I want to sleep on my side like a boss
December 3, 2018 8:51 AM   Subscribe

I have been advised by my doctor not to sleep on my back, due to mild positional sleep apnea. My shoulders aren't fans, and hurt in the morning. What support pillows / positioning aids / mattress toppers / et cetera can you recommend to make my bed a comfy supportive haven?

I share a king sized mattress that's showing wear but could maybe be revived by a 180 degree rotation and a mattress topper. I like soft feather pillows. I have tried a shaped memory foam pillow but it felt like sleeping on a brick and I hated it. I don't have any leg/other body support pillows but would be willing to consider them.

Side sleepers, what are your favorite tricks for being comfortable on your side, actually staying on your side, and waking up happy in the morning?
posted by telepanda to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I had snoring issues that were the subject of significant anger while sleeping on a cot in a quonset hut in the desert with about 30 other people. It only happened when I lay on my back, but I roll over if I try to sleep on my front or side. I eventually cobbled this together as a way to keep from rolling off the cot. Note: I lay on my left side. Reverse all of these directions if you prefer to sleep on the right side.
  1. Right hand waaay up under the pillow, so far that my head is on or even past my wrist.
  2. Left leg straight.
  3. Right leg bent at 90 degrees, knee bent back nearly all the way.
  4. Left arm diagonal downward, but not quite on the right knee.
I no longer have problems with rolling back over.
posted by Etrigan at 9:09 AM on December 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

When I had problems sleeping on my stomach, I started sleeping with three pillows: one under my head as usual, one very soft one along my front to lean on slightly (so I wasn't fully on my tummy), and one crammed tightly against my back, to keep me from rolling over on my back. I've since trained myself to sleep on my side, but I'm still most comfortable with the three pillow configuration. Body pillows would work too, but I don't like a pillow near my legs since I move them so much at night.
posted by backwards compatible at 9:10 AM on December 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Get a mattress topper. I got bursitis in my hip and shoulders sleeping on a too hard a mattress. Actually if you can afford it a memory foam mattress helped me no end with aches & pains from sleeping on my side, but a good quality topper would also help.

You might find a body pillow helpful too as you can throw your top leg over it and it will help stabilize you so your shoulders aren't doing all the work. You could experiment with some normal sized pillows one in your arms one in between your legs.

The thing that helped me the most was getting a shaped pillow to sleep on, one that had a dip for my shoulder to go into. Like this one though not that brand as I bought mine a while ago I can't find a link to the exact one.
posted by wwax at 9:25 AM on December 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm a habitual side sleeper but it didn't become truly comfortable until I found a dense memory foam pillow that fills the entire gap between my neck/shoulder and the bed. My head feels well-supported and it stops me from hunching my shoulders up too much in my sleep.
posted by terretu at 9:28 AM on December 3, 2018

This is not from experience since I have hemmed and hawed and not ordered one but I see ads for pillows under the brand name Medicline with a hole for your arm to go through if you're a side sleeper and they look comfortable. They're just bizarrely expensive.
posted by Smearcase at 9:30 AM on December 3, 2018

I've been a side-sleeper all my life, but until I learned to keep my neck and spine straight I had constant problems with snoring and sleep apnea (as well as sore shoulders coming into it as I got older). You say you don't like memory foam pillows (which I do, not shaped but filled with shredded memory foam), but it may help to put some sort of pillow under your feather pillow to keep your head from digging into your shoulder and your shoulder from being compressed into the mattress.

A mattress topper might help too, but I suspect allowing your spine and neck to align will be the most help.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:31 AM on December 3, 2018

I've always been a side sleeper, and a memory foam pillow and mattress topper really helped me. The softer the bed, the better, so my hips and shoulders can sink down into the bed so my spine can be straighter. Maybe try a different memory foam pillow, mine is not brick-like.

I also like sleeping with one leg thrown over a pillow.
posted by stillnocturnal at 9:39 AM on December 3, 2018

A pillow with a hole in it.
posted by at at 10:28 AM on December 3, 2018

I've found that a taller pillow helps, as stated above. For me what works is a wool pillow (not as hard as memory foam, but firmer than down).
posted by kbuxton at 10:31 AM on December 3, 2018

They are hard to find but there are two-in-one pillows that are memory foam on one side and fiber fill on the other. That might give you the height and support you need but not feel like you're sleeping on a brick of foam. Another option is to hack that concept yourself with a thin memory foam pillow and a regular fiber fill (or down, since that's what you like) on top of that.

Also, pillows (especially feather or fiber fill) need to be replaced a lot more frequently than people realize. It's possible a non-foam pillow would work for you but you just need a new one.
posted by misskaz at 11:18 AM on December 3, 2018

This pillow is the answer. As a lifelong back sleeper, I’ve had to start sleeping on my side because of back problems. I was using a convoluted setup of multiple feather pillows, and it is really surprising how much more comfortable I am with this thing. I think maybe having the support all along your back helps you relax into a more comfortable position.

I prefer feather pillows, so I was skeptical I’d like this, but it’s a good consistency. I tend to use it with one thin feather pillow, and have one arm tucked under it. My shoulders don’t get sore like they did with regular pillows, and it’s just thick enough between my knees to keep my hips aligned. I don’t know, this thing is kind of magic.

