Common Couple Sleeping Positions and What They Mean
Here’s what your overnight behavior says about you and your relationship.
Mar 31st, 2023 •
When you’re in a romantic relationship, sleeping in the same bed is often an expected nightly occurrence. It’s such a normal part of life that you might not give much thought to your sleeping position and what it might say about you and your partner.
In many relationships, sleep positions transition over time from more intimate to more comfortable. This is completely natural and might indicate that you feel comfortable enough to give each other more space. However, there may be more to couples’ sleeping positions than meets the eye.
Below, we explore 14 common sleeping positions for couples and what they might mean.
What Do Couples’ Sleep Positions Mean?
Spooning, in which both partners sleep on their sides and face the same direction with one acting as the “big spoon” and cuddling the inside “little spoon,” is a common sleep position for romantic partners. In fact, 18% of couples sleep in this position, according to a study by Travelodge.
Spooning is an intimate sleeping position and great for couples who like a lot of physical contact. Because it is a fairly sexual position, spooning can also be a sign of a couple’s comfort with intimacy.
Oxytocin released while cuddling is a benefit of spooning, while restricted movement is a drawback.
The Chasing Spoon
In the chasing spoon, one partner sleeps on one side of the bed, facing away from the second partner, while that partner appears to pursue them. This can look like a regular spoon, but shifted toward one side of the bed.
This could mean that the first partner enjoys being pursued or might indicate a need for space—literally or metaphorically. On the other hand, the pursuing partner may enjoy the chase or just really enjoy cuddling and not mind scooting across the bed to do it.
The Loose Spoon
Sleepers in a loose spoon position sleep on their sides and face the same direction, similar to a regular spooning position, but with a little bit more space and less contact. For instance, the little spoon can lie in the fetal position while the big spoon rests their hand on their partner’s side.
Don’t mistake this distance for less warmth in the relationship. Often couples who have been sleeping in the same bed for a long time loosen up their spoon position, and it can indicate trust in the partnership. However, if your regular spoon becomes a loose spoon after a tense argument, it could have a deeper meaning.
Back to Back–Touching (Cherish)
For side sleepers who prefer more freedom to move around than spooning provides—but who still want to remain in contact with their partner—back-to-back sleeping with backs or butts touching is popular. Eighteen percent of couples prefer this sleep position.
Like the loose spoon, this position can indicate a trusting relationship in which both partners simply crave a bit more physical space for comfort. This sleep position is common for both new and established couples.
Face to Face–Touching
In this sleep position, partners sleep facing one another on their sides, with their faces at the same level and their bodies gently intertwined (though less intertwined than the tangle, discussed below). This degree of contact and intimacy is more common in new relationships, with only 4% of couples preferring this sleep position.
Pros of sleeping face to face while touching include increased oxytocin and displaying romantic and sexual interest. Cons include discomfort and breathing one another’s air all night long.
The cradle involves one partner sleeping on their back while the second partner rests their head on the back sleeper’s chest. Often legs or arms will intertwine in this position, as well.
A supremely snuggly position, the cradle can demonstrate the protective nature of the cradler, along with a strong romantic connection. It is a nice position for couples with one back and one side sleeper since back sleeping rules out spooning.
While this position is great for strengthening your romantic connection, it is less ideal for the circulation of the cradler, who might find their arm falling asleep at some point during the night. It’s also not the best choice if the cradler is a snorer since back sleeping makes snoring worse.
Head on Shoulder (Shingles)
Also known as the shingles position, when sleeping “head on shoulder” both sleepers lie on their backs, and one partner rests their head on the other’s shoulder. This provides a comforting connection in relationships where both partners prefer back sleeping.
Much like in spooning or the cradle, one partner serves a more protective role in this position, which may mirror roles in the relationship. Because there is less body contact than in some couples’ sleeping positions, this may indicate a high confidence level in the relationship.
On a more practical level, this sleeping position moves the spine out of alignment for the sleeper with their head turned to sleep. This might be why only 4% of couples report sleeping in the shingles position.
The Leg Hug
In the leg hug, both partners can sleep in any position so long as their legs or feet are touching or intertwined. An excellent way to keep in contact when it’s too hot for your entire bodies to touch, the leg hug can symbolize various things depending on the details.
If both partners are participating in the leg hug, it might indicate a passionate connection. However, if only one partner reaches out for a leg cuddle, this might mean that passion is not equally shared. Of course, if all is well in the relationship, it could just mean that one partner enjoys leg hugs more than the other.
Intertwined (the Tangle)
Sleeping intertwined, also known as the tangle or lovers’ knot, is an incredibly intimate position. Both partners sleep facing one another with their limbs intertwined. It’s more common in new relationships than in more established ones.
