How Can You Properly Sleep on Your Back? What are the Benefits?

A dermatologist once told me that she could tell which side a person slept on based on the wrinkles on their face. She took a closer look at my skin and said, “You sleep on your right side, don’t you? Your crow’s feet are more pronounced on that side.”

Um, thanks?

After that traumatic conversation, I decided I needed to make a change. At first, I considered alternating between sleeping on my left and right sides to balance things out. Then, I realized that the best thing to do would be to learn how to sleep on my back.

Sleeping on Your Back – Why do it?

For some reason, sleeping on our backs doesn’t come naturally to most of us. Only about 14% of the population is categorized as a back sleeper. Maybe it’s because we spend time in the womb in the fetal position, and most of us carry on sleeping in that position throughout our childhood and into our adult lives.

Even though it may not be our go-to napping position, it has numerous health benefits. The most significant one is better alignment of the spine, which reduces pain. Other positives include minimizing acid reflux, preventing wrinkles, and maintaining perky breasts.

How to Become a Back Sleeper

Lay Down Flat

Naturally, the first step is to lie down flat. You want your head and neck to be in a neutral position. Resist the urge to twist your head to the side or rotate your knees to the left or right.

You can explore how it feels to lift your arms around the heard area in a makeshift goal post formation. Some people find this comfortable, while others experience pressure on their shoulders. Experiment with this idea, and see what works for you.

Elevate Head

Keep your head in a slightly raised position with the help of a pillow. You can also put pillows under your arms to keep you feeling supported. A lot of experts recommend a buckwheat pillow because it’s flatter and can be rearranged to suit your individual preference.

The most important thing to remember is you don’t want your head propped up too high or left too flat, which creates an unnatural alignment.

Get More Info: 7 Benefits of Sleeping with Head Elevated

girl sleeping on a white pillow in bed at home

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. It can be helpful to put a pillow under your knees to get relief.

Another way to avoid feeling that pressure is to do some light stretching before bed. People who sit all day tend to have tight hamstrings and hip flexors. By doing a stretch called the pigeon and holding it for one minute on each side, you can decrease your chances of feeling pain when you lie in this position.

The Starfish Position

Be careful starfishing if you spend the night with a partner. The starfish position is exactly what it sounds like. You lie down flat, head facing up, with your arms and legs spread wide. This is insanely comfortable for you, but it might not leave a lot of room for your partner! In fact, this is the preferred position of my partner, and even though he loves it, I find it supremely annoying.

This position also helps relieve pain and pressure.

Be Persistent

It can take some time to train yourself to sleep this way. Don’t give up or get discouraged. Persistency is key. If you find yourself rolling over to your side during the night, resist the urge to admit defeat. Instead, roll on to your back again and keep trying.

blonde woman lying on white sheet

Frequently Asked Questions

Can pillows help train you to be a back sleeper?

Pillows are a helpful tool in training yourself to sleep in a new way. A semi-flat and adjustable pillow under your neck will help keep your head in a neutral position without too much lift. Make sure it’s not too flat, either. A cushion that is not high enough will put the curve of your neck at an unnatural angle.

Pillows under your arms can offer support and make you feel cradled.

And finally, putting a pillow under your knees relieves pressure and can help ensure a restful night.

View Our Guide: Best Pillows for Back Sleepers

Why can’t I fall asleep on my back?

Anything that’s not a habit can seem hard. If you’re a diehard side or stomach sleeper, switching to a new position can feel unnatural and will require an adjustment period that can take weeks or even months.

If you’re a habitual snorer, you may find that you jar yourself awake with snoring the moment you start to doze. And, if you have sleep apnea, it can actually be dangerous to rest any other way than on your side because the angle of your head may further block your airways.

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

If you’re pregnant, avoid this position. Because your weight is now distributed differently, back sleeping can decrease circulation, which is not good for you or your baby. This won’t be an issue during your first trimester, but if you are in your second or third trimester, avoid this position.

Learn More: Complete Guide to Sleeping While Pregnant


Considering the health benefits of sleeping in this position, training yourself to do it is worth the effort. It may take some time, but if you can decrease wrinkles, improve pain symptoms, and minimize acid reflux, it makes sense to do your best to master this skill.

If you’ve tried napping like this for weeks and followed these tips to the letter, and you still have challenges, it might be your mattress’s fault, not yours. If you’ve had your bed more than 8 to 10 years, and you’re experiencing discomfort, consider getting something new.


Our team covers as many areas of expertise as we do time zones, but none of us started here as a so-called expert on sleep. What we do share is a willingness to ask questions (lots of them), seek experts, and dig deep into conventional wisdom to see if maybe there might be a better path towards healthy living. We apply what we learn not only to our company culture, but also how we deliver information to our over 12.7M readers.

Sleep research is changing all the time, and we are 100% dedicated to keeping up with breakthroughs and innovations. You live better if you sleep better. Whatever has brought you here, we wish you luck on your journey towards better rest.

Sleep Advisor