Sleeping on your side is one of the most common and recommended sleep positions. Side sleeping helps align your spine and can reduce snoring, acid reflux, and back pain. However, side sleeping does come with some potential drawbacks as well.
Certain disadvantages are associated with being a dedicated side sleeper night after night. This article will examine the possible negatives of side sleeping and how to minimize the risks.
Overview of Side Sleeping Pros and Cons
Before diving into the cons, let’s recap the key benefits of side sleeping:
Spinal Alignment – Keeps your neck, head and spine in a neutral position.
Reduced Snoring – Lessens airway obstruction and tongue/throat issues causing snoring.
Minimizes Heartburn – Gravity keeps stomach acid from rising up into the esophagus.
Prevents Sleep Apnea – Opening the airway helps those with sleep apnea breathe easier.
Pregnancy Comfort – Takes pressure off the back and improves circulation for expecting mothers.
Now here are the most common potential disadvantages of side sleeping:
Shoulder and Hip Pain – Pressure buildup in these areas can cause discomfort.
Skin Aging – Years of facial pressure on the pillow can lead to wrinkles and sleep lines.
Breast Pain – Women may experience breast tenderness from lying on their side.
Digestion Issues – Side position can trigger heartburn symptoms in some people.
Spinal Misalignment – Without proper support, spine can curve and twist unnaturally.
Numbness in Arms and Legs – Arm and leg positioned underneath can lose circulation and feel numb.
Being aware of these side sleeping cons allows you to take steps to minimize their likelihood or impact.
Common Physical Pains for Side Sleepers
Two of the most prevalent issues for side sleepers are shoulder and hip discomfort. Let’s examine these common pressure point pains.
Your top shoulder supports a good deal of your upper body weight in the side position. This can compress the shoulder joint overnight, leading to pain and stiffness.
Signs of shoulder discomfort caused by side sleeping include:
- Sharp, aching pain in the shoulder joint
- Tenderness in the upper shoulder muscles
- Stiffness, reduced mobility, and “pinching” when moving arm
- Numbness or tingling in the arm or hand
The risk increases if you sleep with your arm up over your head, which over-rotates the shoulder. Extended pressure on the shoulder can also irritate surrounding nerves.
Your bottom hip also withstands your body weight on its side. Like the shoulder, this added force can provoke discomfort.
Common hip issues associated with side sleeping:
- Soreness deep in the hip socket
- Aching pain that shoots down the outer thigh
- Tightness and limited range of motion in the hips
- Leg numbness, tingling, or radiating pain
Sensitive sciatic nerves around the hip area may also become inflamed.
Potential Health Risks of Side Sleeping
In addition to joint pains, side sleeping might also contribute to these other issues over the long term:
Facial Wrinkles and Sleep Lines
Years of pressing your face into a pillow in the side position can lead to wrinkles, fine lines, and sleep creases. These are often seen on the cheeks and forehead. Sleep lines due to repetitive facial distortion and pressure night after night.
Breast Pain and Changes
Sleeping predominantly on one side may cause women to experience breast discomfort or changes like:
- Swelling, lumps, increased tenderness before menstruation
- More noticeable breast density and nodularity
- Slow growing benign cysts over years
- Breast pain radiating into the underarm and back
Make sure to get medical exam for any ongoing breast changes. But alternating sleep sides may help.
Though side sleeping discourages acid reflux in most people, some find it worsens heartburn, especially right side sleeping. The bent sleeping posture can pinch the stomach and push acid upwards. Transitioning onto the right side too soon after eating may also trigger symptoms.
Side sleeping can also lightly compress internal digestive organs like the pancreas, liver, and kidneys which may alter function. Notice if your digestion seems impacted.
Without proper pillow height and mattress support, side sleeping can inadvertently twist and misalign the spine. Your heavier shoulder and hip sink in, while the waist arches upwards incorrectly.
