Healthy Sleeping Habits

The Deeper Meaning Behind Couples’ Sleeping Positions (Besides “My Arm Hurts”)

Mary Grace Garis

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Photo: Getty Images/PeopleImages
It's one thing to analyze your own sleeping position, but when it comes to analyzing your snooze-time setup with a bedmate, other factors are worth considering. Namely, while spooning may be cute, laying that way for too long is hot—the sweaty and distinctly not cute kind, to be clear. And according to body-language expert and co-author The Body Language Handbook and 365 Ways to Get a Good Night's Sleep, Maryann Karinch, feeling this way doesn't make you an unromantic exception to the sleeping-position rule. Karinch been with her partner for 23 years, and even though she says they cuddle often and in different configurations, no single position is sustainable long-term (meaning through the night). And, good news: that's okay.

“One of the basic things about those positions is that they’re just not that comfortable for a long period of time, so we would never think of them as sleeping positions," she says. "We would think of them as ‘waking-up positions’ or ‘going-to-bed positions.’ But not actual sleeping positions. Because they're pretty much all uncomfortable, your arm goes to sleep or you're way too hot because you're too close to the other person.” But, she's quick to caveat that none of this necessarily points to a lack of intimacy.

So, rather than learning what your sleeping position might say about your relationship, it's more apt to discuss your "almost-sleeping" or "just-about-to-wake-up" poses. Below, Karinch decrypts the meaning behind these common cuddling styles—but if you're just too hot or uncomfortable, no worries about wanting to stay on your side of the bed.

Check out common couple sleeping positions and what they mean below.

Couple sleeping positions and what they mean for you
Photo: Getty Images/Doble D

1. Spooning

Ah, a timeless classic. When you and your bedfellow start spooning, Karinch says it signifies a certain level of comfort—on both an emotional (and physical) level. “It’s a sexually vulnerable position," Karinch says of the butt-to-junk positioning, which can also be cozy and comforting.

Couple sleeping positions and what they mean for you
Photo: Getty Images/PhotoAltoFrederic Cirou

2. The chaser

Another name for this position might as well be the forced spoon. Here, one person retreats to one side of the bed while the other person basically tries to grab at them. Essentially, this type of spooning isn't so desirable because it signifies that both parties aren't totally on the same page. “For an extended period of time, it can be uncomfortable because it's hot (as is true with any kind of spooning), but it could also be uncomfortable psychologically because you’re not in charge, you’re being taken over,” Karinch says of the person being "chased."

Alternatively, it might be a sign that one party is a bit overprotective, especially if the chasee is scooting away—which is a sign that they feel invaded on some level. So in general, being chased is hell for the independent sleeper. "That's a position I would say if it's done too long is maybe a sign of trouble," Karinch adds.

Couple sleeping positions and what they mean for you
Photo: Getty Images/Rusian Dashinsky

3. Back-to-back, with space in-between

As you'd probably predict by now, sleeping back-to-back (also sometimes known as the Liberty Lovers position) isn't a bad thing at all. It's the natural result that comes from relaxing and drifting off to slumber after untangling from a cuddle knot. And honestly, hot take, but defaulting to this position is a good sign your sleeping sich with your S.O. is getting real.

"You’re very secure back-to-back," Karinch says of the position that communicates independence. "You’re saying, ‘Hey, I feel good with you.’”

Couple sleeping positions and what they mean for you
Photo: Getty Images/Dmitry Belyaev

4. Footsie (or handsy)

Playing footsie in bed has a similar implication to playing footsie under the table: "It's just very playful, it's still comfortable but very exciting," Karinch says. Little loving light touches like this reinforce that you still have an attachment to your S.O. without literally being attached.

This also applies to all the gentle gestures you might make with your hand on a given night, whether that's running your hand through the other person's hair while you're resting or putting a hand over an errant arm or a leg. "It's just a brief way of saying, 'We're connected,'" Karinch says. It shows that you have your own bond and the person is present with you, but you're still allowed to have your own space.

Couple sleeping positions and what they mean for you
Photo: Stocksy/Mosuno

5. Starfish and snail

Or, if you're a real SpongeBob SquarePants fan, "The Patrick and Gary."  This happens when one person is sprawled all over the bed and the other has to make themselves more diminutive.

"Usually, that's a sign of real selfishness," says Karinch. But, that doesn't mean there's no hope. She suggests telling the person they're hogging too much of the bed to provide the opportunity to make things more equitable in the sleep zone. Of course, there's no reason to be mean about it, but just give your bedmate a heads-up that if your personal space is being encroached upon, they might receive a nudge to the ribcage.

All of this decoding and understanding, to be clear, is in the name of comfort. No matter how much you do or don't cuddle before bedtime, the end goal is just to ensure optimal levels of Zen, both for yourself personally, and in bed. While body-language cues can be great and helpful to analyze, definitely don't forget to communicate your sleep needs with actual words. Because to some hot and bothered sleepers, asking "Can I open a window?" is way more romantic than spooning.

ICYMI, these are all the other ways your partner could be ruining your sleep. And if you're wondering about your solo nighttime habits, here's what different sleep positions mean about your health

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