Ribs Hurt After Sleeping on Your Side? What to Do

Last Updated on February 14, 2024

by Marc Werner, Founder - GhostBed

If you've ever been tackled in a game of football, had a particularly nasty cough, or taken a hard fall, you may know what it's like to suffer from rib pain.

But did you know it's also possible for your ribs to hurt after sleeping on your side?

If you're waking up every day with an ache in your ribs, your sleep style may be to blame. We're exploring what to do about it below.

Woman sleeping on side under weighted blanket

Why Do My Ribs Hurt When I Wake Up?

There are several causes of rib pain other than sleeping on your side, so it's important to work with your doctor to rule those out first.

Your rib pain may be due to a condition like:

  • Pleurisy - inflammation in the lining of your lungs and chest
  • Fibromyalgia - a chronic condition that causes musculoskeletal pain
  • Costochondritis - inflammation in your rib cage's cartilage

Even if you do have an existing health condition that causes rib pain, it can be made worse by sleeping on your side. So it's worth exploring ways to support your body while you sleep until the pain is addressed.

How Should I Sleep to Avoid Rib Pain?

We're sorry to tell you side-sleepers, but the best way to avoid rib pain is typically to sleep on your back.

Back sleeping prevents you from putting too much concentrated pressure on one side of your ribcage, which can lead to discomfort.

If you're interested in learning to sleep on your back, check out our guide on making the switch.

Use pillows as support for better side-sleeping posture.

Practicing Better Sleep Posture

If you can't get in the habit of sleeping on your back, you can still set yourself up for success while sleeping on your side.

You can practice good “sleep posture” by aligning your body using pillows as support. While lying on your side, try the following:

  • Place one or two pillows under your head and neck. Make sure the pillows are not beneath your shoulder.
  • Place one pillow flat on the bed in front of your chest. This will support your top arm, reducing pressure on the ribcage.
  • Place a pillow between your knees so your hips and knees are parallel.

For those keeping count–yes! That's about five pillows you'll need for a supportive side sleep.

The purpose of sleeping with all of these bolsters is to reduce the effect of gravity pulling on your arms, shoulders, hips and torso–all of which can lead to rib pain. Trust us, it's worth it!

Choosing the Right Pillows

If you're investing in several pillows to support your body while you sleep, it's important to choose the right ones. Our resident sleep expert, Greg, recommends choosing a dense pillow over a soft down or faux down option.

Sleep Experts Weigh In
“I find most customers who sleep on their sides prefer a dense pillow over a soft pillow. A more substantial pillow helps side-sleepers keep their bodies in alignment, especially when sleeping on a softer mattress.”
- Greg, Sleep Expert

Denser pillows like the Shredded Pillow or Memory Foam Pillow models from GhostBed fill in the empty space between your body and the bed, providing the most support.

If you only have softer pillows on-hand, you can try folding them in half to create more bulk and stability.

Short-Term Solutions for Rib Pain

Even if you’ve adjusted your sleeping style, you may have some lingering rib pain to contend with.

Speak with your doctor about the best solution for your body. They may suggest:

Anti-Inflammatory medications like ibuprofen, or inflammation-fighting foods like turmeric and fish oil.

Alternating heating pads and ice packs to relieve pain. Always begin with ice to reduce swelling.

A chest brace to support your ribcage while any injuries heal.

Physical therapy or rest, depending on your unique situation.

Woman lying on her side and man lying on his back on a GhostBed

The Best Mattress for Rib Pain

Reality check: you can sleep with dozens of pillows and stretch to your heart’s content, but if you’re snoozing on an unsupportive mattress each night, you’ll likely still experience rib pain.

In many cases purchasing a new mattress is necessary to reduce or eliminate your discomfort.

There are several factors (like your age and weight) that will influence the type of mattress that works best for you. But most side sleepers find success with a softer mattress.

Softer mattresses are excellent for cushioning your body at pressure points, rather than pressing against them and causing pain.

At GhostBed, we’ve designed our Luxe and 3D Matrix® mattress to be soft and supportive for folks who sleep on their sides. Many customers report that they wake up pain free within days of sleeping on their new GhostBed.

If you’re ready for a new mattress that supports your ribcage (and the rest of your body!) we can help you find the right one. Connect with one of our sleep experts to get started.


Marc Werner - Founder, GhostBed

Marc Werner

Founder - GhostBed

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Marc has spent the last two decades designing & manufacturing mattresses and other sleep products, drawing on a lifetime of experience working with the material sciences. With several patents to his name, he works closely with the GhostBed team to create products with the perfect balance of comfort & support. Learn More

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