Brain and Body

Sleeping on Your Left Side Could Increase Your Chance of Having Nightmares

December 24, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

Girl having nightmare
Photo credit: Alyssa L. Miller/flickr (CC by SA 2.0)

You might be surprised by how much your sleeping position affects what you dream about.

There are a number of things that can influence our dreams — sleeping in a new environment can induce some wilder visions, and you may have heard that eating cheese or Chinese food before bed can also bring on more lucid dreams. But has it ever crossed your mind that whether you sleep on your right side, left side, or face down might have an impact on your dreams? Researchers think our sleeping positions may actually have a significant effect on our sleeping minds.

There have been multiple studies that explore the effects of sleeping position on dreams, and the first one was published in Sleep and Hypnosis back in 2004. 63 volunteers were asked to sleep either on their left side or their right side, and then fill out a survey on sleep quality after waking up. The questions asked about dreams, nightmares, vividness, and how the participants felt in the morning.

Interestingly, those who slept on their left side were far more likely to have nightmares than those who slept on the right. 40.9 percent of the left side group reported disturbing dreams, while only 14.6 percent of the right side group reported nightmares. Further, those who slept on their right side were more likely to remember dreams that involved feelings of relief or safety, but they also reported lower sleep quality than the left-siders.

"Our preliminary observations indicate that dreaming and sleep quality are associated with underlying brain functions and may be affected by body posture," the researchers wrote. "Future research also needs to show how individuals who are skillful in controlling their dreams by hypnotic manipulations or lucid dreaming change their dream process by intentionally changing their posture.”

SEE ALSO: Always Forget Your Dreams? This Might Help 

While the study sample was relatively small, the findings do suggest that the way we sleep could affect our dreams. Another more recent 2012 study conducted at Hong Shue Yan University in Hong Kong analyzed the habits and sleeping positions of a much larger study sample — 670 adults. The researchers found that the participants who slept face down reported the most lucid dreams, involving UFO sightings, love affairs, being unable to breathe, and having a sexual relationship with a celebrity.

Perhaps individual factors like personality play a role in determining what we dream about and how vivid the dreams are, but researcher Calvin Kai-Ching Yu says, “This effect can’t be fully explained by personality factors, which are merely weakly associated with sleep position.”

It’s important to note that these studies have pointed to a link between sleeping position and either vivid dreams or nightmares, but no research has shown conclusive proof that sleeping position can cause dreams to turn out a certain way. Nonetheless, the link is intriguing, and sleeping position could very well have something to do with the way we dream.
So if you’ve been having overwhelming nightmares recently, try sleeping on your right side and see if anything changes. Or perhaps you’re just intrigued by lucid dreams and want to experience more vivid dream imagery — try sleeping face down. Considering we spend about a third of our lives sleeping, we might as well get a little adventurous in exploring our dreams.

You might also like: Do Animals Have Dreams? 

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