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Side Sleeping: Which Side Is Best and How to Train Yourself to Do It

What if I told you that sleeping on your side was good for your organs?

Woman smiling while sleeping on her side in bed
Getty Images/GeorgeRudy

How you sleep affects the quality of rest you get and your overall health. Typically, we don't choose how we sleep -- some people sleep like a statue on their back, while others flip around like a rotisserie chicken. But you should know that not all sleeping positions are ideal, and you can change the position you sleep in. 

Side sleeping is the most common position to sleep in -- around 60% of adults sleep this way. Regarding overall benefits and human anatomy, side sleeping takes the crown as the best sleeping position for things like digestion and heartburn. If you're thinking about switching to side sleeping, you may be wondering which side is best. It turns out that both sides have their benefits and drawbacks. Here's what to know. 

Benefits of sleeping on your side

Side sleeping is the natural position that many people favor at night. It's associated with alleviating insomnia and sleep deprivation. The benefits don't stop there, there are several other advantages to sleeping on your side. They include but are not limited to:

  • Reduced back pain: Sleeping on your stomach can increase the pressure on your spine. If you're a stomach sleeper, try sleeping on your side with your legs straight to help reduce back pain. Side sleeping can keep your spine straight and reduce pressure in the cervical and lumbar section of the back.
  • Reduced snoring: When you sleep on your back, your soft palate and tongue can fall backward and obscure your airway. This is especially common for those with sleep apnea. Side sleeping can help prevent your tongue from blocking your airway. 
  • Happier gut: Left side sleeping can ease gastrointestinal issues like heartburn, bloating and constipation.
  • Improved brain health: Our brain gets rid of waste while we sleep. Studies show that sleeping on your side most effectively clears the brain of metabolic waste. 

Disadvantages of side sleeping

Sleeping on your side can do a lot of good for your body, but it's not for everyone. Side sleeping can have disadvantages, especially if you're sleeping on the wrong mattress

  • Shoulder pain and hip pain: If the mattress you have is too firm for your body type, then side sleeping can increase pressure on your shoulders, hips and knees. If it is too soft, you can sink in too far and alter your natural spinal alignment. 
  • Pressure on the face: For people who live with glaucoma or sinus congestion can increase pressure in the eye area.

Read more: Best Mattress for Side Sleepers for 2022

Man sleeping on his left side in bed
Getty Images/Eva-Katalin

Should you sleep on your left or right side?

Both sides are good. How to determine which side is best for you will depend on what health issues you are facing. Sleeping on your left side has the most overall health benefits. Our stomach is naturally on the left side of the body, which means digestion is the most effective when you lie on the left side of your body. It really all comes down to gravity moving waste through the intestine more smoothly. 

Keep in mind that right-side sleeping isn't going to cause any distress -- like acid reflux or heartburn. It just doesn't help existing discomfort or inflammation. If you're someone who struggles in this area, try sleeping on your left side to alleviate these troubles. It's not all about digestion; however, sleeping on your left side improves circulation, which is crucial for blood flow to the placenta during pregnancy. 

If you sleep on your right side, don't panic. While several benefits are associated with left-side sleeping, there are benefits to the right side. For example, left-side sleeping can potentially impact how the heart pumps. A 2018 study linked sleeping on the right side to decreased heart pressure because it allows more space in the chest cavity.

Read more: What's the Best Sleep Position for Deep Rest? 

3 tips for training yourself to sleep on your side

Changing your sleeping position can be difficult -- bodies want to return to how we instinctively sleep. It's not something that's going to happen overnight. Remember, most people don't sleep in the same position all night, so you should expect position changes. If your goal is to sleep primarily on your sides, use these helpful tips. 

Choose the right pillow 

Making sure you have the right sleeping setup is one of the most important things you can do for transitioning to side sleeping. If you have a mattress or pillow that's inadequate or uncomfortable for side sleepers, you'll likely move around more in your sleep to find comfort. 

A lot of this will come down to preference, but in general, side sleepers need a taller and firmer pillow, which keeps the neck aligned with the rest of your spine. This will keep you from waking up with a sore or stiff neck. In terms of a mattress, side sleepers, especially light ones, need softer mattresses that can help them from developing pressure points on their knees, hips and shoulders.

Read more: Best Pillow for 2022

Use a pillow to keep you from rolling over

When you're asleep, you're not thinking about how you sleep. You move to the most comfortable position. To keep yourself from rolling over onto your stomach or back, you can use body pillows to keep you in place. You can tuck them under your arm, hug them or just build a barrier around yourself -- whatever is most comfortable for you. 

Some opt to use other methods like a tennis ball sewed to your shirt or a marble taped to your chest. The idea is to make it uncomfortable to roll over and sleep in a different position. While adjusting to side sleeping, you can also sleep with a pillow between your knees for comfort and to keep your hips aligned. After placing a pillow between your knees, if you still feel pressure, try using a thicker pillow. 

Woman sleeping on her side on the living room couch
Getty Images/Stanton j Stephens

Try sleeping on your couch for a few nights

Depending on your sleeping habits, the easiest way to train yourself to sleep on your side is to make it hard to sleep in any other position. One way to do this is to move your bed against the wall and sleep facing it. This will keep you from rolling over. Another option is to sleep on your couch for a few nights. Couches are typically narrow and force you to sleep on your side. 

Too long; Didn't read?

Side sleeping is the most common way to sleep. And it turns out, it's good for you and your gut. If you have heartburn or acid reflux that keeps you up at night, try lying on your left side to relieve discomfort. Remember that if you're trying to change your sleeping position, it will take time and intention. It doesn't happen overnight (pun intended).

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.