When it comes to falling asleep, we all have our own unique ways to get comfortable and ready to head to dreamland. Some people listen to music before bed, others need complete darkness, but the most important part of falling asleep is being in the right position.
For side sleepers – meaning you prefer to sleep on one side of your body – the position you sleep in is one of the most common. Studies suggest that 40-50% of adults in the UK sleep on their side and side sleeping is regarded as one of the best positions to sleep in.
Side sleeping has some excellent health benefits. It improves digestion, keeps your airways open, cuts down acid reflux, reduces back pain, and can even help combat sleep apnoea and snoring. However, some side positions can also be bad for your body, as we discussed in our guide to the best and worst postures for sleep (opens in new tab), as they can put strain on the spine and shoulders.
If you’re a side sleeper and want to improve your sleep habits, here are 5 tips for you to use for a better night’s sleep, including the best mattress (opens in new tab) for your sleeping style. If you're a back sleeper, check out our guide for how to sleep on your back (opens in new tab).
1. Pick the right mattress & pillow
Regardless of which position you sleep in, you need the right mattress for your body, comfort and habits. The best mattress for side sleepers should be one that provides pressure relief and balances the body. As a side sleepers’ main concern is strain on the neck, shoulders and hips, a medium mattress firmness is the best for your sleep style. Having a mattress which supports your spine is so important and a medium mattress or a memory foam mattress (opens in new tab) can appropriately cradle the body and adapt to the curves of your back and hips. If you’re still unsure which mattress is best for you, we found that the Emma Hybrid Mattress (opens in new tab) and Simba Hybrid Original Mattress (opens in new tab) were great for side sleepers.
As for the best pillow (opens in new tab) for side sleepers, you should pick something that properly supports the head and neck, and doesn’t have too much of a dip or break as your body goes down the mattress. It should have a good height so you don’t strain your neck so a memory foam option is a great choice.
2. Choose your sleeping side
If you’re a side sleeper, you might favour one side or mix between the two. Whether you sleep on your left or right side, there isn’t a huge difference but it still can positively or negatively affect how well or how long you sleep. If you favour your left side, this can help reduce heartburn and improve digestion. Pregnant women are encouraged to sleep on their left side as this keeps the uterus off the liver. If you prefer the right side, this can be positive for your heart and according to Sleep Foundation (opens in new tab), people with heart failure should choose the right side as the left can cause discomfort.
3. Get in alignment
If you tend to sleep on your side with one leg up or stick your butt out, this can affect your back and spine. When you sleep on your side, make sure your body is in alignment to support the natural curve of your spine to prevent any aches and pains. To do this, you should keep your head in a neutral position by making sure your neck and chin are aligned in the centre of your shoulders. From there, your shoulders should be in line with your hips and the rest of your body should follow suit, with your arms and hands either by your sides or slightly in front.
4. Put a pillow between your legs
Most side sleepers are most comfortable in the ‘heavy lifter’ position where you’re on your side with one leg straight and the other bent at a right angle. While this is incredibly comfortable (as a fellow side sleeper, this is my position of choice!), it’s not great for the body as it can cause back, shoulder and neck problems. If you love this position, try putting a pillow between your legs. Not only does this help with your spine but it also relieves pressure on your hips and lower back. A memory foam or body pillow is best for this but you can use any pillow you have.
5. Stretch when you wake up
Finally, when you get out of bed, you should have a good stretch to shake yourself out of sleep and get you ready for the day. Going from a curled up position to standing up straight is a little extreme, so you might want to warm up your bones and muscles with a few of the best stretching exercises (opens in new tab). Focus on lengthening your body by reaching up and stretching your arms, and try some floor touches, hip lifts and knee to chest stretches.