Woman in man in bed, shown from above. Sleeping under white comforter with nearby white bedside tables and lamps.

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The Most Common Sleeping Positions for Couples

· Article

The Most Common Sleeping Positions for Couples

Back-to-back? Facing each other? Spooning? How does your sleep position compare to other couples, and what’s the best pillow for however you sleep.

Research at the University of Hertfordshire found the most popular sleep styles for couples are back-to-back (42 percent) and facing-the-same-direction (31 percent). Only 4 percent spent the night facing one another and 2 percent slept more than 30 inches apart.

The survey asked more than 1,000 people to describe their preferred sleeping position and to rate their personality and quality of their relationship.

One important finding, according to psychology professor Richard Wiseman, who conducted the research, relates to whether you physically touch your partner while you sleep. Ninety-four percent of couples that spent the night in contact with one another were happy with their relationship, compared to just 68 percent who didn’t touch while snoozing.

“The most important thing for any relationship is that you find a good sleep-fit with your mate,” says Evany Thomas, author of The Secret Language of Sleep: A Couple’s Guide to the 39 Positions.

Here’s what your couple’s sleep style may say about your relationship:

Man and woman sleeping lying on their sides in dimly lit room, close together, facing out.

The Spoon

The spoon position implies a level of closeness and intimacy that the newly-coupled or those together up to five years often embrace. It’s thought of as a cocooned, safe position that both partners crave, and may show a deep level of commitment and one partner’s protectiveness toward the other.

“If someone has sleep apnea, you don’t want to sleep on your back because that can close your airway. So you can even say that spooning may be a protective benefit against sleep apnea since you avoid sleeping on your back,” says Dr. Jose Colon, a sleep medicine specialist in Ft. Myers, Florida. Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that causes breathing pauses during sleep.

Boost your comfort & sleep quality: Side sleepers account for approximately 70% of the U.S. population. People who sleep on their side tend to prefer a higher medium to firm density pillow.  The pillow should offer enough support to fill in the gap between your shoulders and neck to keep your head aligned. A curved pillow contours to your neck for enhanced comfort. Try Sleep Number’s ComfortFit Curved pillow.

Woman lying on side in bed, facing out, with head on contour pillow.


The “liberty” position indicates affection and is a good balance for couples who want to touch but still have their independence. Couples who sleep back-to-back may be close yet secure in their relationship. What’s more important, says Colon, is to go to sleep at the same time. “Sleeping together at regular times has been shown to help in a couple’s relationship,” notes a study published in the Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine.

Boost your comfort & sleep quality: Since you’re sleeping on your side, follow the same pillow advice given to Spooners above.

Man sleeping on back in bed with woman on side, close next to him with head and arm over his chest.

Sweetheart’s Cradle

You see this position mostly in the movies—post sex, where one partner rests their head on the other’s chest. You might start out this way, but not maintain it through the night on account of numb arms and stiff necks. Sweetheart’s cradle forgoes comfort in the name of cuddling. However, it’s a passionate sleep position that may spell new or rekindled love. Plus, Colon points out that oxytocin, the love hormone, is released when you touch the skin of your mate, which is associated with bonding.

Man and woman in bed awake. Man leaning towards woman and woman looking at man with her side raised slightly.

Pillow Talk

If you and your partner enjoy sleeping face to face without touching, you may crave pillow chat and not mind breathing on one another. This position can mean you have a close bond and have a need to share, or perhaps chat in the middle of the night. The study found extroverts enjoy spending the night close to their partners, and creative types prefer left-side sleeping, so this position may say more about an individual’s personality.

Boost your comfort & sleep quality: Like Spooners and Back-to-Back sleepers, Pillow Talkers should have pillows good for side sleepers. For extra comfort sleeping on your side, look for a higher medium to firm density pillow with enough support to fill in the gap between your shoulders and neck to keep your head aligned as you chat with your partner. A curved pillow contours to your neck for enhanced comfort. Try Sleep Number’s ComfortFit Curved pillow.


In cliffhanger, both partners cling to the far sides of the bed, often hanging a foot out for temperature regulation. You might need double blankets in order for both partners to be covered. While you may think this is the least intimate sleep position and one in which couples that don’t feel connected sleep, it can also show two people secure in themselves and their relationship. If both partners are happily cliffhangers and it’s not a passive aggressive move indicating a bump in the relationship, enjoy those cliffs.

Boost your comfort & sleep quality: Since Cliffhangers may sleep on their sides, backs or stomachs, get a pillow with removable inserts so you can choose the height that fits just right for comfort in any sleeping position. We recommend the Sleep Number ComfortFit Ultimate pillow.

Man and woman lying side-by-side in bed sleeping on their backs.

Paper Dolls

“Some people like to sleep snuggled up tightly with each other (like classic spooners), while other people prefer the comfort and cooler temperatures of their own separate sides of the bed (like cliffhangers),” says Thomas. The paper doll position allows both partners to lie on their backs beside one another holding hands or slightly touching arms or legs. It’s a win-win compromise for both space and contact.

Boost your comfort & sleep quality: Back sleepers account for approximately 25% of the U.S. population. People who sleep on their backs tend to prefer a medium density pillow. The pillow should provide enough support to keep your head elevated for a comfy neck position. A classic shape supports your head and neck. Try Sleep Number’s ComfortFit Classic pillow.


There are compromise positions, like the tetherball, where the close sleeper curls in a self-cuddling ball while the solo sleeper keeps a comforting hand on their hip. You can use this position to bridge the gap between your conflicting approaches.

If you’re lucky, you’ve found a perfect match with someone who shares your preferred sleep style. “But if you do happen to fall for someone who’s your sleep opposite, it doesn’t necessarily mean your relationship is doomed,” says Thomas.

You Shouldn’t Have to Compromise

Like diet and exercise, quality sleep is essential for optimal well-being and performance. Just make sure you’re both happy with your nightly arrangement. Because everyone’s sleep needs are different, take this PillowFit online quiz to determine which pillows are right for you. The ideal pillow should keep your spine aligned.  A pillow that is too high or too low will not allow for a comfortable neck position.

Plus, Sleep Number not only has pillows to help, but 360® smart beds, with SleepIQ® technology inside, that sense your movements and automatically adjust firmness, comfort and support to keep you both sleeping comfortably. Yes, really. You can find your Sleep Number® setting for your best possible night’s sleep.

Because, the last thing either of you should do is suffer in silence.

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