digestion, reduce snoring, and relieve back pressure; we detail how you can make this an easier transition below.

Benefits of Sleeping on Your Side

  • Can help sleep apnea problems – The lateral position is less restrictive on airways, allowing them to remain unblocked, which is a common cause of apnea and snoring. Research has found that adults who sleep on their backs experience worse obstructive sleep apnea1, which can include symptoms like loud snoring. Couples often struggle with one person snoring, given how common the issue is. Luckily, shifting your position might let you and your partner get better sleep.
  • Good for sleep during pregnancy – Back sleeping can create a myriad off issues2, including low blood pressure and poor blood circulation to the baby and heart, and resting on your stomach can become uncomfortable as the pregnancy develops. Using a body pillow or cushion between your legs when sleeping on your side might help you snooze with more comfort during pregnancy.
  • Clears toxins – Sleeping flushes out toxins, but researchers have found that resting laterally can remove up to 25 percent more toxins3 and plaque from your brain that may lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Can alleviate neck and back pain – Stomach sleepers put a strain on their bodies because they are constantly placing pressure on their lower back and often their necks as well. Many chiropractors warn against this posture4 because of this exact issue. Sleeping on your side can help with proper spine alignment, relieving some of that back and neck pain.

Potential Drawbacks of Side Sleeping

  • Paresthesia describes a sensation of “pins and needles.” Otherwise known as when a part of your body “falls asleep,” paresthesia is when a body part is restricted from blood flow long enough to feel numbness, tingling, or burning5. Some people experience this in the arm that they are putting pressure on during the night. You may be able to avoid this sensation by sleeping in the “yearning” position, on your side with your arms stretched out in front of you, avoiding excessive pressure on your lower arm.
  • Possible hip and shoulder pain – Sleeping on your side may cause your hips and shoulders to sink more into the mattress, resulting in back, neck, and shoulder pain. When you lie on a narrower surface area on your body, you are concentrating more pressure on a smaller portion, leading to increased discomfort. A thoughtfully crafted mattress made with quality products should eliminate this concern.
  • Can cause facial wrinkles – Squishing your face against the pillow can lead to wrinkles due to the prolonged pressure of your skin on a pillow. Shifting in the night is often unavoidable, and the wrinkles in your pillowcase could also create temporary indentations in the face. With this said, silk or satin pillows are known for protecting against this issue.

Tips for Sleeping on Your Side

Side sleeping isn’t always comfortable for everyone. Many people prefer sprawling out on their stomachs or resting on their backs. However, there are ways to train yourself to sleep on your side, and you don’t necessarily have to lose sleep in the process.

Using the guidance of additional pillows can provide the extra support necessary to keep you from shifting around unconsciously at night. Tips like placing a pillow between your legs, employing a contoured pillow for neck support, or positioning your arms differently than usual could help you find relief in side sleeping.

How to Train Yourself to Sleep on Your Side

Forcing your body to sleep in a way you’re not used to may take some time, but several tricks can help you.

  1. Try positioning pillows next to you, propping them to prevent you from reverting to your back or stomach. For example, 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.
  2. When we have the space to move, we often take advantage. To prevent yourself from adjusting in the night, you can try sleeping on a couch or a narrower surface for a couple of nights to force yourself not to turn. Our bodies should sense that there is not enough room to lay comfortably on the back or stomach.
  3. For those who are happy to try a more radical approach, some people recommend taping or sewing a tennis ball (or any round object) to the front or back of their shirts to make it uncomfortable when turning over.

Falling asleep on your side yet waking up in your old position is common. Keep trying — each time you find yourself lying somewhere other than your side, move back. Eventually, your body should adapt without your conscious intervention.

Which Side is Best to Sleep on? Left or Right?

Does the side you sleep on really make a difference? Research says yes. Left-side sleepers experience less heartburn and acid reflux6, and doctors recommend pregnant women lie on their left to increase blood flow and circulation.2

Snoozing exclusively on the left may cause some problems, however. You may put pressure on your 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.

Can Side Sleeping Cause Shoulder Pain?

Although it’s generally the most comfortable position, side sleeping can cause shoulder pain for some. In addition, if your mattress or pillow is not offering enough pressure relief for your shoulder, you might feel especially unpleasant in the morning. However, there are a few things that you can do to assuage this.

Related: Best Mattress for Shoulder Pain and Best Mattress for Neck Pain

Although there is an ideal side to rest on, moving positions throughout the night will help distribute the strain between the shoulders. Likewise, 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 mattress firmness level could stress the spine, causing neck, back, hip, or shoulder pain.

Different Ways to Sleep On Your Side

You might be wondering about where to put your arms when sleeping on your side or how to position your legs. There are all kinds of ways to position yourself, and some come with more benefits than others.

