Do you sleep primarily on your side?
Do you or your partner suffer from hip pain, sore shoulders and other common side sleeping problems?
You’ve come to the right place.
What’s In This Guide?
I am a side sleeper who used to suffer from stiff and sore neck in the morning.
Hip and shoulder pain are also common among side sleepers.
In this side-sleeper solutions guide, I identify the most common problems that side sleepers face and discuss the best & most proven solutions.
I then review the best products we’ve found to help you sleep on your side more comfortably. Along the way, I’ll address common questions most side sleepers have.
I hope this guide helps you find a more comfortable night’s sleep – and wake up more refreshed.
Common Issues for Side Sleepers (and Proven Solutions)
While side sleeping is one of the best sleeping positions for a properly-aligned spine, it can cause various problems particularly if you don't have a comfortable mattress or pillow suitable for your size and body weight.
In this section we’ll discuss the most common problems side sleepers are likely to encounter and discuss a few popular and proven solutions. These include top-rated products, exercises, and other recommendations.
Waking Up With A Sore/Painful Neck and Shoulder
I’ve gone through a LOT of pillows trying to find one that’s comfortable for my neck and shoulders.
Neck and shoulder pain is one of the most common complaints among side sleepers.
It occurs when the neck is not aligned with the spine. Sleeping on a pillow that’s too high or too low, and your neck flexes upwards or bends lower than the spine.
This puts a strain on your neck, resulting in neck pain or soreness that usually spreads to your shoulders and upper back.
The best solution for this is switching to the right kind of pillow. Side sleepers generally need a thicker loft pillow (4” or more) to maintain proper alignment.
The right pillow loft depends on how broad your shoulders are. That’s why we recommend the Coop Home Goods Original Loft Pillow because you can adjust how high it is until it feels right.
Another option is a cervical pillow. This is a special pillow designed to support the neck and reduce neck pain. One of the best rated ones is the ZAMAT Contour memory foam pillow.
Your Back Hurts
While I've found side sleeping to be better for my back than other positions, I still occasionally experience mild back pain especially when I sleep on very soft hotel mattresses.
For many side sleepers, a too-soft mattress is usually the cause of their back pain.
Side sleepers generally need a soft mattress with more give. But if it's too soft, your hips will sink in too much, putting pressure on your back and resulting in lower back pain.
Here you have two options. One, replace the mattress with one that cushions pressure points while providing enough support.
Our favorite mattress for side sleepers is the Helix Midnight Luxe.
The Nectar mattress is also a great choice if you prefer sleeping on memory foam.
Two, get a mattress topper that firms up your mattress to improve support. We recommend the PlushBeds natural latex mattress topper. Depending on your body weight and how soft your mattress is, get the medium or medium firm.
You Are Probably Not Sleeping In The Right Posture
Many side sleepers, including me, sleep with the top leg lowered onto the mattress. Basically, I’m sleeping half on my stomach and half on my side.
This twists the hips and back, putting strain on the spine and possibly causing back pain.
You should have your legs on top of each other when sleeping on your side. To improve your posture, use a knee pillow like the Contour Legacy Leg & Knee Foam Support Pillow.
It’ll keep you from twisting your hips and back when you sleep on your side. It also maintains neutral spinal alignment.
A regular pillow between your knees also works.
Alternatively, use a body pillow like the Snuggle-Pedic full body pillow that extends the length of your body. Hug it with your arms and knees to reduce pressure on your back.
Your Mattress Can Hurt Your Hips
If you wake up with sore or aching hips, it’s probably because your mattress is too hard. Instead of cushioning your hips, it puts pressure on them, resulting in pain or soreness.
A sore hip is typically accompanied by a sore shoulder, another pressure point.
A softer mattress topper is usually enough to solve this problem. We recommend the LUCID 3-inch ventilated gel memory foam topper.
But if your mattress is worn out or sags in the middle, the best option is replacing it. Get the Nectar mattress if you prefer a memory foam mattress or the Helix Midnight Luxe if you want a luxury hybrid mattress.
Pins and Needles In Your Arms
I’ve woken up often in the middle of the night with my arm feeling numb and tingly. It’s not painful but it’s uncomfortable and a bit unsettling when I wake up from a bad dream.
If you sleep with your arm under your head or body, the pressure on it can interfere with blood circulation, leading to numbness.
You might also wake up with your arm feeling stiff and sore.
