Is sleeping on your back really the sleeping position of all sleeping positions? Maybe. It really depends on your body. For example, if you’re pregnant, lying on your back might cause more pressure and discomfort on your belly. Or if you have sleep apnea and back pain, this position might be one you want to completely avoid — even if the internet says it’s life-changing.
But before you quit trying entirely, consider everything, every little thing, that might be getting in the way of achieving face-up snoozing.
After all, sleeping on your back has many benefits worth training for, since it:
- keeps your spine aligned
- reduces tension headaches
- helps chronic conditions by reducing pressure and compression
- relieves sinus buildup
- avoid creases, wrinkles, and irritated facial skin
Plus, there are many elements that make sleeping on your back far more nuanced than being able to lie there.
How do your mattress, pillow, and sleep environment play into your sleep game? If you spend moments passing out watching Netflix or cuddling your partner, you might be training against yourself without realizing it — and sabotaging your body’s efforts for normal sleep.
So before you completely roll over to sleep on your side — which is also heathy, especially for digestion — check out these tips and tricks I’ve used to drill instructions for sleeping on your back into my muscle memory.
1. Get the right mattress support to lay flat
I had the worst sleep of my life when visiting my brother over Thanksgiving. He gave me his soft bed, which you’d expect to be relaxing, marshmallow heaven, except my butt kept sinking like a rock in a pond.
I woke up sore and tired every morning because my lower back and leg muscles kept tensing in effort to stay afloat. I ended up on my side in the middle of the night to save myself — but never again.
To this day, I’d rather sleep on the floor — but ideally, I’d sleep on a compressed surface so my muscles aren’t doing all the work at night.
2. Invest in the right support for your neck
A good pillow for back sleeping may make your efforts worse if it’s over-elevating your head. Instead of buying that one good thing, make sure your sleep environment works together. For example, if you don’t have the expenses to get a mattress topper or a firmer mattress, you might not need a fancy pillow. A towel might do the trick.
In college, I couldn’t choose my mattresses — but I could still adjust my neck’s elevation and support without a pillow. For three years, I slept with a rolled-up towel under my neck, which combated useless mattresses and kept my body aligned without overextension. This trick helped my morning headaches and left my cheeks crease-free in the mornings, all for the cost of $0.
These days, there are still 2 a.m. headaches that have me grabbing a towel and rolling it up for better sleep.
3. Get a pillow for under your knees or lower back
If these steps haven’t worked and your mattress options are still slim, try putting a pillow under your knees. This will further help relieve the pain on your spine and may prevent your body from rolling over in efforts to reduce pressure.
Not sure what pillow to buy? Lie flat and have a friend check the distance between your knees and the floor and maybe even your lower back and the floor. The pillow you want is all about supporting your body’s natural curves, so you might not have to go all out. You could even stack two flat pillows, although I wouldn’t recommend this for the lower back.
Special support pillows, if workarounds don’t cut it
- Half-moon bolster pillow ($25): washable, organic cotton cover that can also be used for side sleeping
- Lumbar pillow ($25): soft memory foam that fits under your upper and lower back, as well as under the knees
- Multi-position pillow ($17): foldable pillow that can fit under knees, between legs, or for your calves
4. Spread out your arms and legs
Sleeping on your back doesn’t mean you have to keeping your arms by your side forever and legs straight forever. In fact, keeping your muscles stiff all night is probably counterintuitive.
By spreading your arms and legs out, you’re also distributing your weight so that the pressure doesn’t build up on your joints.
5. Last resort: Build a pillow fortress to remind your body of your boundaries
I read a tip advising sewing a tennis ball into the side of your pajamas to “gently” remind your body to not roll over — please don’t do that. That advice was formerly meant for folks who shouldn’t sleep on their back — don’t sew a tennis ball into the back of your PJs either — and it’s a generous assumption that you won’t wake up after a fist-sized ball has dug into your side.
Instead, try adding pillows to either side of you. If you share a bed, having a pillow fort is a nice reminder to cuddly partners that sleep time is me time.
This change won’t happen overnight, and it’s OK to quit
I don’t sleep on my back every night. For a long time, I was having digestion issues and shifted to sleeping on my left side. There are also nights when I have insomnia and what position I’m in when I sleep is the least of my concerns — except stomach sleeping.
Stomach sleeping is almost unanimously bad due to the strain it can cause on your body and pressure on your digestive system. Unless there’s no other position that works for you, then definitely sleep on your stomach for the sake of getting rest, but make sure you use the right pillows for your neck (a thin one) and pelvis (knee pillows will also work) to give your body support.
As for those who really, really don’t want to lose out on back sleeping, you might also want to try a weighted eye pillow. Not only does this soothing smell help your brain switch gears to sleep mode, the knowledge that there’s something on your head is all your subconscious needs for you to stay still.
Christal Yuen is an editor at Healthline who writes and edits content revolving around sex, beauty, health, and wellness. She’s constantly looking for ways to help readers forge their own health journey. You can find her on Twitter.