The Fetal Position

Side sleepers who curl up in bed with their legs bent towards their heart or torso are sleeping in the fetal position. Some people may experience pain in their hips from this position. However, you can often avoid this discomfort by placing a pillow between your knees.

The Log

The log position is just as it sounds, sleeping on your side with your arms straight down by your sides. This position could help those who struggle with sleep apnea or snoring, but those with arthritis may want to steer clear due to strain on their joints.

The Yearner

The yearner position is similar to the fetal except this position stretches the arms out in front of the body. However, if you have arthritis, this pose might make your condition worse.

Check out our picks for the best mattresses for arthritis.

The Pillow Hug

Pillow huggers often enjoy this posture because the cushion helps to prop their bodies up. This position could offer great comfort for those who struggle with achy joints or weak bones, as the pillow can provide additional pressure relief.

Best Pillow Position for Side Sleepers

Where you place your pillow can help make side sleeping more comfortable, especially if you’re new to it. The following are examples of where you can put your pillow when you sleep. We encourage you to try each one out to see what feels best.

Read More: Best Pillows for Side Sleepers

Under the Head

Side sleepers need a bit more support than back or stomach sleepers because of the pressure this position puts on their neck and head. With a higher, loftier cushion, your neck and head should be better supported, allowing for better spinal alignment and preventing the head from dipping too low. Ideally, you’ll want your spine to lie as straight as possible.

Under the Neck

A double contour pillow is an excellent way to ensure your head and neck are both adequately supported in the side position. These cushions slope subtly up around your neck, lifting for a gentle cradle. Supporting the neck is important for people living with arthritis or scoliosis.

Between the Knees

Placing a pillow between your legs is a fantastic way to give your body the alignment it needs to sleep in a healthy posture. However, some people find fluffy pillows too thick for comfort, and often a thinner cushion is more comfortable.

Behind the Back

Tucking a pillow behind the back while side sleeping is an excellent way for back or stomach sleepers to train their bodies to sleep on their sides. When you’re not used to sleeping a certain way, forcing yourself into the habit can be challenging. The cushion should provide additional guidance during the night to prevent you from rolling over onto your back.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the best mattress for side sleepers?

We recommend that side sleepers find a medium to medium-firm mattress for two reasons: A firm mattress may not allow proper pressure relief for the 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.

Check Out Our Guide: Best Mattresses For Side Sleepers

What’s the best pillow for side sleepers?

Side sleepers usually benefit from a firm, thick pillow to ensure that the neck stays aligned with their spine. Keep in mind, your head is pretty heavy, and 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 the shape of your head and neck. If you want to rest your shoulder on the pillow, it may help relieve some of that pressure.

View Our Guide: Best Pillows for Side Sleepers

How can I sleep on your side without hurting my shoulder?

Sleeping on your side isn’t always comfortable, especially if you rarely change sides. Regular side sleepers may struggle with neck, back, and shoulder pain. For this reason, you may want to consider doing a few things to avoid this discomfort.

  • Consider a medium-firm mattress – A medium or medium-firm mattress is often the best for side sleepers as it offers the right support and pressure relief, though this will also depend on your body weight since lighter-weight sleepers might want something more soft. If your current mattress isn’t as comfy for this position and you don’t have the budget for a new bed, you can purchase a mattress topper that fits your needs. Toppers adjust the feel of a mattress and are significantly cheaper than buying a new mattress altogether.
  • Shift sides – One of the best practices for side sleepers is changing sides. Many say sleeping on their left side is healthier than sleeping on the right, but it’s often the most comfortable to switch regularly.
  • Place a pillow between the knees – Placing a pillow between your knees can prevent the knees and hips from collapsing. A pillow between the knees can also help create a better spine alignment.


Side sleeping is healthy and beneficial, and dedicated back and stomach sleepers could benefit from switching to their side. Although it may feel strange initially, you can train your body to sleep on the side. Plus, things like a mattress topper and body pillow can help you feel more comfortable in this position. After a few days, side sleeping will come more naturally, and it shouldn’t take much longer before you feel the benefits.


  1. Menon, Akshay., Kumar, Manoj. “Influence of Body Position on Severity of Obstructive Sleep Apnea: A Systematic Review”. National Library of Medicine. 2013.
  2. “Best Sleeping Positions While Pregnant”. American Pregnancy Association. 2021.
  3. “Could Body Posture during Sleep Affect How Your Brain Clears Waste?”. ScienceDaily. 2015.
  4. “Sleep Positions”. Hosmer Chiropractic Health. 2021.
  5. Shmerling MD., Robert H., “Hands or Feet Asleep? What to Do”. Harvard Health. 2020.
  6. “Choosing the Best Sleep Position”. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Webpage accessed November 27, 2024.
Rachael Gilpin

Rachael Gilpin

Content Writer

About Author

Rachael is a content writer for Sleep Advisor who loves combining her enthusiasm for writing and wellness.

Back Sleeper