While your arm going numb likely doesn't cause any long term problems, it can be uncomfortable and can interfere with sleep quality.
Try repositioning your arms such that you are not sleeping on any of them. If you use your arm under your head because your pillow is too thin, get a more comfortable pillow.
Another solution is to use a U-shaped pillow that supports your head and arms. We recommend the DMI Side Sleeper Pillow.
One Side Of The Face Might Look, Uh, Different
Not many people think about this one, but sleeping on your side can damage skin on the side of your face. This will be most noticeable on the side you sleep on most of the time.
The constant friction with the pillow case leads to wrinkles and creases on one side of the face. Most pillowcases also absorb oils and any moisturizer you’ve applied on your face, leaving your skin dry and vulnerable to damage.
The best solution is sleeping on your back so that your face doesn't touch the pillow.
If you are a committed lifelong side sleeper like me, switch to a silk or satin pillowcase like the Ravmix 100% Mulberry Silk Pillowcase. It's smoother on the skin and doesn't absorb oils.
Discomfort During Pregnancy
Sleeping on your side is the best position for pregnant women. But, as I know well from my wife’s experience, you can still experience discomfort when sleeping on your side.
Pregnancy puts increasing strain on your back, hips and other areas of the body.
The best way to sleep more comfortably on your side when pregnant is using a maternity or pregnancy pillow like the INSEN 62in pregnancy pillow.
You can also try placing a pillow between your knees to take pressure off your back. You can use a regular pillow or a special knee pillow like the Contour Legacy Leg & Knee Foam Support Pillow.
Other Sleeping Tips For Side Sleepers
- When you sleep, slightly lift your knees closer to your chest to relieve pressure on your back. But don't lift them too much (fetal sleeping position) as that could bend the spine and cause back pain.
- You may find yourself drooling more when you sleep on your side. That’s because of gravity. Consider getting a pillow protector to protect your pillow from moisture and stains.
- As long as you are sleeping well, it doesn't matter if you sleep on your left or right side. But if you get acid reflux or heartburn when you sleep on your side, try sleeping on your left side.
Top 10 Products For Side Sleepers
The Helix Midnight Luxe is a luxury hybrid mattress designed with side sleepers in mind. It provides enhanced pressure point relief and support to prevent shoulder, hip or back pain.
The mattress starts with a plush pillowtop that provides instant pressure relief when you lie on the bed. The pillowtop is covered with a cooling Tencel cover, and you can upgrade to an enhanced cooling cover when ordering the mattress.
Next is a layer of copper gel memory foam that provides extra pressure relief as you settle into the mattress. The copper and gel infused into the memory foam helps with cooling.
Below that is yet another layer of firmer memory foam for support followed by a polyfoam transition layer.
The core of the mattress contains pocketed coils that offer targeted zoned support for your hips and shoulders. This allows the mattress to cradle your body and keep your spine in neutral alignment.
A high-density layer under the coils provides overall support and stability.
The Helix Midnight Luxe has a medium feel that provides the perfect balance of support and pressure relief for most side sleepers.
And thanks to the multiple layers of foam and a coil core, it can support even heavier side sleepers without bottoming out.
The Helix Midnight Luxe is also a great mattress for side sleepers who get hot at night. The hybrid design keeps it cool and breathable. The Tencel cover as well as the copper and gel in the memory foam also work to keep you cool while asleep.
Helix Sleep ships the Midnight Luxe mattress for free within the US and offers a 100-night in-home trial. You also get a 15-year warranty if you decide to keep the mattress beyond the trial period.
Issues & Limitations
The main issue with the Helix Midnight Luxe is the price. It costs more than most hybrid mattresses. But it’s also more comfortable and has better construction than most hybrid mattresses; so we think it’s worth it.
If you want a cheaper option, there’s a base version of the Helix Midnight Luxe – the Helix Midnight mattress.
It’s a hybrid mattress and has a medium feel, but it’s not quite as luxurious as the Midnight Luxe. On the upside, it’s several hundred bucks cheaper.
Unlike the Helix Midnight Luxe mattress, the Nectar mattress is all-foam from top to bottom. It still manages to combine soft pressure-relieving comfort with adequate support thanks to the various foam layers.
At the top is a breathable Tencel cover that’s quilted with an aloe-based cooling gel. The main comfort layer is 3” of gel memory foam.
This layer cradles your pressure points while the gel infused into it absorbs body heat to keep you cool.
