How to Sleep on Your Back Properly? What are the Benefits?

We all have our favorite sleeping position that we’ve become accustomed to over the years – the one that feels most comfortable. However, experts say certain positions are better for you than others.

The primary postures are on the stomach, the back, and the side. Resting and sleeping on the back is considered to be the healthiest of the three. So, if you prefer stomach or side sleeping, you may want to consider switching things up. We’ll provide you with tips on how to sleep on your back, the advantages of this sleeping position, and other helpful information on this topic.

Why Do It?

A 2022 national survey[1] found only 10 percent of respondents are back sleepers, compared to 16 percent who sleep on their stomachs and 74 percent who are side sleepers. Yet, despite these findings, more people may want to consider back sleeping for the multiple benefits that can come with it.

The Benefits of Sleeping on Your Back

Neutral Spine

A neutral spine describes how the vertebrae naturally curve and align to put the least amount of stress on the muscles and bones. A neutral spine is considered good spine alignment, and it could help minimize the risk of developing pain. According to health experts, lying on the back is the ideal position[2] for keeping a person’s spine as neutral as possible while they’re asleep.

Illustration of a Spine Alignment when Person Sleeps on Their Back

Reduces Wrinkles

When you wake up after napping on your side or stomach, you’ll likely notice creases on your face and chest. Experts say that after a while, lying in those sleeping positions can lead to breakouts and premature wrinkles (so-called “sleep wrinkles”). Therefore, if you want to reduce the risk of developing wrinkles[3], back sleeping will be the best option.

Alleviates Sinus Buildup

Trying to doze off while experiencing a stuffy nose due to a cold can be easier said than done, despite how tired you feel. Lying face up, though, could minimize frustrating nighttime nasal congestion, but you have to slightly modify your posture for it to work. To do this, sleep on your back but keep your head propped up with a few pillows or an adjustable base. This allows gravity to help drain your nasal passages so you can breathe more easily.

Illustration of a Man Sleeping in a Cold Room

Eases Tension Headaches

A tension headache can develop from a combination of stress, repetitive activities, and bad posture. Examples of activities that can cause this include looking at your phone, jaw clenching, working on a laptop, and driving or playing video games for extended periods. They can feel as though a tight band is around the head.

Another cause of this type of headache is stomach sleeping. That’s why if you’re dealing with this kind of headache, experts[4] recommend resting on your back instead and ensuring the neck is in a neutral posture.

How to Train Yourself to Sleep on Your Back

When you are used to resting in a certain position, it can be challenging to adjust to something new, especially if you’ve been sleeping one way for years or even decades. However, the following tricks should help make it easier to modify how you sleep so that you may be able to reap the benefits mentioned above.

Lie Down Flat

Naturally, the first step is lying flat on your bed with your head facing directly up. The head and neck should be neutral to reduce any tension that could cause pain. To keep the spine properly aligned, resist the urge to twist your head to the side or rotate your knees to the left or right.

From there, you can explore how it feels to place your arms above the head in a makeshift goal post-formation. Some people may find that raising their arms feels comfortable, while others may experience pressure on their shoulders. Experiment with this idea, and see what works best for you.

Elevate the Head

person sleeping with a neck supporting pillow

Next, you will need to focus on keeping the head in a slightly raised position with the help of a small pillow. Raising the head helps ensure the head and neck are in a healthy, neutral alignment with the rest of the spine.

You can also put pillows under your arms to help you feel more supported. Some experts recommend a buckwheat pillow because it's flatter and can be rearranged to suit the individual’s preference. The most important thing to remember is to avoid having the head propped up too high or resting too flat, which creates an unnatural alignment.

Get More Info: 7 Benefits of Sleeping with Head Elevated

Put a Pillow Under Your Knees

If you’re not accustomed to sleeping this way, you may initially experience some pain and pressure in your lower back. In this case, it can be helpful to put a pillow under your knees[5] to maintain the natural curve of the lower back and get relief.

Another way to try and minimize pressure on the back is to do some light stretching before bed. People who sit all day tend to have tight hamstrings and hip flexors, and stretching should relieve some of that tension build-up. The Pigeon, a popular yoga pose, is an excellent stretch for the hips.

To do this, sit with one knee bent and the other leg extended behind you, and then place the heel of the bent leg toward the hip of the straight one while ensuring the hip of the extended leg remains facing down. Next, rest your hands on your thigh or the floor in front of you. Try to hold this stretch for at least a minute, and then repeat this exercise on the other side.

Illustration of a Man Sleeping with Legs Elevated

The Starfish Position

Be careful attempting this if you spend the night with a partner since you will be taking up more room on the bed. The Starfish position is as it sounds. The individual lies down flat on the mattress with the head facing up and their arms and legs spread out wide across the bed – essentially mimicking the shape of a starfish.

Rather than lying straight like a soldier, extending the limbs may help relieve pressure to rest more comfortably. A BBC report[6] found that 5 percent of people get their slumber in the starfish position.

Be Persistent

Altering how you rest can take time, and the amount of time can vary from person to person. Even though it may take a while to get used to sleeping differently, try not to feel discouraged or give up. In this case, persistence is key.

If you find yourself rolling over to your side during the night, resist the urge to admit defeat. Instead, roll back again and keep trying. Over time, it should start to feel more natural.

