Sleeping on the Right vs. The Left Side: What’s the Difference?


You may be thinking…Huh? Does it make any difference? Would you be surprised if I said yes?

Well, to answer the question, yes, it does make a difference which side you sleep on. All positions have their pros and cons, which we will discuss in more detail later. But which one is best? 

Which side you sleep on is an interesting concept. Your first thought is likely, whatever is the most comfortable, but which side you sleep on has an impact on your health as well as your personality and even your dreams. 

What Determines Our Sleep Position?

Your Age

Have you ever watched a child sleep? If you watch them for any length of time, you know that they move around, A LOT! Studies have shown that they move around in their sleep twice as often as adults. As they get older, they fall into a more natural sleeping rhythm and choose what position to sleep in.

As children become young adults and up through their mid-twenties, they start to shift to a side sleeping position. Scientists are not sure why this happens, but offer a guess that it is because as you age you tend to move less, which allows you to be comfortable in a certain position longer before feeling the need to move.

Though, research does show that older adults of 65 and over naturally shift to a right-side sleeping position. Experts believe that this occurs because the brain is behind the scenes making moves that will inevitably protect the heart. That brain, it is smart.

A Pregnancy

Doctors recommend that pregnant women sleep on the left side because it enables the heart to pump blood more efficiently to the placenta. If there is too much pressure on the vena cava artery it can slow blood flow from the lower body to the heart and brain. This means that your organs cannot get enough oxygenated blood delivered to them, which is also true for baby. If you are not getting enough oxygen, neither is he or she.

Many midwives adopt a slightly different approach to sleeping while pregnant. First, it is impossible to stay comfortable in one spot all night long and if you did, it could lead to sores on your pressure points such as hips, shoulders, and knees. Second, if you lay only on your left side all the time, the baby will not become familiar with the entire pelvic area, which could lead to unbearable back labor. Switch sides throughout the night to give the baby all the room he or she may need.

What Does Our Sleep Position Say About Our Personality?

Sleeping on Your Back

If you are a back sleeper, studies have shown that you tend to be more on the stubborn side. The benefit to being stubborn though, is that you exude self-confidence and are usually sure of yourself. 

What this means is that you are more easily able to power through difficult tasks while at the same time feeling that you are doing an excellent job. 

The stubborn side of this personality type is what gives you the ability to keep going until you reach your goals. Of course, this is not always the best quality to have in relationships with others. They may see you as brash or unfeeling.

Sleeping on Your Stomach

People who are stomach sleepers tend to be defensive and sensitive to criticism. Feeling overwhelmed and of having no sense of control over our lives are common traits of this type of personality. When you mix all these feelings, chances are, you will find a perfectionist hiding inside that person. 

These are all factors that contribute to depression, anxiety, and agoraphobia. Someone who cannot take criticism well and quickly becomes defensive about it internalizes the fear, discomfort, and negative thoughts.

All is not bad though. Highly Sensitive People (HSP) are loyal and hardworking, they are independent and can work with little supervision. They are fantastic listeners and pay a great deal of detail to projects they are working on. HSP are wonderful critical thinkers and are fair in their observations of others.

Sleeping on Your Left

Left-side sleepers often belong to a creative personality type. Creative personalities are the perfect mix of yin and yang. They have a lot of mental and physical energy, but know instinctively how to control this energy, so they also get lots of rest and are more relaxed. Everything about their personality is a nice mixture of one trait while, at the same time, stabilized by the opposite trait. 

Creative personalities tend to be highly intelligent and put this intelligence to effective use in a focused yet relaxed way. They can concentrate solely on one thing for prolonged periods without ever losing the enthusiasm they had when they started the project.

Bullies tend to choose creatives as their victims more so than other personality types because they are, different, or even weird. They often dress differently and in our typical male society, creative boys are more sensitive than they are “supposed” to be, and creative girls often show qualities that are usually male-oriented. Thus, throwing off the balance of perceived gender roles.

