During the day, standing and walking around for extended periods of time can put a lot of pressure on your legs. The fluids in your body can run down to your feet and effectively ‘pool’, sometimes causing a lot of pain and discomfort. This is a common type of inflammation, technically called edema. Swelling of legs and feet during the day is more common in older people, people who are overweight, and women who are pregnant.
Other conditions like deep-vein thrombosis (DVT), pins and needles, muscle cramp, and muscle ache from sport are common problems people have which prevents them from getting good quality sleep.
A simple method to ease this kind of pain and discomfort can be elevating your legs at night. This can be easy to do if you naturally sleep on your back, but what if you’re a side sleeper? Or what if, for medical or comfort reasons, you have to sleep on your side rather than your back?
We’ll have a closer look at the pros and cons of sleeping with your legs elevated while lying on your side, and some techniques to improve your sleep in this position. Read on for a better night’s sleep!
Pros Of Elevating Your Legs While Sleeping On Your Side
While sleeping with your legs elevated can be beneficial for a range of conditions, there are both pros and cons to this decision that it is important to be aware of. If you have more serious health concerns, make sure you discuss whether elevating your legs during sleep is appropriate for you.
1. Better Blood Circulation
Elevating your legs will help blood and fluids that have built up in your legs and feet back towards your vital organs. The movement of deoxygenated blood from your lower body and back to your heart reoxygenates your blood more quickly. It also means the blood flow back through the rest of your body is improved while you sleep, reducing the strain on your heart muscles. This aids your body in its quest to renew cells, repair muscles, regulate your immune and hormonal systems and so much more while you sleep.
This is especially useful when recovering from an injury or with conditions like chronic venous insufficiency. Better circulation means more efficient travel of white blood cells and fluids to the area of injury, increasing the ability of the body to heal.
2. Reduce Inflammation
A range of health conditions or injuries can increase the chances of edema. In the same way as improving your blood flow by raising the level of your legs above your heart level, inflammation will be reduced by allowing the fluid to drain away more easily.
3. Reduce Varicose Veins
Faulty valves within a person’s vein can cause varicose veins. This is particularly a problem for older people, but a much more common problem than people think. Although elevating your legs during sleep will not get rid of varicose veins, it will relieve the pressure on the veins by reducing stress on your legs, thereby decreasing swelling.
4. Help Prevent Deep-Vein Thrombosis
DVT occurs when a blood clot forms somewhere within a vein in the body, usually in the lower half. If this clot travels to the heart it can be fatal. The chances of DVT happening are increased after major surgery, serious injuries, with cancer, as a side-effect of some medications, or following a previous heart failure episode.
Elevating the legs and thereby improving circulation is greatly beneficial for blood flow and can prevent DVT happening.
5. Relieve Back Pain And Improve Spine Alignment
It is well-known that sleeping on your back can cause or exacerbate lower back pain. Elevating your legs helps to support your back while sleeping. Back pain is often caused by problems with the sciatic nerve whether it is inflammation, compression or irritation leading to pain and/or numbness. Propping your legs or knees up helps the spine to rest is a more neutral position, alleviating pressure on your spine and back muscles.
Through supporting your spine in this way, you can improve spinal alignment during sleep, and lead to better posture during the day.
6. Improve Sleep Quality
Last but not least, elevating your legs while sleeping can lead to a better night’s sleep! Reducing swelling and pain during sleep will reduce the time it takes for you to fall asleep, and limit the number of times you wake up, improving sleep quality massively. This will help you to feel better during the day both physically and mentally.
Cons Of Elevating Your Legs While Sleeping On Your Side
1. Legs Raised Too High
It is important not to raise your legs too high, just above heart level should be sufficient. Raising the legs excessively high can lead to pins and needles or numbness in the legs and feet. For people who struggle with blood circulation, elevating the legs too high may cause problems with blood flow to the legs and feet.
2. Incorrect Elevation Technique
If the method you use to elevate your legs is incorrect, it could exacerbate your problem, or lead to other problems. The surface you lie on should support you sufficiently, and the pillows or other propping devices you use should not be raised too high. If you are having problems with elevation, it can be useful to talk to your doctor – they may have specific recommendations for elevation which are tailored to your individual situation.
Read More: Pros & Cons Of Sleeping With Legs Elevated
Best Way To Elevate Your Legs While Sleeping On Your Side
There are a great range of benefits of sleeping with your legs elevated. It is recommended to raise the legs between 6-12 inches above the heart. But how can you achieve this when sleeping on your side? We’ll take a look at health recommendations, techniques, and some products which will help you to achieve a comfortable and supportive night’s sleep.
Propping some pillows below your feet and legs is simple and can be enough elevation for some people. Try arranging the pillows so your legs are raised above heart level.
Alternatively, a widely recommended way of using pillows is sleep with a pillow between your legs. This can be used alongside pillows underneath the feet or legs, or on its own which is especially useful for back injuries, spinal problems, one-sided injuries, and sports injuries.
If normal, flat pillows don’t provide enough support for you, try using a wedge pillow or a specifically designed leg elevation pillow for side-sleepers (like this one from Amazon).
Read More: 8 Best Leg Elevation Pillows in 2023 (to Relieve Leg Swelling)
Blankets can be more adjustable than pillows, allowing you to fold them and prop your legs in exactly the way you need. Like pillows, a blanket can be placed between the legs for support during sleep.
Sleeping in an adjustable bed is the number 1 way to elevate your legs while sleeping on your side. It can be adjusted to suit your individual needs and provide consistent support all the way down the legs and feet. Adjustable beds come in a range of sizes and prices. Some models have adjustable head and foot sections – make sure you find one with an adjustable foot section, in dimensions that are right for you. While some are just the bed frame, others come with a mattress in-built or included in the price (such as this model).
A bolster is basically a long and usually thin pillow, and can come in a cylinder, hemispherical, wedge-shaped or rectangular form. These can be comfortable to help elevate your legs while sleeping on your side by propping beneath your feet. Alternatively, they can be used between your legs to help with spinal alignment. (Check this one out!)
How long should you elevate your legs for during the night?
There is no limit as long as you are sleeping for a normal number of hours per night (between 5-10 hours). Most people move around during their sleep and pillows or other leg elevation aides will move position anyway, meaning you legs will not be elevated the entire night.
Should you elevate your legs during sleep while pregnant?
During pregnancy it is recommended to sleep on your side, and elevating your legs in this position can be very beneficial when you are pregnant. Using a pillow between the legs can be especially useful in relieving pressure from the back, legs, feet and stomach.
Is it useful to elevate your legs at other times of day, or during other activities?
If you have a condition for which it is recommended to elevate your legs, such as enema or varicose veins, it can be very beneficial to keep your legs raised when sitting down during the day. Although it may be hard to raise the legs above heart level when not fully reclined, it is still useful to raise them to a higher but still comfortable position.