The statistics of sleep reveals that as much as an estimated 50 million adults in the United States say they can’t get a full night’s sleep.
According to the Sleep Association, just under 50% of people report chronic snoring. As much as just under 40% of surveyed people said they had fallen asleep without meaning to somewhere in the past month.
When you just can’t enough sleep, it might also have a lot to do with your sleeping position. Side-sleepers are common, but is it better to sleep on your left or your right side? Each of them has benefits and drawbacks, plus there are health conditions which recommend side-sleeping to reduce their symptoms.
Sleeping on your side using a side sleeper pillow can make all of the difference to a good night’s sleep. Sleeping position can be just as important as the comfort levels of your mattress and pillows – and side-sleepers can be at less risk of heartburn and muscle pain in the morning, though at a higher risk of shoulder pain.
Here is everything to know about sleeping on your side and how to do it with comfort, including which side might be best to sleep on for certain conditions and how you can make the most of your night.
Is It Bad To Sleep On Your Side?
The short answer is no.
However, there is a longer answer that will depend on the type of sleep you get, and whether you have any health conditions that can be affected by sleeping on your side.
Conditions like heart-disease, heartburn, back pain, joint inflammation or pregnancy are all ones that can benefit from side-sleeping. Some types of injuries, such as severe neck injuries, might not benefit as much from sleeping on the side.
If you find sleeping on your side comfortable throughout most of the night, there’s nothing wrong with it – and it’s unlikely to have any serious drawbacks.
The most common issue for people who sleep on their side is shoulder pain or discomfort, which we’ll cover later in this article.
If sleeping on your side isn’t comfortable for any physical reason, find another sleeping position that doesn’t cause any strain or discomfort during the night. For some, raising the legs is necessary, while other people would rather sleep on their stomach or back.
It is not dangerous to sleep on either your left side or your right, but it can be uncomfortable for some people – and that’s okay if this describes you.
What is The Healthiest Sleeping Position?
If you have inflammation, muscle pain, heartburn, or cardiac conditions, then it could be healthier to sleep on your side – rather than choosing to sleep on your back or front, which can make symptoms of your condition worse.
Side-sleeping with the legs raised is recommended for breathing, snoring and even for pregnancy to ensure enough comfort in the last stages.
Conditions like sleep apnea and snoring can also benefit from side-sleeping, which opens the airways more than sleeping on the back.
There is, technically, no right or wrong sleeping position for everyone. Each one can be healthy or comfortable in their own way, for different people.
Any time you feel uncomfortable in your sleep, you are not using the healthiest sleeping position for your body’s needs. If you wake up with pain and discomfort, then it’s time to switch to another position.
Experts recommend that sleep quality begins with the mattress you sleep on and the type of mattress side sleepers use can make all the difference to getting a comfortable night’s sleep.
Memory foam mattress toppers can restore life to an older, worn mattress – and in fact, helps the position you might choose to sleep on with extra comfort.
Is It Better To Sleep On Your Right or Left Hand Side?
Side-sleep has general benefits for the body that includes reduced inflammation and support for the heart. With the legs raised, side-sleep can even benefit pressure accumulation in the feet as is common for some health conditions – like diabetes.
But which side, left or right, is best for a good night’s sleep?
Overall, sleep experts recommend that people without serious health conditions sleep on their left side.
For the management of some other health conditions, sleeping on specific sides can be recommended instead.
- People with cardiac conditions or heart failure should sleep on their right side, to reduce pressure on the heart and promote natural blood flow. Back and front sleeping positions are not recommended.
- People with acid reflux or symptoms of digestive upset and heartburn should ideally sleep on their left side. This reduces the pressure put on the digestive system, and channels it in the opposite direction of being able to push up towards the throat.
- For pregnancy, left-side sleeping is recommended rather than the right. This reduces pressure on the organs, and stops discomfort and symptoms like heartburn throughout the night.
- People with sleep apnea, snoring or diagnosed breathing conditions should sleep on either side – left or right. Side-sleeping frees the airways, and makes it easier to breathe and less likely to snore.
Can You Learn To Sleep in a Different Position? How?
If you are not comfortable when you first wake up, it’s likely that you are sleeping in the wrong position for your injury, muscles, bed type or body type.
Some health conditions that we’ve already mentioned (like snoring) can be worse if you sleep on your back or front, rather than on your side.
It’s very possible to learn how to sleep in a different position than the one you would normally choose.
The easiest answer for most people is to create obstacles in their sleep: pillows, towels, or specialized ergonomic pillows that make it harder to sleep on their back or front.
With the legs raised and sleeping on the side, you are much less likely to have the urge to switch sleeping positions the whole night.
As an extra benefit, side-sleeping can help to align the vertebrae of the spine at night when done with the help of certified sleeping pillows.
Where To Put Your Arms When Sleeping on Side
Side-sleeping can be very beneficial, not to mention comfortable. But for some people, it can also cause initial discomfort – and without supportive pillows, most people don’t know what to do with their arms.
Arm-positioning can cause you to toss and turn the whole night, trying to fight the bedding or find the right place to put your arms.
For some sleepers, it’s common to trap the arm under their side or shoulder when they sleep – and this leads to waking up with pins and needles in the middle of the night.
What’s the best option for what to do with your arms when sleeping on your side?
Make use of wedge pillow with an arm hole such as the Better Sleep Pillow. If you’re used to sleeping with your arm under your pillow the ergonomic design of this pillow if great for relieving neck and back pain triggered by uncomfortable arm positioning when sleeping.
Experts say that body pillows, like the Milliard Shaped Support Pillow, are one of the best ways to support the arms while side-sleeping.
Try using an arm pillow (regular pillow, thin or medium) that you can pull right into the armpit and let the arm just rest on the pillow. You want to make sure that the elbow isn’t too high and the hand isn’t too high or you’ll lose bloodflow and feel numb.
How To Sleep On Your Side Without Hurting Your Shoulder
One of the most common complaints related to side-sleepers is shoulder pain, discomfort or dislocation. While they might find it comfortable for the rest of their body to sleep in this position, shoulders tend to “fold in” and cause pressure on the joints or circulation issues towards the hands.
If you want to sleep on your side without hurting your shoulder, an orthopedic pillow for neck and should pain might be the best answer. Shaped, memory foam pillows are designed to raise the shoulder, while still allowing for you to sleep comfortably on your side.
Pillows like the Dr Cole Orthopedic Pillow can be just what side-sleepers require.
See Dr Cole Orthopedic Pillow on Amazon.
For more clever ideas on pillow positioning to reduce shoulder and back pain check out the video below by Rebecca Steiner PT, OCS of New Dimensions Physical Therapy.
Conclusion: Right or Left, Both Are Best
Side-sleeping is one of the most common ways to sleep, with more than 50% of people preferring to sleep on their side for some or most of the night.
Certain health conditions benefit from left-side sleep, while there are some others that have symptoms which can feel better with a change to sleep on the right side instead. Overall, experts seem to agree that side-sleeping can be healthier than sleeping on your front or back.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.