To keep you from sinking too deep into the mattress, there’s a 2” layer of poly foam and a thick 7” base of high-density foam.
The robust support from these two layers allows the Nectar mattress to easily support heavier sleepers and couples weighing over 230lbs.
The Nectar mattress has a medium-firm feel that’s perfect for most side sleepers. It’s soft enough to cushion pressure points, and firm enough to keep you from sinking too deep.
The Nectar mattress comes with a 1-year in-home trial period and a lifetime warranty.
Issues & Limitations
There are a couple of issues with the Nectar mattress.
The first is the heat. The breathable and cooling gels do a decent job keeping the mattress cool. Many people say they sleep fine on the Nectar mattress.
But if you are a hot sleeper, you are sensitive to even a bit of heat, or you have hot flashes, the Nectar mattress may feel uncomfortable.
We recommend going with the Helix hybrid mattress instead. Alternatively, get a cooling mattress pad or topper for the Nectar mattress.
The second issue is how it feels for lighter than average sleepers – those weighing under 130lbs. Being medium-firm, the Nectar mattress is mostly suitable for average weight and heavier sleepers.
Light side sleepers are not heavy enough to sink into the memory foam and enjoy pressure relief. You may experience soreness and pain on your pressure points.
Try the dual sided Layla Copper Infused Memory Foam Mattress instead. It comes with a medium soft side (the other side is firm).
The Lucid 3” memory foam topper is the best solution for a mattress that feels too firm on your shoulders and hips.
The memory foam in the Lucid topper is engineered to be extra-plush. The 3” thickness makes it even softer. You’ll sink into the topper, which cushions your pressure points.
We wouldn’t recommend the Lucid memory foam topper for back or stomach sleepers, but it’s perfectly soft for side sleepers.
One thing to note, though: the Lucid topper only feels comfortable if you use it on a firm mattress (medium-firm, firm or extra-firm).
If you put it on a softer mattress, it’ll degrade support and can lead to back pain. If you need to soften your mattress just a bit to get rid of some mild soreness on your hips or shoulders, get a thin mattress pad instead (a down alternative mattress pad is perfect for this).
Issues & Limitations
The Lucid memory foam topper is ventilated and contains gel to keep it cool. But it’s still memory foam and it will trap some body heat.
We don't recommend the Lucid memory foam topper for hot sleepers or those with hot flashes. Get the PlushBeds natural latex mattress topper instead. There’s a soft option that’s ideal for softening a firm mattress.
You can’t go wrong with the Coop Home Goods loft pillow. That’s because you can adjust its thickness to suit you.
If it’s too thick, unzip and remove some of the filling. If it’s too low for you, unzip it and add the extra filling that’s included in a bag.
The filling is a blend of shredded memory foam and microfiber. It’s softer and contours better to your head and neck compared to a solid foam or memory foam pillow.
The cover is a blend of polyester and rayon.
Another advantage of shredded memory foam pillows is that they are machine washable. Throw the entire pillow, not just the cover, into the machine and then dry it in the dryer.
Check the care label for specific cleaning instructions.
Issues & Limitations
One downside of shredded memory foam pillows is that they need to be re-fluffed often. The Coop Home Goods loft pillow gets flat and lumpy sometimes. Every night before you sleep, give it a quick fluff to restore its loft.
While the Coop Home Goods pillow sleeps cooler than a solid memory foam pillow, it can still feel a bit too warm for hot sleepers, women with hot flashes, and anyone with night sweats.
If you find the pillow hot, consider replacing the pillow case with a cooler one like bamboo, silk, or cotton.
The ZAMAT Contour memory foam pillow looks very different from a regular pillow. Instead of a smooth surface, it has contours.
These contours are there to cradle and support your neck in different sleeping positions. For back sleepers, there’s a depression at the center of the pillow where your neck goes.
For side sleepers, sleep on either side of the center of the mattress. Your neck rests on a raised part at the edge of the mattress while your head rests slightly lower on a trough.
These contours keep your neck perfectly aligned to your spine. They also improve neck support and cushioning.
The ZAMAT Contour memory foam pillow is great for neck pain relief, and can also help with a painful or sore shoulder.
By the way, you can adjust the loft of the ZAMAT pillow. If it’s too high, remove the memory foam insert at the bottom of the pillow. If it’s too low, contact ZAMAT for extra inserts.
The cover on the ZAMAT Contour memory foam pillow is made from polyester. You can remove and machine wash it. But don't wash the memory foam core.