My dog doesn’t like it because she can’t tuck herself behind my knees now, but she likes to sleep in the middle of it when I’m not there. Also, I’ve been using it for several months now and it has yet to compress into a pancake the way most non-feather pillows usually do.
posted by catatethebird at 11:42 AM on December 3, 2018 [4 favorites]

This is the same idea as the Medicline one, but much less expensive. I've been using it for 3 months now, and really like it.
posted by OrangeDisk at 12:50 PM on December 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

I am a die-hard side sleeper and I have two key accessories: a memory foam pillow that is for side sleepers (as mentioned a few times above), and a body pillow. I started using a body pillow when I was pregnant and then just... kept on keeping on. I put the pillow in between my knees, and also kind of hug it. It's one of my very few "cold dead hands" possessions.

My body pillow isn't any particular special one, it's just a $10 big pillow from Target.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:41 PM on December 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

I am a stomach sleeper, and I have two pillows -- one regular fullsized one, except as thin as possible (marshmallow pillows crane my neck up in a bad way, hotel pillows are the worst); and one small one, about 9" round, that goes under whichever shoulder my face is towards. My face goes in the space between the two pillows, mostly.

This works well especially because when travelling I can use the corner of a second pillow, or a rolled up sweatshirt, to play the role of my usual small pillow.
posted by nat at 1:42 PM on December 3, 2018

For me, the big thing is having a pillow under the knee of my topmost leg. When I'm sharing the bed, I need to have one on each side, so I can roll over without being too disruptive. I have a thin pillow and a stiffer medium pillow - generally the thinner one is best but it's good to have some variance.
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:42 PM on December 3, 2018

This Zinus 2-inch mattress topper over a firm mattress is a great combination of support and "molding" to your body for back sleeping. All the same, transitioning from side sleeping to back sleeping is a challenge if you like to curl into yourself when falling asleep. (I was forced into back sleeping by a broken shoulder. Back sleeping is the only way I sleep now--love it actually--but it does take me longer to fall asleep on my back.) I wake up in the morning with my hands crossed like a knight or Egyptian mummy on a sarcophagus!
posted by Elsie at 3:19 PM on December 3, 2018

Try something simple to start with, so you're not immediately diving into buying an expensive pillow. Roll on your side and take any extra pillow you have and stick it between your thighs/knees. You need only make sure it's long enough to stick out and provide pressure if you try to roll over.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:52 PM on December 3, 2018

Oops. Misread your question and thought you needed to go from being a side sleeper to back sleeper. Now I see it's the reverse. The Zinus is still good for its body molding properties, but ignore everything else I said about back sleeping.
posted by Elsie at 6:26 PM on December 3, 2018

This may not help but... the couch?
I can sleep with one pillow on the softly padded armrest. The back support cradles me and keeps me from rolling onto my back, yet allows me to lean against it instead of curling forward into a ball on my side (which makes breathing uncomfortable). I snore like a boss regardless, but I feel better the next morning.

On the bed it's at least two pillows under my head for enough lift, and preferably one pillow to cuddle (to keep from over-curling) and one between the knees (or my hips become sore). Fewer pillows mean a lot of tossing and turning.
posted by TrishaU at 10:45 PM on December 3, 2018

Firm pillow and 3-4 inch thick super-soft mattress topper. If you're buying locally, look for something with a 25% ILD of 12 lbs or less.

Make sure you put a soft, stretchy sheet on top (e.g. jersey knit).
posted by clawsoon at 4:17 AM on December 4, 2018

My sister mentioned something interesting: During her pregnancies, she slept on her back. Afterwards, she went back to sleeping on her side, and couldn't figure out why her shoulder and neck were so sore all the time. After a while, she realized that during the pregnancy she had forgotten that side-sleeping required her to roll her shoulder forward in order to be comfortable.
posted by clawsoon at 5:14 AM on December 4, 2018

Shredded memory foam pillows are very supportive and comfortable.

Also, side sleeping requires a much thicker pillow than back sleeping. Your old pillows might need to be doublestacked to stay supportive all night, or you might need a thicker one.

It can also help to hug a pillow, to keep your arms and shoulders in better alignment while you're asleep, or to put a pillow behind the small of your back, so you don't roll backwards and slump.
posted by Ahniya at 9:10 AM on December 4, 2018

I find two pillows under my head lifts me up enough that my weight isn't on my shoulder when I am lying on my side and the stiffness and soreness of my shoulder isn't as bad when I wake up. I currently have achy and stiff shoulders post medical treatment, and this is enough to keep things reasonably comfortable.
posted by Jane the Brown at 11:04 AM on December 4, 2018

The My Pillow is great for side sleeping. You can squish it up so it's perfectly supportive and then it will stay like that. You can try it out at Bed Bath and Beyond.
posted by radioamy at 12:53 PM on December 4, 2018

..forgot to also mention that doing arm excercises with some regularity makes my shoulders less likely to fall asleep.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:19 PM on December 4, 2018

We just did a bunch of research before buying a new mattress and pillows, and we are both side sleepers. A mattress topper might help, but we didn't have much luck with them when our old spring mattress was starting to sag. After failing with a few toppers, we mistakenly thought our back pain was due to the softer mattress, and tried firmer memory foam ones, which just kept us miserable. We went back to a pillow top mattress and it's like magic.

Ideally you want your spine to be as straight as possible, which means your shoulders and/or hips depending on your build need to be able to sink in enough to make that happen. Otherwise your shoulder and/or hips are sitting on top of the mattress, and your spine is sagging in the middle. This would also create pain in your shoulder where there's too much pressure.

We also don't like the density of the memory foam pillows, but if you're on your side it's important that the pillow be tall enough to keep your neck straight. After years of fiber pillows flattening quickly, we switched to latex pillows. They're not as dense as memory foam, and they feel strangely springy. But that makes it so that we don't feel like we're lying on bricks, but get the support we need.
posted by thejanna at 6:02 AM on December 5, 2018

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