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Last Updated on April 8, 2024

How To Sleep On Your Side And Wake Up Without Pain?

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Written By Alex Petrović

Certified Sleep Consultant

a featured image of how to sleep on your side and wake up without pain
Side sleeping is the most common sleep position among adults. According to research, over 50% of adults sleep on their side, and it is also considered to be the healthiest sleeping position.

Whether you are side, stomach or back sleeper, depends on many factors. Also, people often change their sleeping positions at different ages, so babies and young children mostly sleep on their stomachs and backs, while most adults sleep on their side. Many sleepers don't have the best position to sleep but rather switch between a few different ones.

Many of us are combination sleepers, which means we keep changing spontaneous sleep positions during the night. Nevertheless, if you ask doctors what is the healthiest and best sleep position, most of them will agree that it is the side sleeping position. But you will not use the full potential of side sleeping if you do not have a suitable pillow and mattress. In the rest of the article, find out all the pros and cons of side sleeping, as well as how to make the most out of it.

Why is it good to sleep on the side?

You have probably heard often that it is healthy to sleep on your side. But rarely can you read why it is actually healthy and then people tend to believe that it is another unverified information as well as a bunch of similar information on the internet. However, in this case, numerous studies have shown an association between side sleeping and a reduction in the problem of sleep apnea, snoring and neck pain, among others.

Reduces sleep apnea and snoring problems

Snoring is very annoying, so much so that it leads to quarrels between partners, sleeping in separate rooms, and in some cases even divorce. But sleep apnea and snoring in addition to being very annoying are also very dangerous conditions. Due to improper breathing, people suffering from obstructive sleep apnea have a significantly higher risk of high blood pressure (hypertension), which leads to heart attacks, strokes, arrhythmia and many other problems.

an image of a woman cannnot sleep due to man's snoring

Sleep apnea and snoring are most prevalent in those who sleep on their backs, and it is best to sleep on your side to minimize these problems or even prevent them from happening. Airways will not be blocked when you sleep on your side and this is definitely one of the biggest benefits of side sleeping. Even when using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, it is better to sleep on your side than on your back. Anyway, if you are using CPAP your doctor will provide medical advice about using it.

Reduces neck & back pain

Stomach sleeping is the worst sleep position for our neck, because than our neck is constantly in an incorrect position and also the pressure on the cervical vertebrae is very high. Stomach sleeping is unhealthy for the lower back as well.

So, how to sleep with lower back pain and what is the best sleeping position for back pain? Do have in mind that back sleeping can also cause back pain if the mattress is not adequate and spinal alignment is not achieved. If you already have problems with lower back when sleeping, you might want to try sleeping on the left side.

Switching to side sleep position will reduce neck and spine pain during the first night and will continue to improve. In the long run, if you have a suitable mattress and pillow for side sleeping position, it is very possible that the chronic pain will disappear completely. So, best way o sleep when you suffer from back pain when sleeping is on the left side.

Good for pregnancy

Sleeping, especially in the later stages of pregnancy, can be very challenging for any woman. Of course, stomach sleeping is out of the question, but back sleeping is also not recommended for pregnant women for several reasons. The baby can put a lot of pressure on the veins and arteries that carry blood to the legs and back, and also breathing problems may occur.

an image of a pregnant woman sleeping on her side

Sleeping on your back even carries the risk of late stillbirth. Side sleeping is, therefore, an ideal sleep position during pregnancy, because in this position the heart is easiest to pump blood. Also, it is the most comfortable position for pregnant women, especially if they use a pillow between the legs. Do take a look at the best pregnancy pillows to find your ideal pillow during the pregnancy. 

Removes toxins

You could have predicted the previous benefits of side sleeping, but we believe that you are not aware of the fact that sleeping on your side helps you remove toxins from your body. While this is not a 100% proven claim, several researchers have concluded that one-quarter more toxins are expelled from the body when you sleep on your side than on your back or stomach. If this is true, it can prolong your life.

Also, side sleeping improves gut health. Gut health is very important for the health of the whole body, and it will also reduce your problems with heartburn, constipation and bloating.

Why sleeping on your side shouldn't be the best sleeping position?

Nothing is perfect, not even side sleeping. There are people who simply are not comfortable in that position and cannot fall asleep when lying on their side, so they should definitely change it. Because even though it is the healthiest sleep position, the other two are not detrimental either. The most common problems when sleeping on your side are paresthesia, wrinkles and shoulder pain.

Face wrinkles

Both side and stomach sleeping are not ideal for the skin of our face. Our face will be pressed against the pillow for many hours and this will leave consequences on the skin. While you are young, half an hour after you get up, sleep wrinkles will subside and your skin will return to normal.

an image of a woman scared of face wrinkles

But with age, the collagen that gives the skin elasticity is lost, and also decades of squishing your face against the pillow will certainly be visible. The solution is to use satin pillowcases because satin is more gentle compared to some other materials, but still face wrinkles will appear time to time.

