Science Says Your Sleep Position Can Have A Huge Effect On What Dreams You Have

by Caroline Burke

The way you position your body while you're sleeping may have far-reaching implications beyond a crick in the neck when you wake up. Your sleep position can reveal your stress levels, your comfort with your sexual or romantic partner, and even your personality type. The way that you sleep is so neurologically affected that some people have wondered whether sleep positions can affect your dreams. And it turns out, they just might play a bigger role than you ever expected.

Most people tend to sleep the same way every single night. If you're a belly sleeper, it's not likely that you're going to flip onto your side the next night, just for fun. Sleeping is a habit, just like many other muscular habits in your life. So, depending on which position you sleep in most often, there's a chance that it's been affecting your dreams for quite some time now; you just never knew about it.

Believe it or not, there's actually some science to back all of this up. A 2004 study published by the journal Sleep and Hypnosis, for example, revealed that people who sleep on their left side are far more likely to have nightmares than those who sleep on their right side. What's more, the people in the study who slept on their right side were more likely to have dreams related to relief or safety.

But there's an interesting catch here: According to the study's findings, the people who slept on their left side, the ones who had nightmares rather than comforting dreams, actually slept better, and were more well-rested than the people who slept on their right sides.

Clearly, the connection between your sleeping position and the types of dreams you'll have is pretty complex.

For anyone who sleeps on their stomach, you seem to have a much better deal than those of us who snooze on our left or right sides. People who sleep on their stomachs report more erotic dreams than those who sleep in any other position, according to a 2012 study published in the journal Dreaming. In the study, which was conducted by researchers at Hong Kong Shue Yan University, students who slept in the "prone position" — aka on their stomachs — reported the highest level of vivid, intense, and sexual dreams of anyone assessed in the research.

Now, before you start training yourself to sleep on your stomach in the name of having a more ~arousing~ snooze, you might want to keep this in mind: Sleeping on your stomach is one of the least healthy sleeping positions out there for your body. It can put undue pressure on your spine and neck, leading to less-than-satisfactory rest, and even potential soreness. (Then again, if you're waking up from sexy dreams every morning, you might not mind the neck pain, but I digress.) What's really interesting, though, is that this pressure on your body is potentially the cause of those more erotic dreams, according to the head researcher of the Dreaming study, Calvin Kai-Ching Yu, Ph.D. He told Everyday Health,

Different sleep positions may create pressure to different parts of the body, and body feelings may be the sources of dream elements.

Unfortunately, much like left side sleepers, sleeping on your back may lead to a lot of nightmares, too.

Back sleepers, like right side sleepers, tend to have bad dreams, but for a totally different reason. Everyday Health reports that sleeping on your back can lead to irregular breathing, or even disorders like sleep apnea, in which your breathing stops altogether, causing you to wake up abruptly throughout the night. These breathing irregularities can often be tied to more intense dreaming, so if your partner's snoring next to you all through the night, there's a good chance they're having a gnarly dream.

Of course, it's not that easy to change your sleep position simply because you want to have (or avoid) a certain type of dream. Above all, you should always sleep in the position that leads to the highest quality of rest, and that feels best for your individual body. If you have any trouble figuring out what's ideal for you, there's no harm in talking to your doctor about it, or even a sleep therapist who specializes in these topics.

But if you want to sleep on your stomach every once in a while "just because," I certainly won't judge you. Wink, wink.