Common Issues for Back Sleeping and How to Solve Them

Health ConditionIssueSolution
Sleep ApneaBack sleeping could worsen symptoms by blocking airways furtherKeep the head elevated using either pillows or an adjustable base
SnoringBack sleeping often worsens snoringAs with sleep apnea, elevating the head should help ease the severity of your snoring
Back PainMay be harder for those with back pain to sleep in this position Place a pillow under your knees to help keep the spine well-aligned
PregnancySleeping on your back could decrease blood flow to the babyThose who are pregnant are advised to avoid sleeping on their back, especially if they’re later along in their pregnancy
HeartburnSleeping on your back could trigger heartburnKeep the head and upper back lifted with a higher-loft pillow or wedge pillow. You should also avoid eating foods before bed that are spicy or high in fat.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the best pillows for back sleepers?

Pillows can be a resourceful tool in training oneself to nap in a new way. A semi-flat and adjustable pillow under the neck should keep the head neutral without too much lift.

Make sure the pillow is not too flat, either. When a cushion isn't high enough, it can put the neck at an awkward angle. Pillows under the arms can also offer support and make you feel cradled, and as mentioned earlier, placing a pillow under the knees should reduce pressure to help ensure a restful night.

View Our Guide: Best Pillows for Back Sleepers

illustration of a woman choosing the right pillow

What are the best pillows for back sleepers?

Having the right mattress at home can also make a world of difference when it comes to back sleeping. A poorly made bed or one that isn’t designed for this position could make things worse, causing more discomfort and pain.

Ideally, a mattress that strikes a good balance between soothing pressure relief and sturdy support should be a good fit for folks who sleep lying up. Regarding the bed’s firmness, shoppers should aim for a model in a medium range. If the mattress is too soft, there’s a risk of sinking in too deeply and throwing off the spine’s alignment, but if it’s too firm, the sleeper may not feel adequate pressure relief.

Memory foam is a popular material for its ability to contour to an individual’s shape. In contrast, hybrids, which combine foam and coils, are an alternative that offers pressure-relieving conformity with support-enhancing coils. Some manufacturers also include special features in their mattress designs to provide even more luxurious comfort. An example of this would be zoned support, which targets areas that typically need extra reinforcement, such as the spine’s lower back region.

Interested in exploring further? Check out our top-rated beds for back sleepers here.

Why can't I fall asleep on my back?

Anything that’s not yet a habit can seem difficult. Diehard stomach or side sleepers may find that switching to a new sleeping position feels unnatural and uncomfortable at first, and they will require an adjustment period that could take weeks or months. However, for specific health reasons, resting face-up may not be the best option.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine[3], habitual snorers and those with sleep apnea should nap on their stomachs or side because these postures are better for keeping the airways open throughout the night. The experts also say that people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) should specifically lie on their left side to alleviate any acid reflux and heartburn. They warn that lying on the right side can worsen these GERD symptoms. 

However, if you’d still like to pursue sleeping on your back, the solutions we provided in the table above could help if you have any of these conditions. That being said, we advise consulting with your doctor to ensure you’re sleeping in the best position for your health.

Can I sleep on my back while I'm pregnant?

Pregnant women should avoid resting on their backs, especially during the second and third trimesters. When a woman is pregnant, her weight is distributed differently, and back sleeping can decrease circulation throughout the body, which is not good for the mom or the baby.

Lying on the left side is considered the best sleeping position for expectant mothers, and there are several reasons for this. First, this posture keeps the uterus off of the liver, located on the right side of the stomach. Secondly, resting on this side of the bed improves circulation for better blood flow.

While you shouldn’t experience too much discomfort napping on your back during the first trimester, this time is a prime opportunity to get used to resting on your side for the later trimesters. However, we recommend discussing this with your doctor as well.

Learn More: Complete Guide to Sleeping While Pregnant

Tired Pregnant Lady Struggling to Fall Asleep

Does sleeping on your back cause sleep paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is a parasomnia in which a person is awake but unable to move their body. Sleep paralysis can either occur while the individual is falling asleep or waking up – both of which coincide with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

While at rest during the REM phase, the muscles become completely relaxed and similar to a state of paralysis. This state of relaxation keeps people from physically acting out dreams or nightmares, which could be dangerous.

So, even though a person experiencing this parasomnia may feel as though they are paralyzed, their muscles are in a state of relaxation, which is why they can’t move. Therefore, when sleep paralysis happens while someone is waking up, their mind is awake, but their body is still in sleep mode and hasn’t caught up yet. Typically, though, we are not conscious of this paralyzed state because we are fully asleep.

There are different factors[7] that could cause this parasomnia to occur, such as an inconsistent sleep schedule, certain medications, stress, narcolepsy, and sleeping on your back. However, if you are concerned about this disorder, that doesn’t mean you need to avoid sleeping on your back altogether. Instead, sleep experts advise that the best way to reduce the risk of an episode is to get plenty of rest each night.

Is the healthiest way to sleep on your back?

Sleeping on your back is considered healthy because it fosters a healthy spine alignment. On top of that, it has other benefits, like easing tension headaches, reducing sinus build-up, and preventing premature wrinkles. Whether this sleep position is good for you may depend on your overall health. People with GERD symptoms may prefer sleeping on their side, while pregnant women are advised to avoid back sleeping later in their pregnancy.

Sources:

Editor

Jill Zwarensteyn is the Editor for Sleep Advisor and a Certified Sleep Science Coach. She is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.

Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.

She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.

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