Issues & Limitations
As with other memory foam pillows, the main concern with the ZAMAT Contour memory foam pillow is that it can get a bit too warm.
Hot sleepers and those with night sweats should consider getting a more breathable pillow case such as bamboo, Tencel, or silk.
The Contour Legacy knee pillow is much more effective and comfortable compared to putting a regular pillow between your knees.
It’s contoured to perfectly fit between your legs and it’s made with soft memory foam.
The design of the Contour knee pillow is also better than most knee pillows. Most notably, it’s longer such that it extends to your thighs.
The extra support on your thighs takes off even more pressure from your back and hips. The Contour pillow is great for reducing hip and back pain.
Tip: If you want to further extend support to your legs, get two of these pillows.
It can also help if you are recovering from an injury or surgery on your hips, knees, or back. By reducing pressure on these areas, it helps you sleep comfortably with less pain.
Many sleepers with arthritis also say they find that the Contour pillow reduces pain and discomfort at night.
The Contour knee pillow feels comfortable between your knees. It stays in place even when you bend or straighten your legs.
The cover on the Contour knee pillow is removable and washable.
Issues & Limitations
The same issue we’ve seen with other memory foam pillows is also present in the Contour Legacy knee pillow.
While the memory foam is ventilated for breathability, some sleepers may still find it too hot.
The Snuggle-Pedic full body pillow is huge. It’s about 54 inches long and 20 inches wide.
That’s because it’s meant to support just about every part of your body. You lay your head on it, you wrap your arms around it, it supports your belly (for pregnant women), and it goes between your knees and legs to reduce pressure on your hips and back.
The Snuggle-Pedic pillow is filled with shredded memory foam, so you can bend and flex it to support you exactly where you want.
The Snuggle-Pedic pillow can also help if you are training yourself to sleep on your side. Hold it in front of you to keep yourself from sleeping on your stomach or place it behind you to keep from rolling onto your back.
The Snuggle-Pedic body pillow is machine washable and you can dry it in the dryer.
Issues & Limitations
The size of the Snuggle-Pedic body pillow is mostly a good thing. It’s only an issue when you are trying to turn over to the other side.
It makes it a clumsy endeavor. You either climb over it or roll over while holding it.
Because of the shredded memory foam filling, you need to fluff up the Snuggle-Pedic pillow every night. Otherwise, it’ll clump up in some areas.
Another complaint from users is the chemical smell when the pillow is new. It’s not harmful (the pillow is GreenGold certified) but it’s unpleasant.
Washing the pillow or letting it air for a few days gets rid of the smell.
Instead of using multiple pillows to support different areas of your body, the INSEN pregnancy pillow supports your entire body.
The C-shaped pillow surrounds your body from the back to the front. So you can lay your head on it, wrap your arms on it, place your belly against it, and put it between your knees and thighs.
It’ll reduce strain and pressure on your back, hips, neck and arms.
It’s filled with cotton fiber, a healthier and more environmentally friendly alternative to shredded memory foam.
The breathable cover is made with Jersey cotton. You can get the cover in different colors.
As for cleaning, the cover is removable and machine washable.
Issues & Limitations
Many users feel that the INSEN pregnancy pillow could use more filling. It doesn't feel quite as plump and full as it looks in the pictures.
The other issue is that it can get hot, which is to be expected for a big pillow like this. This can be especially uncomfortable in summer.
The DMI side sleeper pillow is not a full body pillow. It supports just your upper back. The U shape allows it to support your arms and back at the same time.
The DMI pillow contains soft polyester filling that relieves pain and pressure from your neck and shoulder.
Wrap your arms around the front part of the pillow to keep them from tingling or going numb.
The DMI side sleeper pillow comes with an ear pocket, something many people have never thought of as necessary. It keeps you from squishing your ear when sleeping on your side.
The pocket can be especially helpful if you have a sensitive or painful ear.
The DMI pillow has a cotton blend cover that stays fairly cool. It’s removable and machine washable.
Issues & Limitations
Many side sleepers say the DMI side sleeper pillow doesn't have enough filling. It doesn't provide enough loft for your head and neck, especially if you are broad shouldered.
Fortunately, you can solve this easily by placing a thin pillow on top or under the DMI pillow.
It may not seem like a big deal, but years of constantly rubbing one side of your face on your pillow has a noticeable effect.