Sleeping on Your Right

You might have a neurotic type of personality if you are a right-side sleeper. Studies have shown that folks who sleep on their right side tend to be afraid a lot of the time. They tend to be afraid of germs, bugs, heights, etc. Most neurotic personalities have several fears at the same time.

There seems to be a link between neurotic behaviors and overthinking, as well as being sensitive to their environment. This personality type is more apt to be addicted to caffeine and/or nicotine, though studies have not determined a reason.

 Having a neurotic personality is not all jokes and laughs at our expense, but those with a neurotic personality are great at caring for others. They have wonderful senses of humor, though usually dry and self-deprecating. Those who are on the neurotic side are very driven, yet they are not risk-takers.

How Do Sleep Positions Affect Our Dreams?

When Sleeping on Your Back

Research has shown that people who sleep on their backs have more nightmares than people who sleep in one of the other positions. There is also evidence that back sleepers do not usually remember their dreams, and if they do, they are not as clear as those who sleep on one or the other of their sides or their stomach.

Typically, back sleepers dream of being in a vulnerable situation, such as feeling lost or failing a big test. Another big theme in these dreams are feelings of exposure, like showing up to work naked or crying in public.

There is both positive and negative about these nightmares and dreams. One negative is that with the nightmares you make wake up more often in the night causing disruptions to your sleep cycle which makes you feel less refreshed in the morning. However, a positive is that you are less likely to remember them, so while you may wake up frightened or disturbed you will not remember them in the morning.

When Sleeping on Your Stomach

Tummy sleepers have the most vivid dreams of all the sleeping positions. Not only are these dreams vivid, but they are very intense and easy to remember. Fortunately, some of these are the types of dreams worth remembering.

Folks who sleep on their stomach have shown the tendency to have sexually explicit dreams that involve being unable to move and/or restrained. While these dreams are desirable and fun to have, dreams are not always good dreams.

Negative sexual dreams can also happen to tummy sleepers. Have you ever had a dream that your significant other was cheating on you? Or that you found yourself unable to perform well? Unfortunately, with the vividness and intensity of these dreams, you will not forget them in the morning, and you may wake up disoriented enough to think the dream was real. So, it is not necessary to rush into a new sleep position because they do not always have a great outcome.

When Sleeping on Your Left

Sleepers who lay on their left side have more negative dreams and nightmares than their counterparts on the right side. Researchers have no clues as to why this is the case, due to the overwhelming health benefits of sleeping on the left side, baffling scientists.

Experts do think that there could be a correlation between nightmares on the left side and a Chinese tradition that states the left side of the brain is in charge of the emotional side of things while the right side of the brain focuses on eating and being safe, thus left side sleepers have more emotional dreams and those right-side sleepers dream of safety.

The most interesting finding of all the research done on this topic is that even though left side sleepers have more negative dreams than right sleepers, they receive the best quality of sleep of all the other positions.

When Sleeping on Your Right

As talked about above, right side sleepers have fewer nightmares and more positive dreams overall than the left siders, but their quality of sleep decreases in comparison.

Right side sleepers often dream of burning and trouble swallowing. Researchers believe that this is due to the increased risk of succumbing to acid reflux when laying on your right side. Yet at the same time, they dream of relief and safety. 

This oxymoron is confusing, but the studies consistently show this to be true.

How Does Your Sleep Position Affect Your Health?

Sleeping on Your Back

Sleeping on your back is usually the most refreshing sleep you can get because it allows you to sleep in the natural alignment of your spine and neck which means you should be more comfortable in this position, Especially, if you suffer from arthritis or other basic aches and pains. 

Back sleeping can help with acid reflux or GERD symptoms, but only if your esophagus is higher than your stomach. To do this, you will need to prop your head up with extra pillows or add risers to the head of your bed to keep your head higher.

Unfortunately, sleeping on your back is devastating to those who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. This way of sleeping allows your throat muscles and fat tissue to become too relaxed and cut off your airflow. Sleep experts recommend that sleepers avoid this position if you think you may suffer or you already suffer from sleep apnea.

