Preferred sleeping positions are like favorite foods — everybody has them, and there’s not always a clear reason why we like them so much. In many cases, we sleep the way we sleep just because it ‘feels right.’ And for those who sleep alone, the angle and orientation that the body takes once it slides into bed isn’t really anyone’s business. It’s your bed, so anything goes. Right?
Sure. Until you start sharing your sleep with a partner.
Couples’ Sleeping Positions: Meanings
Once you add a second person to the sleeping dynamic, your sleeping position can take on increased significance. After all, there are few places as intimate and as vulnerable as your sleeping space, and that means how you choose to arrange yourselves once it’s lights out may be an indication of other issues in your relationship. Here, we take a look at 13 common sleeping positions for couples, and what each one might mean for you and your partner (and for your sleep in general).
1. Tight Spooning
Probably the one that first comes to mind when one thinks about couples’ sleep positions, tight spooning is a close and intimate way for partners to catch some Zs. In this position, both individuals sleep on their side facing the same direction, with one pressed up against the other’s back and enveloping them in a sort of reclined hug.
Spooning is undeniably affectionate; to naturally fall into this position while sleeping with your partner may indicate a certain level of emotional and physical comfort. Or, it might just mean that the heater’s not working. Either way, this position is much more common among couples who haven’t been together very long and are still in the ‘honeymoon’ phase of the relationship.
2. Loose Spooning
A natural progression of traditional spooning, loose spooning involves couples laying on their sides and facing the same direction, but without the right-up-against-the-body contact. This isn’t to say that touching is off the table; it just means that, in terms of sleeping positions, couples who prefer loose spooning like the freedom of movement that comes from adding a little bit of space between the bodies.
By itself, loose spooning shouldn’t be taken as an indicator of a problem in the relationship. It still allows couples to engage or disengage easily and demonstrates closeness and intimacy, but with the added comfort of knowing that even when the other person isn’t glued to you they’re still there for you.
3. Chasing Spoon
When one person is interested in spooning and the other is interested in space, then you have the chasing spoon. In this position, one member of the couple has retreated to the far end of the mattress and is sleeping on their side facing away from the other. Their partner mimics the position, and moves forward to initiate a ‘spoon’ (in essence, chasing their partner across the bed.
There’s a lot you can read into this couple sleeping position. Meanings range from the sweet (one person wishes to be pursued by the other), to the less sweet (one person wants more space in the relationship), to the potentially problematic (the partners are not on the same page emotionally). Of course, it might just mean that one or both partners tend to move around while they’re getting comfortable.
4. Front to Front (Contact)
A sleeping position for couples who want to drift off while gazing into each other’s eyes, the front to front sleeping position is exactly what it sounds like. In this variation, the partners are close enough to one another to maintain physical contact — usually in the form of a hand resting lightly on the other’s hip, or by entwining the legs or feet.
This particular couple’s sleep position is a nice way to begin the night, but usually transitions into a different position before too long. After all, close, face-to-face contact means that you’ll be breathing directly into your partner’s face (and getting breathed on in return), which may not be a particularly comfortable way to spend the next 7-9 hours. Still, if you and your significant other find yourselves close together and face to face while you’re chasing sleep, it probably means that you’re in a close and happy relationship.
5. Front to Front (No Contact)
When couple’s sleep front to front without contact, they each lay on their sides facing one another, but move far enough apart that they aren’t easily able to touch.
While face to face sleeping positions that maintain contact may be a sign of intimacy, putting a buffer between the bodies might suggest problems. Perhaps both partners crave more attention or physical contact, but for whatever reason don’t feel comfortable making those wants known. If you and your partner are adopting a no-contact, face-to-face sleeping position, it might be worth discussing to see if there are any underlying issues that need to be addressed. On the other hand, if you prefer this position so that you and your partner can chat at night before drifting off, then it might simply mean that you enjoy an open and honest relationship.
6. Back-to-Back (Contact)
Back-to-back sleep that includes contact between partners is kind of like spooning, without the question of “Where does a big spoon put their arm?” The couple sleeps facing away from each other, but with their spines or rear ends making contact.
Sometimes also called ‘back kissing’ (or less-commonly, ‘butt-kissing’), this is one of the sleep positions couples who are still excited about the prospect of constant physical touch tend to enjoy. Alternatively, close back-to-back may be perfect for those couples who have been together for a long time, and are comfortable and relaxed with one another (and still open to the idea of a little night-time contact).
