Side Sleeper: How to Sleep Without Waking Up Sore
Last updated: 20/07/2023
Sleeping on your side comes with some benefits, particularly when you have the right set up with regards the best side sleeper pillow and mattress type.
However, there are also other issues which can arise when sleeping on your side. We'll look into how to avoid waking up sore and avoid long term body issues, such as pain in the back, neck and shoulders.
There will also be recommendations on the best mattress for you and the best side sleeper pillow in the UK.
Sleeping on your back has historically been considered as the best way to sleep to avoid waking up with pain, however many of us either struggle to sleep this way or prefer to sleep in different positions such as on your front.
For those who prefer to sleep on your side, there are various benefits that previously thought but many also report waking up feeling sore and various body parts such as neck, hips and lower back can suffer.
Having the right mattress and pillow is key to avoiding pain when side sleeping. There are specialist side sleeping pillows in the UK, such as pillows for pregnant women, which are great for keeping your body in the right position for side sleeping. Most mattress brands also have various pillows options available and finding the right one for you as a side sleeper will help you get the best nights sleep.
Benefits of Side Sleeping
Improved Spinal Alignment
Side sleeping can help promote better spinal alignment, especially when you maintain proper posture through the use of the correct pillows and mattress. By sleeping on your side with a supportive pillow and keeping your spine elongated and aligned, you can reduce strain on the back, neck, and hips. This can contribute to better spinal health and minimise the risk of discomfort or pain.
Reduced Snoring and Sleep Apnoea
Sleeping on your side can be beneficial for individuals who snore or have sleep apnoea. Sleep apnoea can be a serious sleeping disorder as you stop and start breathing throughout the night. Sleeping on your side helps keep your airways open and reduces the likelihood of obstruction or collapse, leading to smoother breathing during sleep. This can result in reduced snoring and improved sleep quality.
Alleviated Acid Reflux and Heartburn
For those who experience acid reflux or heartburn, side sleeping can help alleviate symptoms. When you sleep on your left side, it can help keep the stomach lower than the oesophagus, reducing the likelihood of stomach acid flowing back into the oesophagus. Those who suffer from acid reflux have said they sometimes wake up with the taste of vomit in their mouth or at times with actual acidic saliva built up the moment they get up. This can provide relief and a more comfortable sleep experience.
Enhanced Lymphatic Drainage
Side sleeping can facilitate better lymphatic drainage. The lymphatic system plays a crucial role in removing waste and toxins from the body. Sleeping on your side can help promote the proper drainage of lymph fluid, supporting the body's natural detoxification processes.
Comfort for Pregnancy
Side sleeping, particularly on the left side, is often recommended for pregnant women. There are many pregnancy pillows on the market which help make the experience far more comfortable. Sleeping on the left side improves blood flow to the placenta, foetus, and organs, reducing the risk of complications such as decreased circulation and potential pressure on major blood vessels.
Side sleeping can improve blood circulation, particularly when pressure is relieved from major blood vessels. By avoiding pressure on the vena cava (a large vein on the right side of the body), side sleeping can enhance blood flow to the heart and other organs, promoting overall circulation.
It's important to note that the specific benefits of side sleeping can vary depending on individual factors and preferences. The right mattress for you or pillow is absolutely necessary to ensuring you feel the benefits of sleeping on your side. It's always a good idea to find a sleep position that feels most comfortable and supports your unique needs. If you have specific health concerns or conditions, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare professional for personalised advice.
Best Pillows for Side Sleepers
Pillows for side sleepers should provide enough support, alignment and comfort to avoid waking up with a stiff neck or developing long term neck pain.
Like mattresses there are different pillow types you can purchase, generally for side sleepers you will need a pillow with a bit of "loft" or height. This is to ensure spinal alignment, which keeps your body stable and an even spread of pressure relief. Generally, you will require a firmer pillow, but if you have a softer mattress then a softer pillow works well too.
You may also consider a specialist side sleeper pillow, often referred to as pregnancy pillows. These pillow types tend to be a lot longer than your usual pillow. They allow you to almost hug the pillow but more importantly, place a part of the pillow between your legs which relieves pressure on your hips.
Below we have our 3 favourite pillows in the UK for side sleepers.
Which side should I sleep on? Left or right side?
All side sleepers most likely have a favoured side to sleep on, but is there a difference between sleeping on your left vs right side? Yes and no.
Both sides have their benefits, although sleeping on your left side is said to have the most benefits to your overall health. As discussed above, some of the benefits such as sleep apnoea are said to be most felt when you sleep on your left side because of the positioning of internal organs.
Sleeping on your right side is thought to be better for other benefits of side sleeping such as acid reflux, so it's important test and see what works best for you.
Even better still, you can shift positions from night to night or even through out the night. No one says you have to stick to the same side! It's normal to shift around when you sleep between your right and left side, or even to a different position altogether such as your back.
Now that we've discussed the benefits of being a side sleeper, there are also drawbacks you need to be aware of.
Side sleeping can sometimes lead to body pain if proper precautions are not taken. By understanding these issues and implementing helpful tips, you can enhance your sleep quality and wake up feeling refreshed. We will now explore the common types of body pain that can arise from side sleeping and provide practical remedies to alleviate discomfort.
Negatives to sleeping on your side
Shoulder and Hip Pressure
Side sleeping can put additional pressure on the shoulder and hip that bear the weight of your body. This can lead to discomfort or pain, especially if the mattress or pillow is not supportive enough. It's important to ensure proper cushioning and support to minimise pressure points. A firmer mattress can help relieve the pressure on your shoulder and hips, spreading your weight out across a larger surface area. Another tip is to sleep with a firm pillow between your legs to relieve the pressure on your hips, there are many pregnancy pillows on the market too which work well for side sleepers.
Potential for Misaligned Spine
If proper alignment is not maintained while side sleeping, it can result in a misaligned spine. This misalignment can lead to issues such as neck pain, upper back pain, or lower back pain. It's crucial to use the right pillow and mattress combination to support the spine's natural curves and keep it aligned. Keeping your body (and particularly your spine) as straight as possible will help keep your spine in the right position. Using a firmer mattress of the right size will also keep your neck in the right place.
Increased Risk of Wrinkles
Sleeping on your side, particularly with your face pressed against the pillow, can potentially contribute to the development of facial wrinkles over time. Whilst most pressure wrinkles derived from your pillow or bedsheets will go after a 10-15 mins, studies show the pressure and friction against the skin can lead to creases and lines. Using a silk or satin pillowcase or practicing occasional back sleeping can help minimise this concern.
Potential for Arm Numbness
Side sleeping can sometimes result in arm numbness or tingling sensations. This can occur if pressure is applied to nerves or blood vessels, leading to temporary discomfort. Adjusting your sleeping position or using a pillow to support your arm can help alleviate this issue.
Increased Risk of Breathing Issues
While side sleeping can generally improve breathing for individuals with snoring or sleep apnoea, it may not be suitable for everyone. In some cases, side sleeping can cause strain on the neck and airways, potentially exacerbating breathing difficulties or causing discomfort.
Limited Variety of Sleep Positions
Sleeping primarily on one side can limit your ability to switch sleep positions throughout the night. Some individuals may find it difficult to maintain the same side sleeping position for an extended period, leading to restless sleep.