If you sleep in this position you're more prone to nightmares, says dreams expert

A woman with brown hair lies in bed with her hands over her face after having a nightmare
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Your sleep position has a huge impact on the quality and duration of your sleep, but did you know that some sleep positions can make you more prone to having nightmares? 

A study on the link between sleep position and dreams found that side sleepers who prefer to lie on their left side are more prone to having nightmares than right-side sleepers. But why? And are back and stomach sleepers exempt? 

We recently asked dream decoder and best-selling author Theresa Cheung to share her thoughts on the relationship between sleep positions and dreams, and why snoring may not be the only side effect of sleeping on your back. 

Can sleeping on your left side cause nightmares? 

“Potentially,” says Cheung. ”You can dream in any sleeping position but there is a limited amount of self-funded research to suggest that sleeping on your right side results in more cathartic and healing dreams in contrast to left side sleeping. 

"Sleeping on your left side, however, can be associated with nightmares because left-side sleeping puts more stress on the heart," continues Cheung. "Whenever there is stress, sleep quality is poor and nightmares are sure to follow.” 

Can sleeping on your back cause nightmares?

The dream decoder also points out that, while dream quality differs in left-side and right-side sleepers, back sleepers also suffer from more nightmares than front sleepers. “There is more research to suggest that sleeping on your back triggers nightmares,” Cheung tells us. “While front sleepers are reported to have more empowering dreams.” 

A woman with dark curly hair sleeps on her back in a white bed

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Can sleep apnea cause nightmares too? 

Cheung believes that nightmares when sleeping on the back could be down to how the sleep position affects our breathing. Studies have shown that breathing issues such as sleep apnea are exacerbated when sleeping on the back, which Cheung explains can lead to bad dreams. 

“People who experience nocturnal breathing issues are more likely to jump from deep to light sleep and experience anxiety-themed dreams. To date there isn't enough research to suggest that sleep position can impact dreams, but there is solid research to suggest that breathing issues cause poor quality sleep. Whenever there is poor quality sleep, the chances of nightmares increase.” 

Is it possible to sleep without having nightmares? 

“If you do suffer from nightmares, changing your sleeping position could influence your dreams, so you may want to experiment,” suggests Cheung. “The best approach is to sleep in a position which is optimal for healthy breathing and that is probably on your right side, which is potentially better for dreaming, but right-side sleeping is not the best if you suffer from heartburn.”

However, nightmares aren’t all down to sleep positions — your sleep environment and bedtime routine are important, too.  “The crucial factor always when it comes to sleeping is your comfort,” she says. “Indeed, the best way to influence the content of bad dreams is to always start with your sleep hygiene.”

To make sure your sleep habits are healthy, check out our guide to establishing good sleep hygiene, and invest in the best mattress for your body and budget to ensure you're getting the comfort add support you need for deep sleep each night.

Frances Daniels
Sleep Staff Writer

Frances Daniels recently joined the Tom's Guide team as Sleep Staff Writer, and her role includes covering all sleep and mattress news, in addition to mattress reviews and buyer's guides. Frances is a PPA-accredited journalist and is hugely interested in the relationship between good sleep and overall health. When not writing about sleep and mattresses for Tom's Guide, Frances enjoys writing about women's issues, health and wellbeing, the environment, and her native Wales.