Contrary to what many seasoned back sleepers may think, sleeping on your back is not all that popular. According to WebMD, only about 14% of the Americans sleep in the supine position on most nights.
One possible contributing factor is that we spend the first nine months of our lives in the fetal position in the womb. With over 60% of sleeping in some variation of side sleeping, it’s easy to see why this predisposition carries on through early life and adulthood.
However, in the search for the perfect sleep recipe, the chances are that you have heard both celebrities and dermatologists sing the praises of sleeping on your back and the wonders it does for your skin.
According to anecdotal reports, an expert dermatologist can quickly tell which side you sleep on based on the wrinkle formation on your face. Now, that is a scary thought for side sleepers.
Since back sleeping offers a more natural alignment of your body—with minimal squishing of soft parts, sleeping this way can bring several potential benefits. Some possible gains include improved spine alignment, reduction of pain points, preventing wrinkles, helping to keep your breast perky, and reducing heartburn.
While sleeping on your back can bring significant benefits, for a few at-risk groups, this sleeping style is an absolute no-no as it can be potentially hazardous.
People that you avoid sleeping on their backs include:
- People with sleep apnea
- Pregnant women
These sleepers should opt for side sleeping instead, preferably sleeping on their left side.
So, the big question is, how do you train yourself to sleep on your back, and should you?
How to Train Yourself to Sleep on Your Back
Changing your default sleeping position is no easy feat. You have to override your body’s resting habits—which can be tough to break, and factor in other contributing elements like sleeping environment and sleep gear.
Get the Right Support
One primary reason why changing sleeping positions is hard for most people is that, during the night, we often default to the sleeping style in which we are the most comfortable.
While some part of this position resetting is indeed due to muscle memory, a significant proportion stems from the state of our sleeping gear—mattress and pillows. If your bed and pillow are only comfortable when side sleeping, you will find it discomforting, borderline impossible to switch to sleeping in the supine position.
1. Right Mattress
With the right mattress, laying flat on your back should come quite naturally. However, the most favored mattress choice—a soft and supple, body-conforming bed won’t work here.
When sleeping on your back, the body maintains a reasonably level figure, akin to what we look like standing. Hence, the best mattress type for this position is one that offers reasonably even support across the entire body.
Here, using a soft bed will lead to sinking around your butt and keeps, which will throw your body and spine out of alignment, potentially causing severe discomfort.
On your back, a soft bed is your worst nightmare, and you may even be better off on the floor.
Hence, when training yourself to sleep on your back, you must find a mattress that is firm enough (medium-firm are mostly recommended for most people ) to hold your frame up and prevent any sink. You will surprise at how much difference in comfort you get with a firmer bed.
2. Pillows and Neck Support
We can all agree that the perfect pillow can enhance your sleeping experience by almost as much as the wrong one will mar it. Here, it is doubly important.
With back sleepers, most of the body naturally stays in alignment, provided the mattress is firm enough to provide consistent support. However, the one major exception to this rule is your neck.
Without a pillow, your head will hang too low, creating pressure points in your neck and potentially causing muscle strain and pain. On the other hand, a significant majority of standard pillows won’t work correctly with back sleeping. These pillows often pack considerable loft, which may be excellent while side sleeping, but terrible when on your back.
What you want is a relatively flat pillow that props your head slightly, only high enough to keep it in proper alignment with your body.
Some of the best choices for this task include buckwheat pillows (Check benefits and drawbacks) like the Hullo Pillow, concave cervical pillows with depression for your head like the Sutera Sleep Pillow.
3. Supporting Your Head
With back sleeping, your head needs a type of support that is significantly different from what you need with other sleeping styles.
Since your head only requires a minimal raise to stay in alignment with your spine, you need a pillow with only a slight loft. Opt for thin pillows or a rolled-up towel for your head to get the support you need and save the loftier support pillows for your neck and body.
4. Using Pillows for Extra Body Support
One of the most common complaints we get from people who are trying out back-sleeping for the first time is that they are experiencing pressure buildup and even some pain in their lower back.
Unfortunately, this issue is typical and is a side effect of your body adjusting to this new sleeping position.
However, the good news is that you can do something about it. Using pillows, you can bolster your frame and eliminate any potential pressure points. You can try using relatively flat pads under your knees to help keep your lower back in alignment and relieve pressure.
Placing a pillow wedge under your knees also makes it significantly harder for you to change your position during the night, as you typically have to wake up to remove the pillow before moving freely.
Specialty pillows like the lumbar pillows are excellent as they typically bring minimal loft and enhanced moldability to help you find the perfect amount of body support.
Getting in Position
Okay, now you have your bed set up correctly, but for some, that may not be enough to end all your back sleeping worries. Not yet.
You must ensure that you are positioning your body correctly for the best experience in the supine position.
First, ensure that you are lying down flat with both your head and neck in a neutral position. Any deviation from a straight frame, including moving your knees to the side or twisting your head, could cause pressure buildup and pain.
One common problem stomach sleepers face when trying to sleep on their back is their ingrained habit of turning their head to one side. Plus, for many people, when they are back sleeping, once the head turns, it’s only a matter of time before the body follows suit.
An excellent hack to fix this issue is to place your head between two pillows. This setup slightly immobilizes your head, making it easier to maintain your head and body placement through the night.
However, you can still vary the placement of your arms to find the arrangement that works best for you. For some, keeping the arms beside the body feels right, while others still find more comfort by facing the hands upwards, placing them beside the head.
You could also try:
5. Building a Pillow Fort
Who knew the skills you picked up at childhood sleepovers could remain relevant in adult life, yet here we are.
