Side Sleepers: Dr. Tips & Recommendations

Written by
Purple Staff
Last Updated
February 24, 2022
|
9
min read

It’s the age-old question when it comes to sleeping: Which position is the best to sleep in? There are stomach sleepers, back sleepers, side sleepers, and people who are multi-positional.

According to Sleep.org, 74 percent of the world’s population are side sleepers. In fact, as people age, they tend to prefer sleeping on their sides due to the inflexibility of their spines.

Knowing how to sleep on your side correctly makes all the difference. There are many health benefits to side sleeping. But there are a few drawbacks to consider as well. We partnered with Dr. Michael Breus PhD, the Sleep Doctor™ who is our Chief Sleep Officer, to help Purple identify the benefits and pitfalls to side sleeping.

What Is a Side Sleeper?

A side sleeper is a person who usually starts out on their side and prefers to continue to sleep on his or her right or left side as opposed to sleeping on their back or stomach for a majority of the evening. There are several variations to side sleeping you may not know about.

One of the most common ways to sleep on your side is with your knees bent and slightly out in front of you. Another common side-sleeping position is the fetal position, where the knees are brought up closer to your chest. A third is with one leg forward and one back, its amazing how many possible side sleeping positions there are!

No matter how you sleep on your side, one thing is crucial for getting a good night’s sleep as a side sleeper: a mattress that provides the right support and comfort.

Best Mattress for Side Sleepers

Best Mattress Side Sleeping

When it comes to sleeping on your side, your mattress will play a big role in how your body feels in the morning. If you tend to sleep on your side a lot, we recommend getting yourself a mattress that is medium-firm. Having the right amount of softness in your mattress will help protect your shoulders, hips, and spine when sleeping.

Side sleepers should steer clear of very firm mattresses as they can cause joint pain from the lack of flexibility on your body’s pressure points, in particular your shoulders and hips.

An extra soft mattress with lack of support can cause your hips and shoulders to sink to deep lacking the proper alignment. This lack of spine alignment will cause the muscles of the spine ( which would get a chance to relax and get some nutrition) to stay tense, which often results in waking up with back pain!

The size of your mattress also plays an important role in getting more comfortable sleep as a side sleeper. Since most side sleepers either sleep with their knees and/or arms out in front of them, a larger mattress helps provide enough room for you. Especially if you share the bed with someone else, or with pets, a queen sized mattress or bigger is recommended.

To make sure you get a mattress that is the perfect fit for you, find a mattress store near you. Test out mattresses as you would normally sleep, side, back. Stomach etc.

The Purple Hybrid Premier 3 and Purple Hybrid Premier 4 are designed with the perfect balance of comfort and support for side sleepers. Your joints and spine will get the comfort they need with the built-in and patented GelFlex™ Grid technology found in these mattresses.

Purple Hybrid 3 Partial

Purple Hybrid Premier 3

Our best seller. The ideal balance of softness and support.

Purple Premier 4 Partial

Purple Hybrid Premier 4

Our most plush and premium mattress. Providing premium comfort without sacrificing the support you need.

Which Side Is Best to Sleep on Left or Right

While sleeping positions can vary greatly, research shows that side sleeping can have many benefits. People who sleep on their side may snore less and prevent other problems, like sleep apnea and digestive issues. It can also help benefit digestion and gut health, and even brain health. The key is knowing which side to sleep on, left or right.

Benefits of Sleeping on Your Left Side

Sleeping on your left side is recommended and tends to be better for digestion and reduces heartburn. Our stomachs are naturally positioned on the left side of the body, so sleeping on your left side allows digestion to function better.

Benefits of Sleeping on Your Right Side

Sleeping on your right side provides many of the same benefits of sleeping on your left. It has been shown that people with heart problems prefer to sleep on their right side.

Negatives to Sleeping on Your Side: Left Or Right

Depending on your exact positioning, sleeping on your side can have a few drawbacks. If you have a history of left-sided shoulder injuries, sleeping on your injured side may be painful.

Side sleepers may also experience arms going numb during the night if they place it under their pillow as they sleep. This is caused by not getting enough blood flow to your arm as you sleep, either due to your pillow or the way you have your arm positioned.

Does Side Sleeping Cause Shoulder Pain?

