Why do we pick a certain side of the bed to sleep on? Experts explain.

Psychology of the side of the bed
One survey found that 75% of people chose a side of the bed simply because it was near an outlet. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Getty Images)

TikToker Angelina Murphy, who posts her home renovation videos on her platform, created some controversy recently when she revealed that she and her husband don’t have a dedicated side of the bed and just “randomly” choose where they sleep each night. The post was flooded with comments from people surprised over this sleeping arrangement.

One commenter wrote: “You mean to tell me you just go through life every day not knowing what side of the bed you’re sleeping on that night. WHAT?!” Another wrote: “What kind of chaos is this?!?!” while yet another called the situation “absolute anarchy.”

Others tried to understand how this could be practical when it came to whose pillow you slept on and how it works with nightstands. The post clearly touched a nerve, with people feeling very strongly about having a consistent side of the bed.

Why do people pick a certain side of the bed?

As it turns out, Murphy isn’t alone. While a Reddit thread from 2022 garnered similar responses when user Zee_has_cookies asked, “Are there any couples out there who don’t have a specific side of the bed, and just mix it up night after night?” — including more than one user calling the idea “madness” — others shared that they do trade off, albeit for practical purposes.

“We used to do it when the bed was up against the wall due to a lack of having anywhere else for it,” one Reddit user explained. “We'd just pick sides based on who was getting up first or who was getting into bed last.” Another user wrote that “one side of our bed is by the outlet and therefore the charger for our phones, so the person who has to get up first sleeps there, so they can turn off their alarm.”

A 2018 Saatva survey backs this up, with 75% saying that being near an outlet to charge their devices influenced their choosing a side of the bed, while for others it was proximity to the bathroom (67%), a window (58%) or the door (48%).

But for those who have a set side of the bed, that doesn’t necessarily mean they put a lot of thought into it. In the same survey, more than half of respondents said they never consciously chose which side of the bed they now sleep on.

I’ve been sharing a bed with my wife for nearly two decades. I can’t say exactly how we decided on our sides of the bed either. When we had our college sleepovers in Boston, we were young then and bedtime was sexy so who cared where we ended up?

But by the time we moved in together a few years later, our sides of the bed were official. This hasn’t changed through five different bedrooms, pregnancies for each of us or moves from apartments to houses, regardless of proximity to the bathroom, radiator or the bedroom door.

‘We are creatures of habit’

Paul Rosenblatt, professor emeritus of family social science at the University of Minnesota and author of Two in a Bed: The Social System of Couple Bed Sharing, says that choosing a particular side of the bed may not be as random as we think. “There might be unconscious elements in where some people choose to sleep, but the unconscious can be very real,” he tells Yahoo Life. “For example, one might not know that one is picking the side of the bed one slept on as a little kid, but it might still feel right and matter to the person.”

I do recall that I slept on the left side of my bed in college because that’s where my nightstand was. I still sleep on that side today. Maybe it really is that simple. “Almost everybody I interviewed had a side of the bed they always or almost always slept on,” Rosenblatt says about his research.

Gina Senarighi, a couples therapist, relationship coach and author, points out that some people choose a certain side of the bed because it makes them feel safer. “I work with a lot of women and queer and underrepresented folks,” she tells Yahoo Life. “There’s a fair amount of trauma in our little communities, and I have worked with a lot of people who choose their side of the bed based on how they can protect themselves — or protect their partner.”

Once that side is chosen, you’re also less likely to change it. As Senarighi puts it: “We are creatures of habit and we do crave routine.”

That said, even Senarighi shares that she and her partner change their sides of the bed regularly. Like me, she has kids who disrupt her sleep, and changing positions offers a temporary solution.

Rosenblatt notes it’s normal for couples to swap their side of the bed after becoming parents or when they’re traveling. These days my wife and I often wake up not only on the wrong side of the bed, but sometimes in another bed altogether. That’s because our boys are relentless in their nightly quest to cuddle. Even in our king-size bed, four is a crowd. Eventually, they’ll grow out of this behavior — and then we can return to our bedtime routines.

Whether or not it feels intentional, our choice of where we sleep is part of what allows us to sleep more comfortably. But regardless of which side of the bed you choose (or don’t choose), both Senarighi and Rosenblatt agree that it’s important to get quality sleep.

As for me, I’m going to stick with my side of the bed — it’s worked for nearly two decades — and hope that someday soon my kids return to theirs.