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Side Sleeper Guide: Learn How To Reduce Pain & Improve Sleep Quality

Side Sleeper Guide: Learn How To Reduce Pain & Improve Sleep Quality

Most American adults prefer sleeping on the side. When done correctly, side sleeping can deliver a host of well-being benefits ranging from better joint health to less snoring. On the other hand, incorrect posture can strain muscles, leaving you sore when you wake up.

In this comprehensive guide, you will discover everything you need to know about improving how you sleep as a side sleeper. We cover the pros and cons of side sleeping, how to correct your posture, and even the best hybrid mattress and pillow to help you experience even better rest.

Table of Contents

Benefits of side sleeping

By curling up on your side each night, you can contribute to your health in several ways. Whether you are a seasoned side sleeper or are trying to transition to a new sleeping position, here’s what you can expect.

Spinal alignment

Your back is one of the most sensitive areas of your body. When injured or strained, back pain can stand in the way of a good night's sleep. Since you spend around 8 hours a night sleeping, the way you sleep and the type of mattress you have can help you wake up each morning with less pain in your back.

The trick to being a side sleeper when you have back pain is to place a pillow between your knees. The pillow acts as a bolster to keep your knees, hips, pelvis, and spine in alignment.

Supports muscles

Besides spine support, sleeping on your side can also reduce pain in specific muscles and joints. Side sleeping also benefits people who suffer from chronic long-term conditions such as fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia causes musculoskeletal pain and fatigue.

When you curl up on your side into the fetal position, you can help open up areas in your vertebrae and support the soft discs that act as cushions for your spine. Releasing this tension helps your muscles relax as you snooze.

Boosts brain health

Modern research has linked side sleeping to increased cognitive function. It has to do with how the brain filters out toxins. While you sleep, the space between your brain cells expands, allowing fluid to flow through with ease and cleanse away toxins that can accumulate throughout the day.

When these waste chemicals build-up, the risk of developing neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s can increase. Researchers have found that side sleeping may more effectively reduce brain waste, thus improving cognitive health.

Digestion

Experiencing digestive issues such as heartburn and acid reflux at night is common, especially if you eat too late. Sleeping on your left side can help regulate your digestive system while you sleep.

The left side is considered better than the right side for digestion. This is because the stomach is located on the left side, and with the help of gravity, waste can effectively move through the small and large intestine.

Reduce snoring

As common as snoring is, it can be incredibly annoying and even detrimental to your health. Not to mention, a snoring spouse can eliminate the chance of a good night’s sleep. Sleeping on the side is considered the best sleeping position to help snorers open up their airways.

Sleeping on the side prevents the tongue from collapsing in the back wall of the throat. Snoring occurs when you are unable to move air quickly through your nose and mouth. The way you position your body in bed can significantly impact your flow of breath.

To sleep even better, sleep on your side and elevate your head at least 4 inches to make it even easier for your jaw and tongue to move forward.

Pregnancy

Expecting mothers endure many changes during pregnancy, and as the belly grows, quality sleep can be challenging to come by. Sleeping on the left side is considered the best sleeping position for pregnancy for both comfort and optimal blood flow.

A large vein called the inferior vena cava (IVC) is responsible for carrying blood to the heart and the baby. The IVC is located on the right side of the body, so sleeping on the left side will help blood flow most effectively.

Downsides of side sleeping

Downsides of side sleeping

Among the stack of benefits that come with side sleeping, there can be a few downsides. Some side sleepers are vulnerable to joint pain and jaw discomfort.

Joint pain

Body pain can make it close to impossible to fall asleep and stay asleep. When you lay on your side, you can place a great deal of weight on your neck, shoulders, and hips. Despite this, there are a few ways to release tension, especially if you have a history of pain in these areas.

Placing a pillow between the knees could alleviate tension from the hips. To help with shoulder pain, try placing a throw pillow beneath the chest area to create a canal and reduce strain on the shoulder. Neck pain can be managed with a quality pillow, especially one with an adjustable height.

Jaw discomfort

Side sleepers can sometimes experience jaw discomfort. When you lay on the side of your face for so long, you may feel a sense of pressure on your jaw. The best remedy for this is to sleep on a pillow that conforms rather than bounces.

To get a comfortable sleep and limit jaw discomfort, try sleeping on a memory foam pillow instead of a down pillow. Memory foam doesn't have a sinking effect, and it offers a suitable level of support.

