What side should you sleep on for better health?

Can sleeping on one side of your body improve your health? We look at the facts

A minimalist bedroom with high windows, and a bed with white linens
(Image credit: Abbie Naber)

Sleep is just as important as exercise and the proper diet – but if we don’t have the right sleeping position it could affect our quality of sleep – leaving us groggy, unfocused and short-tempered. 

If you sleep on your side, whether you’re curled up or sprawled out you join nearly two-thirds of adults that sleep on their side – but is the left or the right side better for us as we get our beauty sleep? From snoring to back pain side sleeping can be seen as one of the healthiest sleeping positions. 

I spoke to experts to figure which side you should sleep on and the benefits, as well as whether or not it's the best position for a good night's sleep. 

Health effects

 Although sleeping on your side can’t completely stop snoring, it will help open the airways. “Sleeping on your side with a pillow between your knees reduces compression of your airways so can help to alleviate breathing issues and reduce the likelihood of snoring, which is more common when sleeping on your back,”  explains Thomas Høegh Reisenhus, sleep specialist for TEMPUR.

“Just make sure your pillow is the right height to keep your head in neutral alignment with your spine to ensure your airways are clear.”

Those with a sleep condition called sleep apnea, a serious sleep disorder where you can stop breathing when you sleep, can also benefit from sleeping on their side. Of course, other factors can help the condition too - including losing weight, exercising and avoiding alcohol. 

Thomas Høegh Reisenhus headshot
Thomas Høegh Reisenhus

With an extensive knowledge of sleep, from sleep conditions to the ideal microclimate to ensure quality and quantity of sleep, Thomas has worked with a number of leading universities, hospitals, experts and elite athletes. 

In 2018, Thomas qualified as a sleep counsellor, thereby acquiring an even deeper knowledge of how sleep hygiene, diet, exercise and general lifestyle impacts sleep, as well as how to help and guide people who experience specific sleep issues.

Suffer from back or shoulder pain? 'Side sleeping with a pillow between the knees, keeping hips, pelvis and spine in alignment whilst hugging another pillow to keep shoulders supported, is also one of the best sleeping positions for people with back pain,' says the sleep specialist. 

If you struggle with your digestion, and you find yourself awake all night trying to deal with it - side sleeping, specifically on the left, can help prevent acid reflux and heartburn as your head is more elevated than in other sleeping positions.

Which is the better side to sleep on?

Double bed in pale grey bedroom with wooden floor, cream and white bedding and white curtains dressing floor to ceiling windows. A renovated four storey London townhouse, home of Louise Bradley, interior designer.

(Image credit: Future)

Which side you sleep on is mostly down to preference or the side you’ve adopted naturally. Reisenhus agrees: 'Different sleep positions have different benefits, so the best side to sleep on depends on what feels most comfortable to you.'

However, if you’re pregnant, have digestion or high blood pressure, there are some things you should bear in mind. 

 Sleeping on your left side has been shown to be safer when you’re pregnant, as it allows more blood to flow from mom to baby. Research has backed up this theory too, with studies showing that women, especially those in their third trimester, have less chance of stillbirth if they sleep on their left side.  

This side of the body is said to be better for acid reflux too, as the stomach is found on the left side of our body.

You may just find the right side comfier to sleep on, but it's also better for anyone who suffers from high blood pressure, while it will also slow your heartbeat down as you snooze.  For anyone who has back pain, specifically, sciatica pain, sleeping on the right can help to relieve any pressure points that the condition causes, and normally occurs on the left side of the back. 

How do you know side sleeping is right for you?

 Do you naturally find yourself gravitating towards the fetal position when you start to get comfortable? Ultimately your body knows what it wants, so listening to your gut instinct will be a key clue. 

The beauty of side sleeping is that it allows for the natural alignment of your spine, which can help reduce aches and pains. If you do suffer from back pain Reisenhus advises against sleeping on the stomach, but if you can’t get out of the habit he says: 'Be wary of sleeping on your stomach which can cause neck and back pain. However, if this is most comfortable for you, try placing a pillow under your lower abdomen to reduce any back pain.'

While any back sleepers take note: 'Lying on your back with your spine well supported protects your lower back, hips and knees but can exacerbate snoring and sleep apnoea. If you sleep on your back, you may benefit from a pillow tucked beneath your knees.'

Tips for side sleepers

bedroom with bed, pillows and nightstand

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Wake up with achy shoulders when you sleep on your side?  Thomas Høegh Reisenhus says 'If you prefer sleeping on your side, make sure your head and neck are well supported with a firm or moulded pillow to avoid discomfort in your shoulders.' 

'Side sleepers might also find more comfort with a pillow between the knees,' explains Reisenhus. 'It’s best to aim for a gentle bend in your knees rather than hugging them in tight – whilst embracing a pillow to support your chest and arms.'

You should also invest in a good mattress. Even if you adopt the right sleeping position for you, if your mattress has seen better days you’ll wake up with aches and pains.

Side sleeping FAQs

Does sleeping on you side cause facial asymmetry?

No, sleeping on your side does not cause facial asymmetry. This is almost entirely down to your bone structure and the side you sleep on has no effect. 

Does sleeping on your side cause shoulder pain?

Sleeping on your side can cause shoulder pain but not inherently. If your mattress is too firm, there'll be too much pressure on your joints, which will cause shoulder pain.

If you're finding it uncomfortable to sleep on your side, it could be that you don't have the right support - it could be worth considering a body pillow.

Sarah Finley

Sarah is a freelance journalist - she covers a variety of subjects, including sleep, health and fitness, beauty and travel. As a journalist, she has written thousands of profile pieces - interviewing CEOs, real-life case studies and celebrities. Sarah can normally be found trying out the latest fitness class, on a plane to an exotic destination or getting an early night - and of course, writing about them.