If you have enough pillows to spare, building a pillow fortress around your frame can help you maintain your sleeping position better, and stop you from rolling over. Furthermore, you can try making the fort underneath your sheets to help hold the pillows in place and also significantly enhance their feel.
Alternatively, you can take things a step further with a full-on U-shaped pillow that props your frame from all sides and keeps you in position through the night.
While the manufacturers market these pillows solely to pregnant women, they can make excellent accessories for anyone who needs some assistance with maintaining a sleeping position.
6. Try The Starfish Position
The starfish is a twist on standard back sleeping that takes the position even further. In this iteration, while lying flat on your back, you also spread out your arms and legs as widely as you can, à la that memorable scene from Shrek.
This position is significantly more comfortable than any we have tried. It is also an excellent choice for people who want the most pain and pressure relief.
However, if you are sharing the bed with a partner, they may not like it as much.
7. Train Yourself with a Couch
If you sleep alone, a large bed may provide too much room to wander and make it relatively unchallenging for you to roll over and change position during sleep. One useful hack that works for some sleepers is to train yourself to sleep on your back with a couch, especially during the first few nights.
With their restrictive surface, couches can provide the boundaries you need to get you into the habit. Once you have mastered the sofa, you can then proceed to sleep on your back in bed.
8. Try Sleeping on the Floor
Alternatively, you can provide another form of restriction by sleeping on the floor with only a yoga mat.
With the limited amount of padding you get in this setup, sleeping on your back becomes the only viable position, as trying the other options will typically cause significant discomfort.
However, even when sleeping your back, sleeping on the floor will be a significant drop in comfort levels for many, and it may be quite tough on you, especially in the first few nights. Here, propping your knees and head/neck with pillows should provide enough respite.
Read More: 7 Best Floor Mattress in 2020
9. Start in Another Sleeping Position
One useful hack for getting yourself to adapt to sleeping on your back is to trick your brain into enjoying the position.
When you go to bed, you can start on your side or stomach and only roll over onto your back when you feel incredibly sleepy. This way, your body begins to associate sleepiness with back sleeping, and before long, it will become your go-to option.
Alternatively, you can do a similar hack to the other side of sleeping—waking up. Here, you set up two alarms in the morning. After the first alarm rings, you should switch from your current position to sleeping on your back until the second alarm wakes you up properly.
Trying back sleeping in the morning can give you the practice you need to get into the habit at night over time.
10. Use Weighted Blankets
Weighted blankets like the Gravity Blanket offer another layer of material that helps to keep you in position. Thanks to their heft, weighted blankets can add more friction when you try turning onto your stomach or side.
Extra Tips Help You Sleep on Your Back (Only Works for Someone)
11. Try Stretching
In some cases, the pain and discomfort you feel may not solely stem from your sleeping position change. Preexisting tightness in your lower back, hip flexors, or hamstrings may contribute to increased pain that can make it harder for you to sleep on your back.
One practical remedy you can try to help relieve pressure in these potential pain points is stretching. Doing some light stretching before bed can reduce your chances of feeling pain when sleeping in the supine position.
You can know more about stretching through:
12. Breathing Techniques
Using breathing techniques can help with getting to sleep in any sleeping position, but with back sleeping, they can be critical in giving you the push you need. Since you are facing upward in this position, it can be tougher for you to relax. For many of us, looking up while in bed unleashes a never-ending stream of thoughts.
First, ensure that you are relaxed and stay in position as you try to sleep. Then, you can try out the 4-7-8 breathing technique to enhance sleep onset.
Note: We mentioned 4-7-8 breathing technique many times in older posts, like How To Fall Asleep When You’re Not Tired?
13. Go to Bed Tired
When sleeping on your back, a common problem many sleepers face is having to deal with a constant stream of endless thoughts. This problem can be further exacerbated by the fact that many people do not go to sleep tired.
One way to make your position training habits significantly more successful is to ensure that you tire yourself out before bed, leaving little room for stray thoughts.
You can achieve this effect by putting in a session of exercise during the day, or by pushing your regular bedtime back an hour, to ensure you are incredibly sleepy before hitting the sack.
14. Add Some Soft Music
One of the big pluses to sleeping on your back is that you can now use headphones, and you can use this to your advantage when training yourself to sleep in this position.
Adding some soft music to your sleep routine offers an excellent way to block out any thoughts and help you relax more deeply.
However, remember to set a timer to turn off the music. While falling asleep to good music can be the best feeling ever, leaving it on through the night can tire your brain out and negatively impact your sleep quality. A timer for around 20 minutes should be perfect for most sleepers.
15. Give it time
Like with forming any other new habit, it may take some time before you get used to sleeping on your back. Hence, you may have to be persistent, rolling back onto your back until it becomes an automatic habit.
Most people typically get comfortable sleeping on their backs after only a few nights of it feeling weird.
However, if you find it hard to sleep on your back, even after several weeks of trying, the chances are that you may have one of the other issues on this list or back sleeping may not be for you.
16. Consider that Back Sleeping May Not Be for You
If you still can’t maintain consistency after a prolonged trial period, you should consider that your frame may not be the right fit for back-sleeping.
People in this category may find themselves always waking up on their sides even after incorporating all of these hacks to train themselves into a back sleeping habit.
While sleeping on your back can bring significant benefits, side sleeping can be just as adequate for some. Sleep experts too often tout that individuals should strive for the highest level of comfort during sleep, and for some, side sleeping is the only option that works.
People who are overweight may have a higher tendency to have problems when attempting to get into back sleeping. Extremely heavy-set people are more susceptible to sleeping disorders like sleep apnea and snoring, conditions that can make it harder for you to sleep on your back.
Sleepers with sleep apnea can often block their airways when on their backs, leading to sleep disruptions that can negatively impact your sleep quality.