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Side Sleeper: a woman sleeping on her side smiling

If you’re a side sleeper, you’re a part of the majority, as most people choose to sleep on their side instead of opting for other sleeping positions. Therefore, the most often sought-for mattresses are those made for side sleepers. 

However, there’s been a constant debate on which sleeping position is the best. Is it sleeping on your right side, sleeping on your left side, or maybe it’s sleeping on your back? We also shouldn’t forget the stomach sleepers, as weird as it may sound, these seemingly-mythological creatures exist, too. 

However, today we'll concentrate on sleeping on your side. So, without further ado, let’s find out the benefits of being a side sleeper and how to sleep on your side. 

The Benefits of Being a Side Sleeper

While sleeping on your back has been considered the best sleeping position for your health, there are quite a few benefits to sleeping on your side. In some cases, you’d even be advised to avoid sleeping on your back and sleep on your side instead. So, let’s see what those cases are.

Preventing Sleep Apnea

If you experience sleep apnea, you definitely shouldn’t sleep on your back, and the second-best option is considered to be sleeping on your left side or sleeping on your right side. There’s a not-so-complicated explanation why you’d better sleep on your side

First and foremost, what you have to know about sleep apnea is that it is one of the many sleeping disorders. Its main symptom is your breathing stopping and starting repeatedly while asleep. There are three types of sleep apnea.

The first, and the most common one, is obstructive sleep apnea. It occurs when your throat muscles relax and start blocking your airways. The second type is central sleep apnea, and it occurs due to your brain failing to send signals to the muscles that control breathing. 

Side Sleeper: sleep apnea.

The third one is the complex sleep apnea syndrome. This one is a mixture of both previous types. It’s the most serious case that shouldn’t be taken lightly. 

The symptoms of sleep apnea often go unnoticed simply for the fact that they mostly occur when you’re asleep. One of the symptoms is loud snoring[1]. However, it’s hard to tell if it’s sleep apnea-related or not, as snoring can be an issue that occurs naturally without any illness behind it. 

The main symptom of sleep apnea is stopping to breathe when asleep. You might not notice it yourself, since you’re asleep at the time, therefore it is hardly discoverable. However, if you notice symptoms such as awakening with a dry mouth, insomnia, headaches, and waking up short of breath, you might want to monitor your sleeping.

You should ask your spouse or a family member to watch you sleep, or you could benefit from installing cameras and microphones in your bedroom to be able to analyze your sleeping patterns and whether you have symptoms of sleep apnea. 

So, now that you know the basics of sleep apnea, it’s time to talk about the relation between sleep apnea and the sleeping position. Well, the least recommended one is sleeping on your back. [2]

That is because when you sleep on your back, your tongue and soft palate relax, causing vibrations when you breathe and obstructing the airways. 

Side Sleeper: a man sleeping on his back.

However, if you’re a side sleeper, it prevents your throat muscles from relaxing and helps you breathe better, reducing the chances of experiencing sleep apnea. Despite that, you should keep in mind that it mostly works for obstructive sleep apnea and not the two other types. 

If there’s a neurological problem, you will definitely need to consult a doctor and seek immediate treatment. However, even if you believe it is obstructive sleep apnea, it would be for the best if you got a doctor’s opinion, which would help you find the best treatment.

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Preventing Snoring 

Another problem that occurs way more often when you sleep on your back instead of sleeping on your side is snoring. While snoring may not affect you much, it can definitely be disturbing to those who are sleeping next to you. In some cases, even people sleeping in the next room. 

Therefore, if you snore loudly, you will likely be made aware of that by irritated roommates or family members. Despite the fact that you think it has no effects on your health, it might actually indicate some health issues that should be solved urgently. 

One of them is the previously mentioned sleep apnea. Snoring is one of the main signs of sleep apnea, which causes lots of problems. Therefore, if you snore excessively, it would be highly advisable to get a check-up and find out whether you have sleep apnea or not. 

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The Best Position When Pregnant 

One more case when you should definitely become a side sleeper is if you’re pregnant. There are many reasons why you should avoid sleeping on your back. Why you shouldn’t sleep on your stomach in later pregnancy stages is probably self-explanatory. 

