Key Takeaways
  • Sleeping on your back can benefit spinal alignment and reduce the risk of wrinkles.
  • Strategic placement of pillows can help you sleep more comfortably on your back.
  • If side sleeping is causing discomfort or pain, try gradually transitioning to back sleeping.
  • Avoid back sleeping if you experience heartburn, snoring, or obstructive sleep apnea.

We spend about one-third of our lives sleeping or resting, so finding a sleep position that is comfortable and supportive is a top priority. Each person has their own preferred sleeping position. Back sleeping is the second most common position , after side sleeping.

If you sleep on your side or stomach, you might be considering switching to sleeping on your back. Changing your preferred sleeping position may seem like a daunting task, and there is usually an adjustment period when trying something new. However, it is possible to train yourself to sleep on your back.

Benefits of Sleeping on Your Back

Many people experience benefits from sleeping on their back. Sleeping on your back can promote spinal alignment, as long as your mattress and pillow are supportive. If you struggle with heartburn or acid reflux, sleeping on your back with your head elevated can reduce symptoms .

Sleeping on your back has not been shown to contribute to wrinkles like other sleep positions might. When side or stomach sleeping, your face presses against your pillow. This pressure can lead to fine lines and wrinkles.

How to Train Yourself to Sleep on Your Back

Some people find that it is easy to fall asleep while lying on their back but difficult to continue back sleeping for the entire night. If you have been instructed to sleep on your back for medical reasons or to prevent injury after a recent surgery, this can be frustrating. There are a few ways you can train yourself to sleep on your back throughout the night.

Place a Pillow Underneath Your Knees

It may help to place a supportive pillow under your knees before bed. Your knees should be slightly bent and feel comfortable. Once you have put a small pillow beneath your knees, check to make sure that your neck and spine feel comfortable and are in alignment. Make adjustments as needed.

Place a Pillow Under Your Lower Back

Some people find that back sleeping increases discomfort in their lower back. Placing a pillow under your lower back while you sleep might help. If the pillow is too large or thick, however, it may create even more discomfort. You may need to try a few different pillows to find what works best for you.

Surround Yourself With Pillows

If you are an active sleeper and are worried about rolling from your back onto your side or stomach soon after you fall asleep, there are measures you can take to help prevent this. Try placing pillows around your midsection and hips. These pillows can help prevent you from rolling over during the night. However, this might not be a viable option for those who share the bed, as it can take up a significant amount of bed space.

Illustration of a man sleeping comfortably on his back.

When to Consider Other Sleeping Positions

Back sleeping might not be the best option for everyone, as it can increase the risk of complications for people with certain health conditions.

  • Pregnancy: Sleeping on your back while pregnant, especially during late-term pregnancy, is not advised. Research shows that sleeping on your back while pregnant can reduce blood flow to the fetus and can increase risk of low birth weight. Side sleeping is generally recommended instead. Pregnancy pillows can be used to support your back and stomach while lying on your side.
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder in which a person experiences disordered breathing caused by blockages in the airway during sleep. Research suggests that more severe symptoms occur when lying on your back. If you experience OSA and sleep on your back, you may want to consider switching to side sleeping.
  • Chronic Snoring: Although snoring is not always a sign of an underlying sleep issue, it can be frustrating and disruptive. Research shows that sleeping on your back increases snoring . If you can, try elevating your head with a second pillow. If that is uncomfortable, it may help to try sleeping on your side.
  • Heartburn: Heartburn is more likely to occur when sleeping on your back . If you prefer to sleep on your back, it may help to elevate your upper body with pillows or a wedge pillow. Additionally, reducing the amount of food you eat before you go to sleep may help manage nighttime heartburn. It is best to avoid fatty, spicy, and acidic foods, as they can increase heartburn symptoms .  
“One of the principal factors driving OSA is the retropositioning of the jaw and the relaxation of the tongue that occurs during sleep, which narrows the upper airway. Back sleeping exacerbates this further, leading to more airway collapse.”
Dr. Gerard Meskill, MD
Dr. Gerard Meskill, MD
Sleep Medicine Physician, Sleep Apnea Expert

Why Is Back Sleeping Uncomfortable for Some?

Some people find back sleeping to be uncomfortable, and they would rather sleep on their side or stomach. Sleep position choices are a matter of personal preference, but they can also result from the type of mattress and pillow a person owns.

If you have an old mattress and pillow, that might contribute to discomfort while back sleeping. Choosing a mattress that properly supports back sleeping may make this position more comfortable for you. Additionally, if your pillows are old or unsupportive, there is a good chance that your neck is not in alignment with your spine when you are lying on your back. Using a pillow ideal for back sleepers helps keep your spine aligned while you sleep.

However, back sleeping may increase pain for some sleepers. Experimenting with sleeping positions can help you find what works for you.

Other Tips For Good Sleep

Your sleeping position is not the only factor that affects whether or not you receive a good night’s rest. There are a variety of sleep habits you can implement to promote a restful night:

  • Keep a consistent schedule, with a similar bedtime each night.
  • Establish an evening routine that allows you ample time to get ready for bed.
  • Try drinking non-caffeinated herbal tea to help you relax before bed.
  • Keep your room dark and comfortable.
  • Limit screen time for at least an hour before bed, if possible. Exposure to blue light from screens can negatively impact your ability to fall asleep .
Learn more about our Editorial Team

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