Signs your spine is losing its natural shape while side sleeping include:
- Stiff, sore back upon waking
- Radiating back pain and pinched nerve feelings
- Neck pain and headaches
- Ongoing back discomfort when standing upright during the day
Other Disadvantages of Side Sleeping
A few other negatives associated with side sleeping include:
Arm Numbness – The arm underneath your body can lose circulation and “fall asleep”. Move your arm forward to allow blood flow.
Pillow Gap – Head tilts down without support under neck, straining spine. Use correct loft pillow.
Sheet Untucking – Changing positions loosens sheets and blankets from mattress. Use deep pocket sheets.
Difficulty with CPAP – Some CPAP masks and side sleeping don’t pair well due to air leaking.
Facial Drooping – Extended gravity pressure on one cheek may slowly stretch and sag facial skin.
Tossing and Turning – Frequent repositioning from hip/shoulder pain inhibits deep sleep.
Partner Disruption – Changing sides and rotating all night disturbs bed partner’s sleep.
Tips to Make Side Sleeping More Comfortable
You can take proactive steps to avoid or alleviate the potential disadvantages of side sleeping:
Use a body pillow – Filling space under head, neck, and between knees provides alignment.
Try a silk pillowcase – Allows facial skin to glide smoothly to reduce sleep creases.
Elevate top leg – Keeps hips square and aligned to minimize hip torque.
Sleep sans bra – Alleviates constriction and discomfort around the breasts.
Apply moisturizer/retinol cream – Reduces facial friction and rejuvenates the skin.
Check pillow height – Keeps your head, neck, and spine on the same plane.
Opt for soft shirt – Minimizes any clothing bunching and discomfort around your armpit.
Use a mattress topper – Adds cushioning comfort to high pressure points.
Change sides equally – Alternate each night to distribute weight evenly and prevent uneven wear.
With a few adjustments, you can side sleep without strained joints or numbness.
When to Consider Trying Other Sleep Positions
If you continue experiencing significant discomfort or health issues from side sleeping even after making adjustments, talk to your doctor. They may recommend trying to acclimate to back or stomach sleeping instead.
Reasons you may need to limit side sleeping and train yourself to use other positions:
- Ongoing moderate to severe shoulder, hip or back pain that won’t resolve
- Noticeable facial wrinkling and skin aging
- Chronic numbness, tingling, or nerve impingement in your limbs
- Breast pain or changes not linked to another cause
- Frequent heartburn symptoms when side sleeping
- Diagnosis of health condition exacerbated by side position
Ideally adults should be capable of sleeping soundly in multiple positions. Work on transitioning to more back and stomach sleeping if side sleep results in too many negatives.
FAQs About Side Sleeping Disadvantages
Does side sleeping cause back pain?
It can indirectly if your mattress and pillows don’t adequately support your spine in the side position. But with proper support, side sleeping usually prevents back pain rather than causes it.
Why does my shoulder hurt from side sleeping?
The weight and pressure concentrated on your shoulder joint all night long can irritate the muscles, tendons, and nerves around this area leading to pain.
Is side sleeping bad for your health?
Occasional side sleeping is quite healthy. But doing it exclusively long term may contribute to some issues like facial wrinkling, breast changes, arm numbness, and joint pains.
Can you get bed sores from side sleeping?
It’s very uncommon since body weight is distributed more evenly in side position. Bony protrusions like hips and shoulders tend to get sore rather than bed sores.
What’s better for your back – side or back sleeping?
They both have pros and cons. Back sleeping better aligns the entire body in one plane but can worsen snoring and acid reflux. Side sleeping takes pressure off the lower back but strains shoulders.
While side sleeping has many benefits, exclusively using this position does come with some potential disadvantages like shoulder and hip pain, compression-related health issues, and facial wrinkling. Optimizing your pillows and mattress for side sleeping can help minimize these risks.
For ongoing discomfort or symptoms, consider training yourself to sleep in alternative positions like your back or stomach portion of the night. Aim to be comfortable sleeping in multiple positions to rotate and offset any negatives. This will lead to your healthiest, most restful sleep.
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