Side sleeping may cause shoulder pain for a few different reasons. Having too firm of a mattress may cause shoulder pain while you sleep. Also, if your shoulder is positioned in an awkward way, it can cause unnecessary shoulder pain.

Is Sleeping on Your Side Bad for Your Back?

Major medical journals agree that side sleeping is associated with less spinal pain than stomach sleeping. But to be clear, back sleeping appears to be the least disruptive and painful.

Like with shoulder pain, if you have too firm of a mattress, your shoulder and hips won’t have the proper support and could prevent your spine from being aligned while sleeping. In addition, people tend to wake up and re-adjust throughout the evening when the bed is too firm.

Best Practices For Sleeping On Your Side

Here is What Dr. Breus Recommends to His Family, Friends & Patients Who are Side Sleepers make sure you get the best night’s rest possible as a side sleeper, Dr. Breus has given us several tips and recommendations to follow. Keep in mind, it may take a few nights to get used to sleeping a slightly different way (data on habits suggests that it takes about 21 days to form a new habit) , but as you follow these sleep tips, you will notice yourself getting better, more comfortable sleep long before that!

Find the right mattress firmness: Go experience a mattress (Purple) in three different firmnesses and determine which one is best for you and which one is best for your partner. Recent research shows that people with lower back pain sleep best on a medium-firm mattress.

Sleep with a pillow between your knees: Find a flat or low loft pillow in your home and place it between your knees while sleeping on your side. Make sure that your legs are about shoulder-width apart. Research shows that this will help you avoid hip pain and lower back pain when sleeping on your side.

Starting sleep position should be on your left side: Starting on your left side helps you avoid gastroesophageal reflux disease (heartburn) see the graphic above!.

Your head pillows should be thick, not thin: As an example, the Purple Harmony pillow is thick enough to support your head while keeping it in line with your sternum. This is perfect for many side sleepers.

Pre bed and morning routine to include stretching: Stretching helps loosen up your body before bed and can help in the morning with stiffness. Two simple stretches that everyone can do ( with your doctor's approval) include:

  • Side bend stretch: stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, place both arms straight up over your head, then bend over to your right, hold for 20 seconds, and then your left side. Repeat for 4-5 cycles
  • Forward bend stretch: similar to above but bend straight forward at the waist.
  • Big arm circles: rotate your arms in a circular motion, extending your ups up as high as you can

As you implement these tips into your side-sleeping routine, you’ll notice a big difference in how you wake up in the morning. It's called feeling REFRESHED!!!

Sleep With a Pillow Between Your Knees

Putting a pillow between the legs prevents one leg from arching over the other and twisting your lower back.

When you sleep on your side (starting on the left), the lower half of your body is supporting the weight of your opposite side.

Putting a pillow between your knees straightens your hips into healthy spine alignment, reducing pressure on your lower back. Something as easy as straddling a pillow can offer near-instant pressure relief to help you get a great night’s sleep.

Is Side Sleeping Bad for Your Shoulder?

One of the top questions Dr. Breus gets asked: “Is side sleeping bad for your shoulder?”.

One of the first things Dr. Breus tells his patients: to have enough and the right pillows. To minimize the risk of shoulder pain, make sure you have three pillows for support—one for proper neck support, one between your knees, and one more in front of your stomach.

If you do have shoulder pain, place a pillow at your back or sleep with your back to the wall to keep from returning to the bad shoulder side. A mattress with a little give will also provide just the right type of comfort to reduce shoulder pain.

Frequently Asked Questions About Side Sleeping

Right Side Left Side Digestion

Which side should you sleep on for acid reflux?

The left side is recommended for reducing stomach acid, acid reflux and heartburn.

Best Pillows for Side Sleepers

Purple Harmony Pillow Best Pillow

Just as important as the right mattress is for side sleepers, the right pillow makes all the difference, as well. Side sleepers need a proper pillow to keep their head and neck in line with the rest of their spine. And the right-sized pillow for their knees can help alleviate some back pain, too.

The Purple Harmony Pillow is the perfect pillow for side sleepers. This pillow is made with the same GelFlex™ Grid technology as our mattresses with a supportive inner core to cushion your head for the best night’s sleep. And unlike conventional pillows, the Purple Harmony Pillow never loses its shape.