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Side Sleepers: How to Sleep on Your Side the Right Way

Getting a good night’s sleep isn’t just about how dark your room is or how much smooth jazz you play before heading into dreamland that affects your sleep quality—it’s how you lay your body down, too.

If you’re one of the millions of side sleepers, you can pat yourself on the back. You’re benefiting your digestion and circulation, and you can say a snarky, “You’re welcome” to your partner for all the snore-free nights.

But if you’re not a side-sleeping pro, you might experience more acid reflux and heartburn, as well as aches and pains from head to toe. So, how do you learn to sleep smarter? We’ve got the tips to get you the side-sleeping Zs that you need.

7 Tips for Side Sleepers

  • Find the right mattress firmness
  • Put a pillow between your knees
  • Sleep on your left side
  • Choose a supportive pillow for your head
  • Do morning stretches
  • Don’t sleep on your arm
  • Get even more pillows

Is there a best side to sleep on? The answer is definitely yes! In many ways, side sleepers have it better than others with different sleep positions. But the benefits of side sleep actually depend on which side you prefer.

We know, it’s not easy making decisions when you’re unconscious. But once you know how to sleep on your side the right way, you’ll enjoy more fulfilling sleep, limber joints and muscles, and improved health.

7 Tips for Side Sleepers

These tips for side sleepers are time-tested and science-approved to help you get a good night’s sleep. Plus, they’re so easy to implement that you can try them out tonight.

Find the Right Mattress Firmness

If you suffer from side sleeper shoulder pain or arm pain while sleeping, you may need to adjust your mattress firmness to accommodate your side sleeping position.

Side sleepers benefit from a soft mattress or medium-soft mattress. This allows the shoulders and hips to sink into the mattress, bringing the spine into alignment. If your mattress is too firm, it will put pressure on your hips and shoulders while forcing your spine to arch or bend. The result? You’ll deal with constant arm pain from sleeping, shoulder pain, and lower back pain, too.

Luckily, finding the right mattress firmness is pretty easy. Almost all mattress companies adhere to the same firmness scale, which measures firmness from 1 (softest) to 10 (firmest). Side sleepers should choose a mattress around 5-6. Anything under a 4 might feel too soft, causing your spine to bow in the opposite direction.

The Purple mattress may be the best bed for side sleepers of all sizes, especially if you’re wondering why your shoulders hurt when sleeping. The Purple Grid™, Purple’s patented hyper-elastic polymer comfort layer, has the perfect balance of contouring comfort and support to perfectly align a side sleeper’s body from head to toe.

Purple mattresses come in a variety of mattress models to accommodate all side sleepers and are available in multiple mattress sizes. The Purple® Hybrid and Purple® Hybrid Premier are especially well-suited for side sleepers.

Put a Pillow Between Your Knees

One of the easiest ways to relieve pressure points as a side sleeper is to stick a pillow between your knees.

Pain in the legs and back is common among side sleepers because of a lack of support. When you sleep on your side, the lower half of your body is supporting the weight of your opposite side. When it comes to your hips and legs, your body takes on a buckled-leg stance all night which is bad for your joints.

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

Sleep on Your Left Side

What side should you sleep on? Does it really matter? The answer is yes. It’s actually better to sleep on your left side because of the placement of your organs.

We don’t want to give you flashbacks of 8th-grade anatomy class, but basically, your stomach’s natural position is on your left side. This gastric position allows your stomach to more effectively digest your food and move it along in an organized fashion.

However, if you sleep on the right side, your late-night snack works against gravity and hinders digestion. This position is also why heartburn can be common. Sleeping on the left side promotes healthy blood flow and has cascading effects on your digestive system, including decreased heartburn and acid reflux symptoms.

If you can’t remember which side to sleep on, just memorize the phrase, “Left is right and right is wrong.” You’ll be on the right track (or the left track?) to the best side sleeping position.

Choose a Supportive Pillow for Your Head

Many wonder how to sleep on your side without hurting your shoulder, and the answer may have just as much to do with your pillow as your mattress. Proper pillow position, firmness, and height are all very important for side sleepers to achieve the goldilocks zone of spinal alignment.

When you side sleep, your head tends to fall toward your shoulder and the bed, and if you don’t have a side sleeping pillow, your head will fall too far and bend your neck and upper spine out of alignment. This can also cause neck, shoulder, and even jaw pain after sleeping on your side.

Align Your Spine

Your head position should be aligned with your spine and directly between your shoulders. In order to achieve this, you need a pillow that is both firm and responsive.

Those who experience acid reflux may be tempted to elevate their heads with an extra pillow or two. While raising your upper body and head higher than your stomach may alleviate heartburn symptoms, it will also leave you with a serious crick in your neck the next morning. A better solution is to invest in a pillow that keeps you from shifting your position to one that exacerbates your symptoms. This way, you can aid your digestion while keeping your spine aligned.

A Purple pillow is an excellent pillow for side sleepers. It’s made from the unique Purple Grid™, a natural elastic polymer that is ultra-soft and cradles the head and neck. It has enough responsivity and bounce to keep the head from sinking too far into the pillow.