7. Back-to-Back (No Contact)
This is the same position as above, but with the partners sleeping far enough away from each other that constant contact is not possible. Both partners sleep back to back, but are separated by a space.
Although it can be easy to look at these couples sleep positions and say “If you’re not touching each other, then there must be something wrong.” But the truth is that sleep isn’t so cut and dry. And where sleeping apart back-to-back might indicate a desire to move away from one another emotionally, it might also indicate a healthy independence in the relationship. Or it might just mean that both partners sleep a little warm, or don’t want to have to wake up every time someone rolls over.
In the tangled sleeping position (also called ‘intertwined’ or ‘the pretzel’), partners sleep so close together that they become sort of knotted up in each another. Think of it as a really enthusiastic full-body hug — arms are wrapped around each other, legs are interlaced, bodies are pressed together (you get the idea).
Sleeping positions don’t get much more intimate than this. And the fact is that for most people, actually sleeping all night while tied into a two-person bow isn’t very restful. In most cases, couples who do sleep this way tend to drift off after having a (*ahem*) physical encounter, and will likely transition into something more comfortable before long. What about those who do sleep like this until morning? Well, it could mean that both partners are absolutely gaga about each other. It could go further as well, and mean that the couple is overly dependent on one another.
9. Unraveling Knot
The unraveling knot is what happens when the couple is done cuddling and is now ready for some actual sleep. This sleep position tends to start out in the tangled position, but after several minutes or longer, the couple begins to unravel from one another, ending up in a loose sort of tangle where physical contact may still be maintained, but the partners have found more comfortable individual sleeping positions.
Transitioning from the tangle to the unraveling knot may show that you and your partner enjoy passion and affection, along with enough independence thrown in to keep things healthy.
10. Sweetheart cradle
The sweetheart cradle describes a sleeping position where one partner lays flat on their back, while the other partner rests their head on the first partner’s shoulder or chest, usually with an arm draped across the stomach.
Although maybe not as intense as the full-body pretzel approach, this couples’ sleeping position is just as affectionate. Resting one’s head on your partner while sleeping demonstrates a large amount of trust, as does having someone use you as a pillow. So, whichever part you play, it’s a pretty safe bet that if you’re regularly falling asleep in the sweetheart cradle, this aspect of your relationship is doing OK.
11. Leg Hug
When one or both partners want a little bit of contact without having to commit to anything big, then the leg hug may be the way to go. Kind of like playing sleepy, reclined ‘footsie,’ the leg hug is where one or both partners sleep in the position of their choice, but one reaches a leg over to make contact. Pretty simple, right?
If you’re in a relationship where you care about your partner, love a little physical touch, and like to feel the person sleeping next to you… but still want to get the best sleep you can, then you might be a leg hugger. Just be aware that plopping your leg down on an unsuspecting partner may make their sleep less enjoyable.
12. Both on Stomach
In this position, both partners sleep face down and separate. There isn’t much (if any) physical contact or interaction.
One can read both positive and negative connotations in many of these positions. That said, when both partners are sleeping on their stomachs, there may be cause for concern. For one thing, stomach sleeping has been identified as a common cause of back pain. But more than that, by turning face-down when sharing a bed, you’re actually closing off your body’s key vulnerabilities. It may be a subconscious attempt to ‘hide’ from your partner, and might indicate anxiety, a lack of trust, or even some amount of fear. If you and your significant other are consistently sleeping face down, then it might be worth taking a closer look at your relationship to determine why.
13. Space Hog
Every relationship has a power dynamic of some sort, and no couple’s sleeping position showcases that dynamic quite like the space hog. Also called the starfish/snail position, the space hog consists of one partner sprawling out across the majority of the mattress, while the other is relegated to only a small portion of the bed.
It’s not too difficult to read into this sleeping potion; if one person is selfishly taking more than their share of the sleeping space, then they may also behave selfishly in other ways. And, if neither partner tries to find a solution, then it could indicate an unequal and unhealthy distribution of power in the relationship.
No matter what sleep positions you and your partner use, in the end, it all comes down to preference. What really matters is whether you’re getting sleep, and whether you and your loved one are adequately communicating how you feel about each other. If you’ve got that all figured out, then the positions you take when your heads hit the pillow aren’t quite as important.