Side-sleepers are common, and a lot of people want to know about the health benefits and drawbacks of sleeping on your side – as opposed to back-sleepers, or front-sleepers who spend most of the night on their front.
A study published in NCBI reveals that participants had a percentage of 54.1% of the night spent sleeping on their side. For the rest of the night, the studied sleepers would switch to other positions, but the majority of the sleeping positions measured would be side-sleep.
There are several easy ways to elevate your legs if you spend most of the night on your side. Side-sleepers prefer the use of body pillows, special raised knee pillows, orthopedic pillows – or sometimes the more expensive adjustable beds option. Some sleepers consider a stack of towels or regular pillows enough.
What are the best ways to elevate your legs with comfort if you prefer to sleep on your side? What are the health benefits (and risks) that could be associated with side-sleepers?
Here’s everything you should know about leg elevation and comfortable side-sleep.
Is It Safe to Sleep With Legs Elevated?
Science (and most sleep experts) say yes, although there are some people who just won’t find sleeping with their legs elevated comfortable for the whole night.
There are many benefits to sleeping with your legs elevated, including better circulation and reduced inflammation in the legs and feet.
Elevated sleep can benefit anyone with impaired circulation due to health conditions like diabetes, and is often recommended to reduce pressure and inflammation that is more commonly felt at night.
Elevated sleep can also be recommended for anyone with back pain or muscle injuries that benefit from being raised above the heart.
When the legs are raised above the heart, blood pooling and the familiar feeling of “pins and needles” can be a less common disturbance when you try to get up out of bed.
For most people, sleeping with their legs elevated can be beneficial. There are exceptions, or people who cannot sleep with elevated legs safely.
- Certain severe spinal injuries,
- Certain severe cardiac conditions,
- Certain severe cases of limited circulation in the legs,
- Certain immediate injuries,
Any condition where the blood flow away from the feet could negatively affect the rest of the body, is not advised to try sleeping with their legs elevated.
If any pain or discomfort is made worse by elevating the legs, don’t – and see a doctor to establish the cause, or to help you find a better way to sleep.
Pros and Cons of Sleeping With Legs Elevated
Sleeping with the legs elevated (and positioned to the side) is either comfortable for you, or not. People can be opposites, and not everyone likes to sleep in the same way.
Science says that there are both pros and cons associated with sleeping on your side and with your legs elevated. Reduced inflammation and better blood flow are some of the reasons why experts advise many people to sleep on their sides.
Pros of Elevated Sleeping
Inflammation happens in joints and muscles due to overexertion, injury or repetitive daily stress. A rush of blood flow to an affected part of the body can worsen inflammation, and raising the legs can reduce the inflammation and warmth you feel.
Sore legs, swolllen feet or restless leg syndrome often benefit the most from raised-leg sleep.
Better Blood Flow
Circulation can be limited through the night for people who sleep on their front or back. Raising the legs just above the heart can promote better blood flow while you sleep. If you are used to pins and needles or discomfort at night, this might be your biggest symptom of a sleeping position problem.
With a pillow between the knees and the legs raised at the same time, it can have benefits to keep the spine in proper alignment. If you are used to hip or back pain when you wake up in the mornings, changing the way you sleep can bring your spine back to where it should be.
Alleviates Back Pain
Back pain is a common symptom for people who see a lot of physical stress during their day. Sometimes, it can also be caused by healed injuries that trigger discomfort and inflammation.
Back pain can be alleviated by changing the way you sleep, and raising your legs. This position can take the strain off the muscles around the spine, and you could feel much better when you wake up from a good night’s sleep.
A large percentage of people who snore at night will do it due to their sleeping position. Snoring is trapped air that vibrates the throat, which is why a sore throat is one of the common symptoms.
If you sleep on your side with legs raised instead of on your back, you are much less likely to snore at night.
Cons of Elevating Sleep
Contact Skin Rash
While this is one of the rarer side-effects of elevated sleep, some people – especially those who actively sweat more at night – will develop a contact skin rash from elevating their legs during the night.
If you experience this symptom first, rule out an allergy to fabrics first.
People naturally change positions through a night’s sleep, and some individuals can’t sleep with a limited range of movement. The use of side-pillows can limit sleeping on your back or front, which some sleepers can’t do without.
Might Worsen Some Injuries
Injuries that are anywhere above the hips might not benefit as much from raised legs. This is due to the fact that blood travels away from the legs and down to the body in this sleeping position – and if your injury is within this flow path, it can increase your inflammation and not reduce it.
Sleeping on the side is comfortable and reduces pressure on most of the spine, but for some individuals it can put an uncomfortable amount of pressure on their hips as they sleep. Sometimes, the same sleeping position is fine, but a different mattress or mattress topper is necessary for a more comfortable night.
5 Ways To Elevate Your Legs While Sleeping On Your Side
If you want to raise your legs and sleep on your side, there are ways to do it that will match every possible budget and still be comfortable.
Here are the five top ways to elevate your legs while sleeping on your side:
1. Stacked Pillows or Towels
Stacked pillows or towels are a quick, easy and cheap way to raise the legs while you sleep.
This method is best for anyone who isn’t yet sure if they want to continue sleeping on their side, or as a cheap temporary solution if you don’t want to spend money on a specialized pillow for it yet.
Unfortunately, stacked pillows don’t provide much of a lift – and their comfort level wears off as the night continues.
2. Specialized Knee Pillows
Specialized knee pillows are made to raise the legs, or be squeezed between the knees to align the spine at night – sometimes both at once. Knee pillows are popular, and designed for superior comfort and lift.
Knee pillows can be a recommended choice for back pain, and is sometimes advised for comfortable sleep during pregnancy too.
3. Specialized Orthopedic Pillows
Specialized orthopedic pillows are not designed to benefit just the knees, but are made for the spine – and often certified and created by expert orthopedic doctors.
While more expensive, orthopedic pillows can practically guarantee a better night’s sleep.
4. Body Pillows
Especially useful for elevated sleeping while pregnant, body pillows offers complete body support and relieves pressure in the back, neck and hips for side sleepers.
These pillows are a great option for side sleepers, back pain sufferers or if you’re pregnant.
5. Adjustable Bed
Side sleeping on an adjustable bed can help alleviate tension build-up in the neck and shoulders. Adjustable beds are great to help side sleepers achieve the zero gravity position. The zero-gravity position is a natural posture that minimizes stress, as it equally distributes weight across your body.
Simply adjust the bed by raising the head of the bed to a position of comfort and raise the foot of the bed to a mild degree.
We also recommend right-side sleeping as a healthier option which is especially good for those with cardiovascular conditions.
Is It Better To Sleep With Your Head or Feet Elevated?
It depends what kind of sleeper you are, and it’s also up to what you find the most comfortable at night.
If you listen to your body and pay attention to the symptoms you might experience when you first wake up, this can give you an indication of what type of sleeper you are (and if changing your sleeping position can make a difference).
For reducing pressure in the hips downwards, sleep with legs elevated.
For reducing pressure anywhere upwards from the hips, sleep with the head elevated.
Conclusion: Individual Ways to Sleep
People sleep in different ways, and no two sleepers are exactly alike.
There are benefits to raising the legs and sleeping on your side, but there also cons that only some people might experience when they try it.
If you find one sleeping position uncomfortable, the best thing you can do for your sleep is to adapt – and try another!
You Might Also Like
- Is it healthy to sleep without a pillow?
- 5 Best mattresses for sciatica back and leg pain
- Best pillows for side sleepers
- 7 Best anti-snoring pillows to buy
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.