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

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

Sleeping on one’s side 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, sleeping on your side 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 you sleep on your side. In that gap of air, there is zero support for your neck and during the course of a night’s sleep, chance are you will wake up feeling sore.

If you suffer from sleep apnea, sleeping on your side can actually help you get a better night’s rest. Doctors performed a study on people who sleep on their side and their results showed that people who sleep on their backs were twice as likely to suffer an episode of sleep apnea than those who slept on their sides.

This guide is geared towards side sleepers. Why they do it, what benefits and drawbacks are there, along with the ideal type of mattress and pillow(s) they should be using to get the best possible nights sleep.

Side Sleepers: Why Do They Do It?

You don’t wake up one morning and suddenly decide to be a side sleeper. Sleeping on your side is a learned behavior that has its roots in the pain avoidance center in the brain. You (and your body) want to get the best possible night’s sleep, so over the years you have become conditioned to sleeping on your side which allows you to wake up refreshed and ready to start the day.

There are plenty of health benefits to sleeping on your side:

  • Relieves Heartburn Pain. WebMD put out a report that stated if you suffer from heartburn or indigestion, sleeping on your left side can help alleviate symptoms. 
  • Relieves Back Pain. There are plenty of studies out there that suggest side sleeping (with a pillow between your legs for extreme cases) can help alleviate both back and neck pain. 
  • Stops Snoring/Sleep apnea. There is plenty of medical evidence that sleeping on your side opens up airway passages in your body which helps alleviate snoring and 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 circulation, sleeping on your left side can work wonders. 

Best Mattresses for Sleeping on Your Side

If you’re like most people, mattress shopping can be a nerve-wracking exercise. You subconsciously realize that you have to choose the right mattress otherwise you could wake up every morning feeling horrible from sleeping on an uncomfortable mattress.

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

Well if you’re a side sleeper you’re going to want to find a mattress that keeps your spine horizontal when lying on your side. This adds support in all the right places. On the soft-to-firmness scale, you should look for something that is relatively soft to moderately soft as anything firm will only cause you to toss and turn. When you sleep on your side, you want your body to be cradled a bit by the mattress. Proper support is ensured when the mattress cradles your body.

What are the Best Pillows for Side Sleepers?

side sleeper

If you’re a side sleeper then choosing the right pillow is as important as choosing the right mattress, if not moreso. When you sleep on your side, your head and neck must be properly cradled, otherwise it could lead to neck pains when you wake up in the morning.

You should look for a pillow that’s big enough to cradle your head and neck, but not so big that it creates an additional pressure point. Some side sleepers use a pillow between their legs. This helps out if you suffer from lower back pain.

Without a doubt, memory foam pillows are a side sleepers best friend. They were invented in the 1990’s and many people swear by the good nights sleep the bring. This is due to the foam conforming to the shape of your head and neck and cradling you when you sleep.

Bringing it All Together

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

People who sleep on their sides do so because it’s comfortable. Medical studies have proven that sleeping on your side can alleviate neck and back pain. It can also help reduce the occurrence of sleep apnea and snoring.

If you do sleep on your side, try to sleep on your left side. Many medical studies have found that people who sleep on their left side tend to experience greater medical benefits than those who sleep on their right side.

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. Memory foam mattresses (and memory foam toppers) work great for cradling your body.

Pillow choice is very important for side sleepers. Choose the wrong pillow and you’ll wind up with a sore neck and back time and time again. You want to look for a slightly bigger pillow than normal (but not too big). If it’s made out of memory foam or some type of gel filling, that’s even better as it will not only cradle your head and neck, but provide the proper support throughout the night.