Is it better to sleep on the left side or right side?

As we’ve covered, it can be better to sleep on your left side instead of your right side in some situations. During pregnancy and when you have heartburn are examples of when the left side will be more beneficial.

Having said this, many people spend their nights tossing and turning from one side to the other. Tossing and turning can impact sleep quality, and it may even leave you waking up with pain. To keep your body on just one side, try sleeping with a body pillow. Body pillows can help side sleepers as it acts as a bolster, keeping you aligned and limiting movement.

Best pillow for side sleepers

Finding the best pillow can be exhausting! You’re inundated with options, and it can be hard to figure out the features and benefits of each. We’re here to help. Side sleepers need to factor in 3 essentials when pillow shopping: thickness, firmness, and easy-care.

Thickness

The crucial role of the pillow is to keep your head, neck, and shoulders aligned. Unlike stomach sleepers who tend to feel more comfortable and supported on a thin pillow, side sleepers should aim for a pillow that lifts the head around 4 inches, give or take.

The best way to achieve this is to invest in an adjustable pillow. Memory foam adjustable pillows are an excellent option for side sleepers because you can easily remove some of the fill to customize the pillow's height.

Firmness

Side sleepers generally benefit from a medium-firm pillow. A too soft or too hard pillow will strain joints and make it hard to wake up feeling completely refreshed. Here, memory foam can help. The intuitive nature of memory foam can offer the right amount of firmness, support, and comfort.

Easy care

Pillows can accumulate a lot of dust and dirt. Dandruff, dead skin, drool - your pillow sees it all and then some. It’s recommended that you clean your pillow frequently to ensure you don’t expose your airways to dust.

Keep an eye out for a hypoallergenic stamp when you are pillow shopping, and make sure it has a zip-n-wash cover that you can wash in the washing machine.

Best mattress for side sleepers

young side sleeper

No matter what style of snooze you prefer, having the most comfortable mattress is essential. People who sleep on the side need to ensure their mattress contours to the body and relieves pain from pressure points.

The best mattresses for side sleepers are memory foam mattresses or hybrids.

Memory foam mattress

Memory foam is a higher-density viscoelastic foam that NASA invented in the 1970s. It has a flexible nature that contours to the body as your move, which is why it is considered such a breakthrough material in mattress innovation.

A new memory foam mattress can offer a balanced feel of comfort and support. Unlike traditional spring mattresses, memory foam doesn’t have a bounce. Instead, it provides a gentle feel that can be compared to a hug.

Hybrid mattress

Hybrid mattresses offer the same excellent benefits of memory foam, with the added stability of coils. Hybrids provide a blend of comfort and support that some side sleepers prefer to stand-alone memory foam mattresses.

Another key benefit of a hybrid mattress is that they offer better edge support. So if you are a side sleeper who tends to sleep close to the edge of the bed, you can avoid the edge sagging and causing discomfort.

Types of side sleeping positions

side sleeping positions

There are a few different ways you can get comfortable on your mattress as a side sleeper. Here are some of the most popular types of side sleeping positions and how you can use them.

  • Fetal position is when you curl up into a ball and hug your legs. It’s a popular choice for many side sleepers. Be mindful about your shoulders in this position and ensure you have the right pillow to support your neck.
  • The log is when your legs are straight and usually stacked on top of each other. This can be a difficult position to maintain throughout the night. To avoid straining the lower back, place a pillow between your knees to support alignment.
  • The hugger is a side sleeping position in which you hug a pillow or person while you sleep. Elevating your arm can reduce some strain. Consider hugging a body pillow for maximum comfort.

Paying attention to how you sleep can make a considerable difference to how you feel when you wake up. As a side sleeper, there are many ways you can improve your posture and reduce body pain.



Your Turn...

Are you a side sleeper? Share your thoughts in the comments. 


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Disclaimer. We love sleep and we want you to get the best sleep possible. But we do not provide medical advice. This blog is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical info, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our blog.


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Certified Sleep Science Coach

Written by Monica Chinsami, Certified Sleep Science Coach

Monica is a writer who is passionate about the connection between wellness and sleep. She believes sleep has the power to unlock our greatest potential for health and happiness. Topics she's covered range from well-being, to the latest trends in sleep health and bedroom aesthetics. Monica holds a BA in Journalism from Monash University and is a Certified Sleep Science Coach.


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