Sleeping on Your Stomach

Doctors find that this position gives sleepers the least refreshing sleep of any of the other positions. Other than good dreams, tummy sleeping may help if you suffer from mild snoring issues, but overall, those are the only benefits of this position.

Stomach sleepers often suffer from back and neck pain due to the angle of your spine while you sleep. This is the best position if you want to wake up with a stiff neck, however.

There are things you can do to make this position more comfortable, but experts still suggest that you sleep in any of the other positions.

Sleeping on Your Left

Of the side positions, experts recommend the left side more so than the right. The reason for this is that it aids in digestion and in relieving acid reflux or GERD due to the incredible effects of gravity.

Gravity works to keep gastric acid below the esophagus when you are laying on your left side which alleviates the symptoms of acid reflux. Our friend, gravity, also helps the flow of solid waste through our intestines down through our colon. This can help people have regular trips to the restroom for bowel movements.

As said earlier in the pregnancy section, left side sleeping aids in blood circulation and flow. This allows your heart and brain to get all the oxygenated blood it needs to be healthy.

Another benefit from sleeping on your side, and this goes for both sides, but it works the best on the left side, is that it helps your lymphatic system flush out the waste that can cause plaque buildup on your brain.

Sleeping on Your Right

Studies have shown that sleeping on your right side tends to lower your nervous system activity which helps to reduce blood pressure and heart rate while you sleep. As said earlier, the older population will often unconsciously lay on their right side and experts believe that this behavior is a self-protective gesture, especially if the person suffers from heart failure.

Sleeping in the Fetal Position

A fetal position is a form of side sleeping where the sleeper pulls their knees up toward their chest. The benefits of the fetal position are like the other side sleeping positions but this position does have some risks of its own that you should know about.

When you pull your knees up to your chest you risk placing stress on your diaphragm which can hinder breathing. This is especially troubling if you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. 

Sleeping all curled up in this way can also cause you to wake up stiff and out of sorts. Stretching when you get up is helpful, as is sleeping with a body pillow to keep yourself from curling up too tight.

Interestingly, this is the most popular sleep position among men and women, though women choose this position at double the number of men.

Pros and Cons: Sleeping on Your Back and Sleeping on Your Front

Why you should sleep on your back

Did you know that back sleepers tend to have fewer wrinkles and are less acne-prone than stomach or side sleepers? Why?

The reason for this is that when you sleep on your back, your face is up and off the pillow. Smashing your face into another surface can cause wrinkles in your skin that are not as elastic as you age, meaning that they may become permanent the longer you do it. 

The same goes for those with acne-prone skin. Your face can breathe better off the pillow. When you rest your face on a pillow or your hand, you are helping to clog the pores in your face because you are not allowing the pores to purify themselves, thus causing more breakouts.

Why you should sleep on your stomach

Unfortunately, the only real pro to sleeping on your stomach is that you might have more vivid dreams, which we already discussed. 

Experts are clear that there are very few benefits to sleeping on your stomach. However, there may be a glimmer of hope out there for tummy sleepers. There is a modified side/stomach position that may be the best of both situations.

To try this position, you will lay on your stomach and shift half of your body upwards, so you are partially on one side. To make it even more comfortable, you can try placing pillows under your tummy to hold you upright. 

However, do not make the common mistake of bringing one of your knees up to your chest in a half fetal position because this will just twist your spine even more out of alignment.

Why you should not sleep on your back

Lying on your back may be more painful for some people, those with lower back pain or sciatica complain of pain when sleeping on their back. Folks with neck problems also complain of pain when lying flat on their back.

Once again, the danger that could come from lying on your back if you have obstructive sleep apnea is not worth the risk.

Why you should not sleep on your stomach

Tummy sleepers often get overheated while they are sleeping because there is not enough airflow to cool them off. This leads to unwanted waking throughout the night.

Not only does stomach sleeping wreak havoc with your spine and neck, but it is also a terrible position for your pelvis. Your pelvis carries the brunt of your body weight, thus shoving it down into the mattress causing discomfort.

Unless you go out and buy a new mattress made specially to cool the body at night, there is no tangible way to cool off in this position, not even with a fan.

