illustration of three different couples sleeping in three different spooning positionsShare on Pinterest
Illustrations by Brittany England

Whether it’s movie depictions or everyday conversations between friends, spooning often tops the couples’ sleeping position list.

But how do you spoon “right”? And what are some other options for couples looking for a nighttime bonding session?

Read on for everything you need to know about big spoons and little spoons.

Spooning isn’t just a way to feel close to a partner — it’s actually linked to a whole host of health benefits.

It releases feel-good hormones

Oxytocin, affectionately known as the cuddle chemical or love hormone, is said to release when two people spoon. So is dopamine and serotonin.

The hormone oxytocin can promote bonding and is associated with a number of other benefits, including pain and stress relief.

Dopamine, meanwhile, appears through rewarding actions. And serotonin can help regulate everything from mood to appetite and sleep.

It can help you sleep

If you have a hard time sleeping, some research suggests that oxytocin may play a beneficial role — especially for those with conditions like sleep apnea.

It’s not yet understood why or how, but worthwhile remembering nonetheless.

It’s relaxing

Spooning is said to help the nervous system relax and reduce blood pressure, allowing people to feel calm.

It increases intimacy

Sounds obvious, but lying close to a partner can enhance the bond — both physical and emotional — between you.

In fact, this is the reason why lots of new couples may choose to spoon each and every night.

Not necessarily. Some people simply like to go to sleep in this position and don’t associate it with sex.

But, if both people are comfortable, spooning’s intimacy can lead to sexual acts.

These don’t have to involve intercourse or non-penetrative sexual activity, although spooning is a great position when you haven’t got much energy. Instead, they can incorporate toys or fingers.

Penetrative action may require a little bodily adjustment, especially if you’re both completely different heights.

Remain communicative with your partner, and let each other know when things feel just right.

Share on Pinterest

The best way to describe spooning is to lie on your side and wrap your partner in a big hug, with your arm resting over their waist.

Or, if you’re the little spoon, your partner will be hugging you.

You’ll be facing the same way so you won’t be able to see each other’s faces, but the position still allows you to get close to one another.

Leg-wise, do whatever feels comfortable.

Stereotypically, the taller person takes on the role of big spoon, as it’s seen as being more comfortable that way.

But there is no hard-and-fast rule. Any person can be the big or small spoon, no matter their gender or orientation.

It’s simply a matter of preference. For example, some find being the small spoon more comforting. Others like “protecting” their partner in the big spoon position.

Honestly, spooning all night long can be uncomfortable. Necks and arms can ache and feel numb, not to mention the heat produced from two warm bodies.

It’s not unusual to change position after an hour or two. But if you do want to make it through the night, try moving your arms into a more comfortable position.

You can also wedge a pillow underneath your limbs to avoid aches and pains.

Sometimes, traditional spooning just doesn’t work. Here are a few similar positions that might feel better.

Ball and spoon

Share on Pinterest

In this position, both people remain side hugging. But the little spoon curls up like a baby, allowing the big spoon to stretch their legs out.

Big spoon and baby spoon

Share on Pinterest

This one involves the same amount of intimacy, but both partners face each other.

The big spoon effectively stays in the same position while the little spoon turns around to face them, lying in a fetal position. The big spoon can then hug the little one.

Spoons in a drawer

Share on Pinterest

If you both don’t like lying sideways, this position may be the one for you.

To get into it, the big spoon must lie flat on their back. The little one then lies face down on top of the big spoon, resting their head on the other’s stomach. Whether you hug each other is entirely up to you.

Spork

Share on Pinterest

Get into the classic spooning position, but wrap your legs around each other. This may take some experimenting before you drift off in comfort.

Switch roles

Changing roles can help spice things up. Not only will it add an extra dynamic to your relationship, but it allows both people to experience the benefits of the big and small spoon.

But if you’re both happy with your designated parts, don’t stress. There’s nothing wrong with sticking to what you know!

As much as spooning can be a comfort, the position can also have its downsides.

You’ve had enough of the ‘dead arm’

Big spoons may regularly wake up with a dead arm. The weight of a human body on an arm for 8 hours straight can restrict blood flow, undoubtedly leading to numbness and the dreaded pins and needles.

You need more room to breathe

Some people just can’t sleep cozied up to another. They need space to stretch and don’t love a head full of hair in their face.

Seeing as sleep is so vital, there’s no shame in lying in a way that feels comfortable.

If your partner seems upset by the change of heart, talk to them. Perhaps you can spoon for a few minutes each night to keep up the closeness.

You’re just too hot

In the winter, spooning can be a nice, warming experience. But when the hotter months hit, it can quickly turn sweaty and unbearable.

Needing space at nighttime is something to discuss with your partner. You never know, they may agree with you.

If classic spooning and its variations aren’t for you, the following positions may encourage an intimate — yet comfortable — night’s sleep.

Cradle

Share on Pinterest

One person sleeps flat on their back and their partner lies on their side, placing their head on the other’s chest.

What you do with your arms and legs is up to you. Some people like to intertwine them, while others prefer to keep limbs apart.

Upside down Y

Share on Pinterest

A more freeing position, this involves facing opposite directions with lower backs touching.

Getting into this Y-shape leaves arms and legs free and reduces neck strain.

Paper dolls

Share on Pinterest

Side sleeping isn’t for everyone. If you and your partner aren’t fans, try lying on your back with your arms or legs touching.

To amp up the intimacy, try holding hands.

When it comes to sleeping next to a partner, touching in any way can strengthen your bond.

Although spooning is seen as the most popular form of nighttime intimacy, it’s not to everyone’s taste.

A variation on the classic position may help. But, if not, opt for the one that feels most comfortable for you and your partner. You can always bond when you’re awake!


Lauren Sharkey is a journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraines, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on Twitter.