I begin my night on my back and wake up on my left side, knees tucked up toward my chest in the morning. Only when I have a restless night do I ever wake up facing the right. My girlfriend also begins her night on her back and where she ends up is anybody’s guess; she wriggles like a caught fish, thrashing about and taking the covers hostage. Sometimes she’s on her back, sometimes she’s on one side.
Recently, she’s been having worry dreams. And when she reports nightmares, she often wakes up on her left side. Is there, I wondered, a correlation between bad dreams and sleeping position?
In a 2004 study published in Sleep and Hypnosis titled “Sleeping Position, Dream Emotions and Subjective Sleep Quality,” researchers studied the correlation between sleep quality and dream frequency in 63 subjects (45 male, 18 female). They asked subjects to write down their sleep habits, which revealed that 41 slept on their right side and 22 on their left. They also asked the subjects about their ability to remember dreams, their dreams’ vividness, frequency of nightmares and waking emotional state. Subjects were also asked to fill out the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, a widely used sleep questionnaire.
As it turned out, nightmares were far more frequent for those who slept on their left side, with 40.9 percent reporting disturbing dreams, compared to just 14.6 percent of right-side sleepers. Those who slept on their right were more likely to report dreams with feelings of relief and/or safety. Right-side sleepers also had better quality of sleep than lefties.
Overall, researchers of this albeit small, self-reported study, suggested that sleeping position does, indeed, affect our dreams.
In another study, Dr. Calvin Kai-Ching Yu of Hong Shu Yan University looked at the sleeping habits and dream positions of more than 670 adults. Those who slept face down, he concluded, have the most vivid and positive dreams. These subjects reported UFO sightings, love affairs, “being locked up,” “being unable to breathe” and “having a sexual relationship with a [big shot] or celebrity.”
Yu concluded that personality wasn’t a factor; rather, sleeping position was the primary causation. This also falls in line with previous studies linking sexually themed dreams to the prone position.
Interestingly, many lucid dreaming practitioners say they’re better able to induce an out of body experience by sleeping at an incline. We’re more likely to awaken easily, the thinking goes, when we’re standing up, leaving us in-between sleeping and wakefulness. None of that, however, is backed by any credible research, as it’s mostly reported by boots-on-the-ground lucid dreamers.
While the studies, albeit small, certainly suggests sleeping position affects our dreams, is it enough to switch from your preferred tuck? It can’t hurt to roll your loved one over when you sense a nightmare coming on. Assuming you can avoid the flailing arms, that is.
*This article has been updated to reflect that, in the 2004 study, right-side sleepers had better quality of sleep not worse.