Paresthesia

Sensation of pins and needles can indicate various diseases, many of which are dangerous, but if you feel it after waking up, side sleeping can be the one to blame. When a part of the body is exposed to reduced blood flow for a long time, paresthesia occurs.

an image of a man suffering from paresthesia

You’ve probably felt it many times, when you wake up or when you sit for a long time without moving, and then your arm, leg or finger is numb or you can’t even move them for a few seconds at all. Many side sleepers put their hand under the pillow and this leads to paresthesia. If you can’t sleep without putting your arm under the pillow, there are pillows that allow you to do so, but without interrupting the blood flow.

Shoulder pain

This is a most common and obvious problem that arises as a consequence of side sleeping. Since your entire weight is constantly resting on your shoulder and hip, these two joints can start to hurt, especially your shoulder that is more fragile and complex joint. Actually, knees and shoulders are most sophisticated and complicated joints in our body, because of the many parts and huge range of motion.

Still, it is a problem that’s relatively easy to solve, and all you have to do is find a suitable mattress. In the next part, you can read what kind of mattress a side sleeper needs.

How to sleep on your side without any pain?

By now you could find out what the pros and cons of side sleeping are. Also, you could conclude that the benefits far outweigh the potential downsides. Finally, we will give you tips on how to sleep on your side without any pain. Because every sleep position can be equally healthy and comfortable, and unhealthy and uncomfortable if we do not have a suitable pillow and mattress. There are three tips you can follow to sleep painless on your side:

Get the right mattress

The mattress is of utmost importance, no matter in which position you sleep because mattress has the biggest influence on the body posture. For side sleepers, a medium firm mattress is recommended. If you have to choose, a mattress that is closer to soft is better for side sleepers than one that is close to the firm on the firmness scale. The best sleeping position for lower back pain, for example, would be side sleeping as long as the medium firm mattress is present If it's too firm or too soft, it won't be comfortable.

an image of a woman sleeping well on the right mattress

The firm mattress will not allow you to sink and this will almost certainly lead to pain in the shoulders and hips. Of course, it shouldn't be too soft either, because you'll sink too much which will cause back pain. Medium firmness is ideal because it will relieve pressure at pressure points, and this will not be at the expense of support. 

Remember that you spend a third of the day on a mattress and that this is not something you should save on. It is better to buy a high-priced mattress that will last you more than a decade and give you a perfect night's sleep, than to change low-quality mattresses every couple of years that do not have all the necessary characteristics even during the first year of use. For that reason, you should take a look at our buyer's guide on mattresses for side sleepers, where we have listed the top picks for the side sleepers.

Position the appropriate pillow well

The situation with the pillow is relatively similar to that with the mattress. The side sleeper needs a medium firm pillow that has a high loft so that the head can sink to a certain level, and then the pillow provides support and thus keeps the neck and spine in a neutral sleeping posture. Adjustable pillows are great choice. Check our buyer's guide on the best pillows for side sleepers to find your ideal pillow easier.

It should be mentioned that there are different types of side sleepers. For example, the fetal position, the log, the pillow hug and the yearner. If you know which subcategory of side sleepers you are, then this can further help you choose the ideal pillow as well as position it properly. Side sleepers can also benefit from using an extra pillow to put between legs and should even keep legs bent. That will help them keep correct sleep posture throughout out the night.

Lay on the left side

In case you suffer from heartburn, the best ways to sleep is to lay on the left side. Gastroenterologists have concluded that lying on the left side significantly reduces heartburn problems. Due to the position of the stomach and other organs, when you lie on your left side, thanks to gravity your gastrointestinal tract is not working that hard to digest food. Lying on the right side can further aggravate the symptoms of heartburn because then the stomach will work against gravity and this will worsen both the heartburn and acid reflux. Even many surgeries are performed when you lay on the left side, that position is called left lateral decubitus position.

Conclusion

If you want to sleep on your side, make sure you stick to the tips we suggested in this article. The tips, as well as suggestions, come from the experience. However, something that works for a majority of people doesn't have to work for the rest of sleepers. Therefore, keep in mind that personal preferences are highly important and avoid buying mattresses and pillows without trying them out first. Also, keep in mind the side sleeping hacks that could be useful for your favorite sleeping position to improve your sleep quality. In any way, follow our tips so you could know how to sleep on your side and wake up without neck, shoulder or back pain every morning!

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About the author

Alex Petrović
Sleep Consultant
A CPD certified Sleep Consultant with more than 2000 hours of research into all the different ways we can get a great night's sleep. As a former insomniac, I know how difficult life can be without a nightly recovery and I love that I get to share everything I've learned with you all. So hopefully we can all sleep soundly!
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