However, not many are aware of the problems that sleeping on your back can cause if you’re expecting. The first reason would be that sleeping on your back may cause trouble breathing. 

That’s very unhealthy for the development of the fetus, as it needs constant access to oxygen.

Side Sleeper: pregnant woman sleeping on her left side.

Another problem that may occur is digestive issues when pregnant. They happen because your abdomen, with the newly added additional weight, presses into your intestines, leading to indigestion. So, to avoid that, you should try to become a side sleeper. 

Another issue, why you might want to become a side sleeper when you’re pregnant is that sleeping on your back lowers your blood pressure and prevents good blood circulation. That means that the nutrients can’t be delivered fast to the fetus, which may cause trouble. 

Also, it’s important to add that it is suggested to opt for sleeping on your left side instead of choosing sleeping on your right side. That’s because it is said that sleeping on your left sides enables blood and nutrients to travel faster.

How to Become a Side Sleeper

Now that you know why you might want to choose sleeping on your side instead of sleeping on your back, you’re probably wondering what steps you need to take in order to achieve being a side sleeper.

It’s not going to be an easy road. It’s often hard to switch from one sleeping position to another, but it still is possible. 

However, there will be quite a few steps to take if you want to ensure a smooth transition from another sleeping position to being a side sleeper. So, let’s see what the steps are. 

Ensuring Your Mattress is Suitable

The first step I’d advise you to take when transitioning to being a side sleeper is taking care of your mattress. Different mattresses work for different sleeping positions. If you’ve been sleeping on your back, the chances are high that you had a medium-firm mattress, as these ones are the most suitable. 

Medium-firm mattresses ensure enough support for sleeping on your back, making it comfortable to sleep in this position. However, when transitioning from sleeping on your back to sleeping on your side, you will need a bit different type of mattress.

Side Sleeper: a man sleeping on his back. 

Mattresses that are said to be the best for sleeping on your side are medium to medium-soft. On the other hand, some still argue that medium-firm mattresses work just fine for sleeping on the side too.

You will have to try and see what works for you. Luckily, most of the best mattress’ providers offer money back guarantee for mattresses, so you can try them out without any commitment. 

Purchasing the Right Pillow

Whether you’re planning on sleeping on your left side or sleeping on your right side, or even on your back, you will need a pillow that will support your neck. Different sleeping positions call for different pillows.

While for those, who sleep on their backs, the recommended pillow is the one that isn’t too tall and which your head tends to sink in a little, it’s not exactly the case for side sleeper’s pillows. When sleeping on your side, you should avoid a pillow in which your head sinks in. Also, you will need enough support for your neck.

The best choices for side sleepers are either down pillows or memory foam. You can choose between these two types of pillows, or maybe even find a different type that would also provide the right conditions for sleeping on your back. While usually down and foam pillows are recommended, it’s more of a guideline than a rule. 

What matters the most is your comfort. If you simply can’t stand memory foam, even after hearing all about its benefits for you, you shouldn’t choose it. The most important thing is if you feel well sleeping, because if you’re not comfortable, not even the best materials will provide you with a good-quality sleep. 

So, I’d advise you to check out the best pillows for side sleepers, or, if you have a preference for one type or another, check out the best memory foam pillows or best down pillows

And… More Pillows

Ok, you’ve heard it, you need a pillow for your head. You might now be wondering, what do you need more pillows for? Well, if you’re wondering how to sleep on your side comfortably, it can definitely make you sleep better. 

While it’s completely optional, you may find that adding some more pillows to your bed will enhance the experience of sleeping on your side. What should you do with the pillows? Well, you could put one between your knees.

Putting a pillow between your knees will help you relieve pressure from your hips and lower back, and it also promotes spine alignment. 

Keep in mind that you don’t have to limit yourself to just a pillow between your knees. You can add more! Maybe your shoulder is hurting. So, what do you do? You put a pillow below it. Or maybe your arms feel uncomfortable, and you just can’t find a proper position. Even in this situation, a pillow can help. What you should do is remember your childhood. 