The Purple pillow’s open grid structure has over 1000 air channels that promote the ideal sleeping temperature for your head. This will lead to less tossing and turning and ensure you maintain a healthy sleep position throughout the night.

Do Morning Stretches

Side sleeping is the most common sleep position because it reminds us of the good old days in mom’s womb. While many side sleepers don’t assume the classic fetal position, there is still a tendency to round your back and shoulders and curl up—especially on cold nights. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can leave your joints and muscles feeling a bit achy if you don’t properly stretch them out after 8 hours of self-snuggling.

If you deal with pain during the day from sleeping on your side, you may need to do a few stretches in the morning. It doesn’t need to be a whole routine, either. Just stretch your arms to the sky, try to touch your toes, and do some additional stretches for your back, neck, and hips.

Don’t forget to stretch your arms, too. If you have arm pain from sleeping on your side, it probably has to do with the way your weight is distributed. Do some extra stretching to get the blood flowing and help loosen your joints.

Don’t Sleep on Your Arm

Speaking of arms, one of the favorite positions of many side sleepers is the classic “arm under pillow” position. It may feel so right, but it’s oh-so-wrong. Sleeping on your arm can cause pain and numbness in the arm and shoulder, plus it can misalign your head and neck from your spine resulting in further discomfort.

If you often sleep on your arm and suffer from your hands falling asleep or arm pain, the problem is probably your pillow. The truth is that your body wants to be aligned whether you know it or not. This is the healthiest way to sleep. If you have a flat pillow and your head sinks too far down, your natural reaction is to prop it up with your arm.

Unfortunately, your arm just doesn’t do the trick. And, it can actually make things worse. If your arm hurts after sleeping, it might be time to get a new pillow. If your head is supported correctly, it will leave your arms free to show some love to your hugging pillow (more on that next).

Get Even More Pillows

We know you’re tired of hearing about pillows, but these fluffy mattress companions are a side sleeper’s ticket to dreamland. Pillows simply make side sleeping better. Having a good one under your noggin and one between your knees is just the beginning.

Wondering how to elevate your legs while sleeping on your side? How about a pillow? Need to keep your arms from laying slack on the mattress (a culprit of shoulder pain from side sleeping)? Grab a plush pillow and give it a squeeze. Want to know how to sleep on your side without hurting your shoulder? You guessed it — use a pillow!

Pillows can also help aspiring side sleepers to keep from rolling onto their back or stomach during the night. Just reinforce yourself with a couple of pillows on each side and you’ll be ready to (not) roll.

The best part is, filling your bed with pillows isn’t just easy, it’s also fun and super comfy. Who doesn’t want to hop into a bed full of pillows every night?

If you’re looking for a great pillow to add to your cushiony arsenal, consider a Purple pillow. It fits perfectly between your legs, under your head, and in your arms. And with the open grid design, it won’t cause you to overheat and get sweaty.

Pros and Cons of Sleeping on Your Side

Most people are side sleepers—74 percent of us, according to one study. Although sleeping on one’s back is ideal for spinal support, side sleeping is the next best thing. Side sleeping can also help alleviate snoring and symptoms of sleep apnea. Doctors also recommend side sleeping over back sleeping for any ladies with a bun in the oven.

While this lateral position has many advantages, it isn’t perfect for everyone. The bad part of side sleeping is paresthesia. You know it as the “pins and needles”. Every side sleeper has awakened to the gift of a completely numb arm, either from a lack of blood flow or too much pressure placed onto a nerve. Paresthesia is usually so disruptive it brings you out of deep sleep. It’s a scientific fact that you and your arm can’t be asleep at the same time.

Those with an ill-fitting pillow, mattress, or mattress topper also suffer from frequent shoulder, neck, and back pain. Side sleeping can cause more facial wrinkles and even sagging breasts. But before you commit to wearing a Victorian corset to bed every night, consider some of these tips for side sleeping.

How to Sleep on Your Side

If your spine is bending, then it’s straining. When your spine is locked in an unnatural position for hours at a time (like when you sit at work or sleep), you can experience frequent pain. To combat spine curvature and misalignment while snoozing, start with the two pillars of spine support: your mattress and your pillow.

Best Mattress for Side Sleeping

Finding the best mattress for side sleeping isn’t easy. Many mattress types can satisfy a side sleeper’s needs, but some are definitely better than others. Let’s take a look at what to consider when shopping for a mattress for side sleepers.

What mattress type is best for a side sleeper?

When you sleep on your side, you need a mattress that supports your curved areas: your neck and your waist. The muscles and ligaments of your back heal themselves during sleep. Good sleep posture and spine alignment promote the nightly healing and regenerative process. A supportive mattress helps keep your spine aligned during that restorative period and will have the biggest impact on your quality of sleep. But which mattress offers the best support for side sleepers?