It causes wrinkles and creases to appear prematurely. We’ve also heard anecdotal accounts of people noticing that one of their eyebrows appears more faded than the other.
The Ravmix silk pillowcase is smooth and soft. It applies minimal friction on your skin, protecting it from damage.
It also doesn't pull on your hair.
Another advantage of a silk pillowcase is that it’s non-absorbent, so moisturizer and natural oils stay on your skin. No more waking up with dry skin.
The Ravmix silk pillowcase is available in a standard, queen and king size. You can also get it in more than a dozen colors.
Issues & Limitations
Products For People Who Sleep On Their Side: FAQs
Is it unhealthy to sleep on your side?
Sleeping on your side is one of the healthiest sleeping positions. As long as you are sleeping on the right mattress and pillow, it doesn't put a strain or misalign your spine.
It can also help if you have snoring, acid reflux or sleep apnea.
The main risk of sleeping on your side is that it can cause or worsen neck, shoulder, back or hip pain if you don't have the right bedding.
How do you avoid neck pain when sleeping on your side?
The most common cause of neck pain for side sleepers is a pillow that’s too high or too low. Get a pillow that holds your head and neck in alignment with your spine.
For most side sleepers, a 4” or thicker pillow is ideal depending on how broad your shoulders are.
We recommend getting an adjustable loft pillow so that you can dial in the perfect pillow height.
How to prevent back pain when sleeping on my side?
Back pain in side sleepers usually occurs when you place one leg lower than the other. This twists the hip, putting a strain on the spine.
Try sleeping with your legs on top of each other. You can bend your knees or straighten them.
Even better, put a pillow (we recommend a knee pillow) between your knees to take pressure off your back.
Also, check that your mattress is not overly soft as that can bend your spine and cause back pain.
What kind of pillow is best for side sleepers with neck pain?
A cervical pillow is the best option for sleepers with neck pain. It provides enhanced neck support and cushions your neck from pressure.
What mattress firmness is best for side sleepers?
Because side sleepers need extra pressure point relief, a soft to medium-firm mattress is ideal. It allows you to sink into the mattress deep enough to cushion your pressure points (your shoulders and hips).
Get a soft or medium-soft mattress if you weigh under 130lbs, a medium mattress if you are between 130-230lbs, and a medium-firm mattress if you weigh over 230lbs.
Do side sleepers need a firm or soft pillow?
A soft to medium pillow is suitable for side sleepers. This allows the pillow to conform to your head and neck and provide better support and alignment.
A firm pillow would apply pressure on your neck and shoulder, and you’ll likely wake up feeling sore or in pain.
That’s why a memory foam – solid or shredded – is the best option for a side sleeping pillow. It contours to your neck and relieves pressure.
Is it healthy to sleep on your side when you are pregnant?
Sleeping on your side is the doctor-recommended sleeping position for expecting mums. It puts the least strain on your body and lets you sleep with relative comfort.
To sleep more comfortably, get a pregnancy body pillow to support your back, hips, legs and belly.
How can I sleep on my side without turning over?
Place a long body pillow against your back to keep yourself from rolling over onto your back. If you want to avoid rolling onto your stomach, hold a body pillow in front of you.
Over time, your body will get used to the new sleeping position and you probably won’t need the body pillow anymore.
Note: The reason you could be rolling over in your sleep is because your mattress or pillow is uncomfortable and your body is trying to find a more comfortable position. Check that you have the right mattress and pillow.
Why do I wake up with sore shoulders when I sleep on my side?
Your mattress is probably too firm. If one or both hips also feel sore in the morning, it’s definitely the mattress.
It’s not providing adequate cushioning, so it puts a lot of pressure on your hips and shoulders.
The solution is to get a softer mattress or mattress topper. You can also try and change your sleeping position. A firm mattress is more suitable for back sleeping.
How do I keep my arm from going numb when I sleep on my side?
Putting your arm under your body or head can cause numbness and tingling. It can also lead to a stiff and sore shoulder.
When you sleep, make sure your arms are not under your body. Hugging a body pillow can help keep your arms clear.
As a degreed engineer, I love new technology as much as you do (perhaps more). I also understand how to sort the best products from the rest. My team and I spend dozens of hours each week reviewing the best & latest products for your bedroom. Many are tested in-house, and others we break down based on our technical understanding. Whether you need a bed-cooling system, an adjustable bed, or a new CPAP machine – we've got you covered.