Side Sleeper: lots of pillows in bed.

While you might not grow attached to your pillow like you were attached to your favorite plushie, it can provide comfort and coziness. Cuddling with a pillow, or even a stuffed toy, if it suits you more, can help you feel better, consequently enhancing your sleep quality. 

These options aren’t the only ones you can try out. You can get creative and fill your bed with pillows for any purpose that you can think of. However, if you can’t seem to get comfortable without adding lots of pillows to your bed, there might be a problem. 

The problem would be your mattress. Normally, a well-suited mattress provides great comfort, and you don’t need to worry about adding more pillows to your bed. So, if you just can’t seem to get comfortable in your bed, you should definitely think about investing in a new mattress

If you’re an aspiring side sleeper, the best option for you would be checking out the best mattresses for side sleepers. 

Conclusions

Some people are naturally side sleepers, others are back sleepers, and some tend to sleep on their stomachs. However, there are people who keep turning at night and end up sleeping in all the available positions. 

Nevertheless, there could be reasons when you might want to stick to a specific sleep position.

Those reasons might be snoring, as sleeping on your back brings out the heavy-duty snorer in you, sleep apnea, which is way more present when sleeping on your back, or being pregnant, when you should try to sleep on your side in order to ensure sufficient nutrients to your fetus. 

There are ways to sleep more comfortably on the side, such as choosing the right mattress and pillow or pillows. If you’re looking for a mattress that would suit your new sleeping position, check out our best mattresses for side sleepers. You’ll also need a new pillow or a few, so take a look at the best pillows for side sleepers


Scientific References

1. Jennifer M. Slowik; Jacob F. Collen "Obstructive Sleep Apnea"

2. R D Cartwright "Effect of sleep position on sleep apnea severity"


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FAQ

Is sleeping on your side better than sleeping on your back?

There are advantages to sleeping in both of these positions. While sleeping on your back is often considered the superior sleeping position, there are circumstances, which call for sleeping on your side. So, you should keep in mind your health status, whether you snore or not and choose a sleeping position accordingly. When you’ve done that, you should check out the mattresses which are the most suitable for your sleeping position. 

How to become a side sleeper?

It is easier said than done. While all you have to do is turn to your side and try sleeping, the chances are that you will turn to your back or another sleeping position, if you feel more comfortable in it. It takes getting used to. So, what you have to do is not give up and ensure your comfort for your newly chosen sleeping position by investing in a good mattress and pillows

What is a memory foam mattress?

Memory foam mattresses are created mostly from polyurethane and have additional chemicals added that increase its viscosity and density. It’s also often called “viscoelastic polyurethane foam”. In order to create the air movement and let your body “breath” while you sleep, it has open foam bubbles. Memory foam mattresses are created in a way to adapt to your body curves and to also recover their original shape after you get up. Therefore, this kind of top mattresses offer you the feeling as if is created specifically for you.

Do top rated mattresses offer a money-back guarantee? Is there a catch?

All of the top mattress brands offer a money-back guarantee. The free trial usually starts from 90 to 100 nights, and if you don’t like the mattress, you can simply give it back. The majority of best mattress providers will not only give your money back but will also come to get it for free. If the mattress provider is reputable, there won’t be any catch - everyone understands that you have to try the mattress before knowing if it fits you.

What is off-gassing? Is it poisonous?

Off-gassing refers to the odor which comes from a new mattress. It’s the process that happens when volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) leak out of the mattress foam into the air. Those chemicals include both human-made and natural components, including formaldehyde, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), benzene, trichloroethane, and perfluorocarbons. Top rated mattresses will have zero or very minimal off-gassing. Many of them are sent to the customer already after the off-gassing. Is it dangerous, though? Even though the smell can be unpleasant, there’s usually only a very small amount of chemicals that can do no harm to your health.

How long do top rated mattresses serve?

The durability of a mattress depends on the provider and the quality of the materials used. Usually, you get a 10-year warranty, which will be valid in case of any defects. Normally, mattresses will serve you from 7 to 10 years, or even longer. Thus, when you buy the best mattress, you should take it as a long-term investment.