When you wake up in the morning, do you find yourself lying on your side even though you think you sleep on your back? (and perhaps with a sore neck or back?)

If so, congratulations! You’re a side sleeper.

Side sleeping has its advantages and its drawbacks. Whether you experience the advantages or disadvantages is entirely up to your body. For those who suffer from back and neck pains, side sleeping can serve to increase the level of pain and discomfort. This is due to the gap of air that exists when you lay your head down on your pillow when side sleeping. In that gap of air, there is zero support for your neck (not an ideal situation) and during the course of a night’s sleep, chances are that you will wake up feeling sore.

If you suffer from sleep apnea, side sleeping can actually help you get a better night’s rest. Doctors performed a study on people who sleep on their side and the results showed that sleeping on your back results in being twice as likely to suffer from issues than sleeping on your side.

This guide is geared towards side sleepers. Why they do it, what benefits and drawbacks there are, along with the ideal type of mattress and pillow(s) they should use to get a good night’s rest.

Side Sleepers: Why Do They Do It?

You don’t wake up one morning and suddenly decide to sleep that way. It is a learned behavior. You (and your body) want to get the best possible night’s sleep, so over the years, you become conditioned to sleeping on your side which allows you to wake up refreshed.

There are plenty of health benefits to sleeping this way:

  • Relieves Heartburn Pain. WebMD put out a report that stated if you suffer from acid reflux, heartburn or indigestion, sleeping on your left or in the fetal position can help alleviate symptoms. 
  • Relieves Back Pain. There are plenty of studies out there that suggest side sleeping can help alleviate back pain, shoulder pain, and neck pain, by placing a pillow between your knees. 
  • Stops Snoring. There is plenty of medical evidence that sleeping on your side is good to relieve pressure and open up airway passages in your body, which helps alleviate snoring and obstructive sleep apnea symptoms. 
  • Helps Improve Circulation. According to the Vein Clinic, if you suffer from varicose veins or just want to improve your overall blood flow, sleeping on your left side can work wonders and is often the best sleep position for such cases. 

Best Mattresses for Sleeping on Your Side

Mattress shopping can be a nerve-wracking exercise. You must choose the right mattress, otherwise you could wake up the next morning with chronic shoulder pain from sleeping uncomfortably.

So how do you figure out which mattress is best for you?

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Well if you’re a side sleeper you want to make sure you find a mattress that keeps your spine horizontal when lying on your side. Look for a mattress that is relatively soft to moderately soft as anything firm will only cause you to toss and turn. When in the side sleeping position, you want your body to be cradled a bit by the mattress. Proper support will ensure a good night of rest and maintain the natural curve of the spine, which is the ideal.

What are the Best Pillows for Side Sleepers?

Sleep quality also depends on the right pillow; it is as important as choosing the right mattress. Your head and neck must be properly cradled; otherwise, it could lead to lower back pain when you wake up. So choose your pillow carefully!

Look for a pillow that’s big enough to cradle your head but not so big that it creates an additional pressure point. You might prefer a two-sided pillow: one side is firm and the other softer. Some people say it helps them to fall asleep, and they can also change sleep positions during the night with a double-comfort pillow.

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Without a doubt, memory foam pillows are a great choice whether you prefer sleeping on your right side or left. Of course, they are also ideal for stomach sleepers, back sleeping. Invented in the 1990s, many people, especially pregnant women, swear by the good night’s rest they bring. This is due to the foam maintaining the head in a neutral position.

Frequently asked questions

What is the healthiest sleeping position?

The ideal position will depend on what type of sleeper you are. Those who suffer from the issues discussed above will probably find that not sleeping on their stomach or back is more comfortable (or effective).

Where do I put my arms when sleeping on my side?

Many people simply fold them across their chest or let one arm rest on the hip while the other rests on the mattress.

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

There is no definitive ideal position for all people. Some prefer to lay on the left while others prefer the right. It’s also common for people to change their position for sleeping as they go through life.

Is sleeping on your side bad for you?

There is no convincing evidence to suggest that it is bad for you or detrimental to health. On the other hand, there is evidence to suggest that it can help alleviate some conditions.

Bringing it All Together

Let’s recap what we’ve learned so far:

You might sleep on your side because it’s comfortable. Medical studies have proven that sleeping this way can alleviate pain. It can also help reduce the occurrence of snoring and sleep apnea.

If you do suffer from pain, sleeping experts and many medical studies have found that side sleepers on the left tend to experience greater benefits than those who prefer to lay on the right.

Mattresses can be a challenge to find, especially if you’re not sure what you’re looking for. Try to find one that has a soft to medium firmness and will allow your body to slightly sink into it and be cradled. Avoid an overly firm mattress. Memory foam mattresses (and memory foam toppers) work great for cradling your body.

Pillow choice is very important. Choose the wrong pillow and you’ll wind up with sore shoulders or back pain. Look for a slightly bigger pillow than normal. If it’s made out of memory foam or some type of gel filling, that’s even better. It will cradle your head and provide the proper support throughout the night.