This position expresses a high degree of closeness in the relationship. However, in many cases, it comes at the cost of comfort. This is why you might not see happily married couples sleeping in the lovers’ knot. It’s not that they don’t value one another—they just also value physical comfort.
The stomach snoozers couples’ sleeping position involves both partners sleeping on their stomachs. While sleep experts recommend against stomach sleeping for many people because of inherent spine alignment issues, relationship experts also note that sleeping on the stomach may indicate a lack of trust. Because the belly is a vulnerable part of the body, if both partners seek to protect this sensitive space, it could signify relationship problems.
The Space Hog
In this position, one partner sleeps in a starfish position, with their arms and legs sprawled out. Because this partner takes up most of the bed, the second partner is left to sleep in a smaller space.
A starfish sleeping position can be great when sleeping alone, but in a relationship, it is essential that both partners agree to this sleeping arrangement. If the partner sleeping in a smaller space has no problems with this situation, and it helps their starfish sweetheart sleep, then that’s great. But hogging the bed can mirror an imbalance in the relationship and thoughtlessness on the part of the space hogger.
Back to Back, Not Touching (Liberty)
Sleeping back to back without touching, also known as the liberty position, is the most popular position for couples, according to the Travelodge sleep study. For couples who regularly sleep in the liberty position, it signifies security in the relationship. On the other hand, if you suddenly find yourself sleeping back to back when you usually sleep in a more entangled position, something may be amiss in your relationship.
The main benefit of this position is comfort, as each partner has the liberty to move around without waking their partner, and no limbs are at risk of falling asleep due to a lover’s heavy head cutting off circulation.
Face to Face, Not Touching
When both partners sleep on their sides facing one another without touching, they are each free to control their own comfort while maintaining communication before falling asleep. This is a favorite of people who enjoy pillow talk and want to feel emotionally intimate without touching while asleep. 7% of people surveyed prefer to sleep in this position with their partner.
Cliffhangers sleep on opposite edges of the bed, typically with limbs hanging over the side. As with other non-touching sleep positions, if you and your partner choose to sleep in this position after a fight or during a tense time in your relationship, that’s not a great sign. However, you can be content in your relationship and enjoy extra space to sprawl when lying far from your partner.
While lack of touch in other sleeping positions can demonstrate confidence, this is less common with cliffhangers. A 2014 study indicated that couples who sleep in this position are generally less secure in their relationships than couples who sleep closer to one another.
Should You Share a Bed with Your Partner?
Not all couples choose to share a bed. Indeed, for light sleepers and people who prefer to stretch out while sleeping, sleeping with a partner can feel restrictive and lead to poorer sleep. However, there are actually documented health benefits to sharing a bed with your loved one.
Health benefits of sleeping with a partner include:
- Improved quality and increased duration of REM sleep
- Reduced cortisol levels, leading to lower anxiety
- Release of oxytocin when positive touch occurs
- More restorative sleep
Regardless of these health benefits, it’s better to sleep alone if you don’t get enough sleep when in bed with a partner. For some people, sleeping in separate beds is the only way to get enough sleep. If this is you, don’t sweat it—you probably know what’s best for you and your relationship.
How to Sleep Better as a Couple
No matter what position you sleep in, if your sleep quality is negatively impacted by sleeping with your partner, something needs to change. There are many reasons your sleep might suffer when sleeping together, including:
- Discomfort with your sleep position
- Too many nighttime wakeups due to your partner moving around
- Difficulty falling asleep because of your partner’s loud snoring
Sleep is integral to your health, and you shouldn’t sacrifice it solely to appease a partner. As with anything else in a romantic partnership, communication is key to ensuring a good night’s sleep for you and your sweetheart. Talk to your partner about whether your current sleep position gives each of you what you need for connection and rest.
If you find yourself waking up throughout the night whenever your partner tosses and turns or gets out of bed, it might be time for a new mattress. Getting a mattress with good motion isolation is essential to avoid sleep disruptions. Check out our review of the best mattresses for couples.
And if snoring is your issue, sleep position could also be to blame. The best sleep position for snorers is on their side, so try to transition the snorer in the relationship to side sleeping. If snoring is very loud or you notice pauses in your partner’s breathing, it might be time to check in with a physician about sleep apnea.
Whether you prefer to sleep on opposite ends of the bed or fully intertwined, the reasons why you choose a specific sleep position as a couple are unique to you. It’s important to balance the needs of your relationship with your own physical health by sleeping in a position that’s comfortable both emotionally and physically.
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