Almost three-fourths of Americans prefer to hug a pillow on their side, and it’s not surprising, as it’s very comfy.
But side sleeping can actually even help you score a couple more years of a healthy life because it’s packed with different health benefits.
So, if you’re a stomach or back sleeper who is trying to switch to snoozing on your side, this article is for you. It can provide you with useful tips to make your transition to everyday side sleeping smooth and comfortable.
Reasons to Switch to Side Sleeping
Even though the supine position is considered the best sleeping position for spine health, it’s the only potent advantage this sleeping style can provide. Side sleeping, on the contrary, becomes unbeatable when it comes to health benefits, especially if you give your preferences to the left side.
See for yourself:
- Acid reflux elimination. Left side sleeping puts your stomach slightly below the esophagus and keeps gastric juices from damaging it.
- Overall digestion improvement. Sleeping on the left side puts liver, pancreas, and gallbladder in their anatomical positions, so they can produce enzymes and digestive ferments more efficiently.
- Snoring prevention. Contrary to back sleeping, snoozing on your side keeps the upper airways open and decreases the chances of snoring or getting an apnea episode.
- Lymphatic drainage. The left side is also dominant for your lymphatic system because the spleen — the central organ of this system — and some large lymph nodes are located on the left. Thus, by snoozing on your left side, you promote healthier lymph secretion, which results in the reduction of swelling and a total body cleanse.
- Brain cleanse. This one is tied to the previous. The lymphatic system also cleans your brain from waste and byproducts it had accumulated through the day. To do this, your body creates a specific cellular pathway during the deep sleep stage and flushes out all the toxins with cerebrospinal fluid. When you’re lying on your left side, you help your body do all of this naturally.
- Blood pressure reduction. Sleeping on the left side helps your heart pump your blood more easily because of direct flow without any obstacles. Thus, your blood vessels will get more relaxed too.
Sleeping on the left side is highly beneficial for pregnant women. It promotes blood flow to the uterus and reduces the load on the liver, thereby eliminating bile outbursts followed by heartburn.
Most Common Variations of Side Sleeping
Not only side sleeping is highly beneficial, but it can also be very flexible. There are several different positions, and you may choose the one that gives you the biggest comfort:
- Fetal position. This one is the most common and, apparently, the most comfortable. Curling up your knees towards your chest provides the feeling of relaxation, so you typically fall asleep in minutes.
- The Log. This sleeping style literally resembles a log, as you sleep on your side with your arms along the body.
- The Yearner. In this sleeping position, you stretch your arms slightly in front of you, as if you’re trying to reach out for something.
- The Thinker. This looks very similar to the fetal position, except you put one of your hands under your cheek.
Research has also found a certain connection between a preferred sleeping style and personality traits of a given individual.
Tips for Mastering Side Sleeping Like a Pro
So, you have a strong urge to incorporate side sleeping into your life but your efforts don’t seem to be successful?
In fact, most of the global population are mixed sleepers, meaning that they switch at least two sleeping positions during the night. So, you, too, probably sleep on your side at some point of the night.
But if you arm yourself with these tips below, in just a few weeks, you will find yourself snoozing on your side more often and will start feeling a lot more comfortable in this position.
#1 Be Sure to Get a Suitable Mattress
Memory foam mattresses are a very common choice among side sleepers. The most obvious reason for that is that memory foam is great at relieving pressure in pressure points and may even reduce back pain. This material conforms to your body curves, especially those in your hips and shoulders, and promotes healthy spine alignment, so you won’t wake up with stiffness.
The main drawback of memory foam, however, is heat accumulation, meaning that you’re more likely to sleep hot on such beds. Given the fact that side sleepers — especially heavier ones — typically sink more deeply into their mattress, you might end up sweaty and grumpy because of disrupted sleep.
So, if you’re a large sleeper or just prone to hot sleeping, opt for a hybrid or latex mattress. Whichever material you choose, make sure your mattress is on the softer side (about 5 out of 10 on the firmness scale). This way, there will be less pressure in your hips and shoulders and hence more comfort.
#2 Don’t Forget About Pillows
Aside from hips and shoulders, another weak point of side sleepers is their neck. Your head is pretty heavy, and if your neck doesn’t receive proper support while you are snoozing on your side, it can get strained and give you pain in the morning.
An ideal pillow for a side sleeper should combine the following:
- higher loft (or the ability to adjust it);
- dense fill that would maintain its shape;
- breathable materials that won’t make you sleep hot.
And by the way, you may not limit yourself to just one pillow.
If you’re trying to sleep on your side more because you have some health issues, certain types of pillows might be more beneficial for you.
For example, use wedge pillows that create an incline and elevate your upper body. Wedge pillows work great for individuals with GERD, acid reflux, or sleep apnea. Also, you can put this pillow under your legs to reduce swelling.
Also, you may want to place a thin pillow between your knees if you’re prone to hip pain. The pillow will compensate for the tension in your pelvic bones, and you will get the relief you need.
#3 Help Yourself Stay on Your Side
The next couple of tips will come in handy if you have problems staying on your side while you’re sleeping and continually turn to your back or stomach.
So, here’s a couple of recommendations for back sleepers:
- Sew a tennis ball to your old pajamas. This is an old but effective trick. A tennis ball around your lower back area will create the obstacle if you decide to turn on your back. For the same reason, this trick can be useful for loud snorers, as sleeping on their side rather than their back may help them reduce snoring.
- Switch to sofa sleeping for a couple of weeks. Sleeping on a narrow sofa won’t give you too much space to toss and turn, so you will stay on your side eventually.
Most people will probably find sleeping on a sofa uncomfortable. If you’re one of them, you can invest in a mattress topper that will eliminate the unevenness of the sofa.”
Now, if you’re a stomach sleeper, here’s what you can do to train yourself sleep on the side:
- Sleep facing the wall. You may even want to move your bed to the wall so that it would be easier for you to pick the right position. In this case, when you decide to roll onto your tummy, a wall may prevent you from doing this, and you will stay on your side.
- Hug a pillow. Hugging an additional pillow kills two birds with one stone: it prevents your hands from going numb and tingling and helps you stay on your side, as the pillow will balance your body weight.
#4 Check Your Progress and Be Consistent
Finally, track your sleeping positions during the transition phase. Of course, you don’t need to control any position change, but writing down the sleeping position you wake up in would be helpful.
Also, don’t give up soon if you aren’t noticing any differences. It is believed people need 21 days to form a new habit. But this may vary, so don’t get desperate and just keep going — you will see the results eventually.