Let’s look at a few mattress types for side sleepers to consider:

  • Foam mattress: This type of mattress is almost entirely made out of foam. The foam layer in these mattresses can have some contour support but may not offer enough for side sleepers.
  • Memory foam mattress: This is a soft mattress that can provide contouring comfort, but memory foam is known for sleeping hot and smelling funny. It also has low responsivity, making it harder to change positions.
  • Gel memory foam mattress: Similar to memory foam, a gel foam layer has contouring support. It takes a little longer to heat up than traditional memory foam, but you are still likely to wake up sweaty.
  • Latex memory foam mattress: Latex foam is more responsive and breathable than memory foam but also more expensive.
  • Innerspring mattress: Traditional innerspring mattresses usually feature a system of springs that are all connected beneath the mattress. Because of this, there is a lot of motion transfer when a partner gets in or out of bed. Innerspring mattresses have a tendency to be too firm for side sleepers.
  • Hybrid mattress: A hybrid mattress contains a pocketed coil base layer and a comfort layer made of foam, pillowtop cotton — or if you’re lucky — the Purple Grid™. The mix of support and softness makes this type of mattress a good pick for side sleepers. The individual pocket coils provide ultimate responsiveness and minimal motion transfer.

What is the Best Mattress for a Side Sleeper?

We think the Purple mattress is the best mattress for side sleepers for many reasons. The patented Purple Grid™, which is only available in Purple mattresses, is an all-natural elastic polymer that perfectly contours to the shape of your body. Soft, responsive, and super breathable, the Purple Grid™ provides proper spinal alignment and all-night comfort.

The Purple Grid™ is gentle on the shoulders and hips. Both get the brunt of the pressure when you’re a side sleeper. The Purple mattress is supportive but also gentle on your pressure points — those places on your body that press down into the mattress when you sleep. If you wake up with pain in your shoulders and hips or numbness in your legs or arms, it’s time to try a pressure relieving mattress from Purple.

All Purple mattresses feature the Purple Grid™, and you can even customize the thickness of this comfort layer with the Purple® Hybrid Premier. For the ultimate side-sleeper experience, we recommend the Purple® Hybrid and Purple® Hybrid Premier. Both models come in standard bed sizes and can ship directly to your front door.

Rest easy with Purple’s 100-night risk-free trial and 10-year warranty.

Best Pillows for Side Sleepers

Pillows aren’t just for your head and neck, they help keep your entire spine in the proper position while you sleep. Your pillow should support the natural curve of your neck—your head shouldn’t curve down nor be propped up too high. A good rule of thumb is that your ear, shoulder, and hips should be aligned.

Test out different pillows until you find the perfect fit. If you have large shoulders, you need a larger pillow. A pillow that’s too high or too flat can cause muscle strain on your back, neck, and shoulders. The ideal side sleeper pillow will be adjustable so you can sleep in different positions comfortably.

Side sleepers actually need two pillows for good alignment and maximum comfort—one for their head and another for their knees. But beware of the fetal position—you don’t want to over-round your lower back.

If you’re sick and tired of pillows letting you (and your head) down, it’s time to put your body in perfect harmony with the Purple Harmony Pillow. Guaranteed not to fall flat and let your head down, this Purple pillow is a side sleeper’s dream come true.

The Purple® Harmony Pillow is made with the same Purple Grid™ technology as Purple mattress, containing over 1500 air channels so you can keep a cool head all night. Responsive, adaptive, and supportive, this pillow will put your joints, your spine, and your smile into perfect harmony.

Is Side Sleeping Bad for Your Shoulder?

Some doctors discourage side sleeping because it can cause damage to the rotator cuff of your shoulder. Side sleepers place a lot of pressure on this group of tendons, so they need a pillow with good support.

Minimize left or right shoulder pain by making sure you’ve got your three pillows in check. You’ll need one to provide proper neck support, one thin pillow between your knees, and one more in front of your stomach.

If you have shoulder pain from sleeping on your side, you can minimize the discomfort by wearing an arm sling to bed. The sling will keep you from sleeping with your arm in a strange and uncomfortable position throughout the night. Of course, you can always sleep on your good side to alleviate shoulder pain, but old habits are hard to break. To help, place a pillow at your back or sleep with your back to the wall to keep from returning to the bad shoulder side.

Make sure you have a mattress that hugs your curves in all the right places, and your pressure points will find sweet relief. A mattress with a little give will provide just the right type of comfort to reduce shoulder pain.

showing how food sits better when you sleep on your left side.

Can Side Sleeping Help Clear Toxins from Your Body?

When you’re asleep, your brain does much more than just conjure up that recurring dream of you parachuting nude into the Super Bowl stadium—it also flushes out toxins that can lead to cognitive decline. Researchers studying the glymphatic system — the system that clears wastes and harmful chemicals from the brain — found that side sleepers were about 25% better at clearing brain toxins than back or stomach sleepers. Those nasty brain toxins and plaques include proteins and chemicals that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.

Side sleeping is a popular position of repose that benefits many people, especially those with obstructive sleep apnea, neck pain, or those sleeping for two. All can feel the sleep benefits of side slumber if you make sure your spine gets the gentle care and good lovin’ it deserves. It’s kind of a big deal.

Learn all about the best sleep positions with our ultimate guide to the best sleeping positions!