Though there may be some relief for your pelvis. You can try putting a pillow under your hips to help keep some of the weight off your pelvic bones can sometimes relieve discomfort.

Pros and Cons: Sleeping on Your Right And Sleeping on Your Left

Why you should sleep on your left

Sleeping on your left side is the best for helping to avoid Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and/or dementia. The reason for this is that sleeping on your left side best helps your lymphatic system work its magic to clear the waste from the brain tissues. The plaque that can build up there can lead to these debilitating diseases.

Yes, the waste from the lymphatic system is a benefit while lying on either side, but studies have shown that the left side is better.

Why you should sleep on your right

The right side is the best side for those with heart problems. This is because your heart is on the left side of your body and when you lay on your left side the pressure on your heart can hinder the flow of blood back and forth causing chest pain that could lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Why you should not sleep on left

Sleeping on your left side can put undue pressure on your lungs and stomach while you sleep. This pressure can keep you from breathing as well as you should, especially if you have bronchitis or other ailments in the chest.

The extra pressure on your stomach can also cause nausea, which, can wake you and make it harder to get back to sleep until your stomach settles a bit.

Though the risks of these things are low, you still would be wise to watch out for them.

Why you should not sleep on right

As we talked about earlier, the right side is worse for acid reflux because your stomach’s natural position lies on the left side and gravity works to keep the gastric juices from coming up the esophagus.

Argument Against Sleeping on Either Side

The cons in this section refer to both the left and right sides.

Just like in pregnant women, people who tend to sleep on their sides risk damage from pressure point sores at the shoulders, hips, and knees. 

Sleeping on your side can interfere with the blood flow to your arms which causes paresthesia, and in my research, I have learned that your brain cannot stay asleep when your arm is asleep. When this happens, you will awaken from your slumber until your arm moves back to a normal state.

Studies show that side sleepers are more apt to toss and turn throughout the night causing you to wake up often. This disruption in sleep means you could have a sleep-deprived day.

Apologies to the ladies and gentlemen out there who sleep on their sides. Studies show that if you are a side sleeper your breasts may be saggy. Our friend gravity is at work once again. When we sleep, gravity pulls our breasts down, and unfortunately, the more time you spend in this position, the more your breasts are likely to sag.

Which Side Wins?

Experts agree that back sleeping is the best sleep position but either side is the second most favorable with the left offering the most health benefits for a large majority of people. Both sides have good and adverse effects on sleep and in the end, it comes down to personal preference, whichever is most comfortable, and/or the one that works best with your health issues.

What You Can Do to Get the Best Sleep Possible

Regardless of whether you sleep on your back, stomach, left or right side, you want to be sure you are doing everything you can to overcome the shortcomings of each position.

Back sleepers may want to sleep at an incline with an extra pillow or even risers under the mattress at the head of the bed to ensure you are protecting yourself from acid reflux

Stomach sleepers should compensate for terrible alignment by sleeping face down with a pillow under your forehead to keep your spine and neck in alignment.

Side sleepers should use a pillow under the head, one between the knees, and one under the armpit to the front of you. These all work to promote comfort in the joints, especially in the spine and neck regions, with special regard to the shoulders. The best way to sleep is with your ear, hips, and knees all in alignment.

Summary

There is so much information to take in from the effects of different sleep positions it is hard to keep it all straight in your mind. Just know that the best night of sleep you will get is the one where you are most comfortable. The various positions all offer benefits of some sort of benefit so go with your gut and sleep well in whatever position you want. 

As it turns out, you were right in your first thought that you should sleep in whichever way makes you the most comfortable. This article is here to give you the knowledge you need to make an informed decision about your sleep position, and, yes, you can train yourself to change positions if you like, but remember, the best position is a variety so you can experience the benefits of every position.

Harris

Hello, I'm Harris. For many years, I have no problems with sleeping but as I become older, I find sometimes sleeping well can be a challenge. This website is a collection of questions I have had wondered once and seek out answer on the web or from my doctors. As I accumulate more information about sleeping I will post them here. Hope you find these articles helpful. Thank you!

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