How to Sleep on Your Back

Written by Mohammed Aftab

Last Updated July 24, 2024

Are you aware of the benefits of sleeping on your back? Have you ever wondered if it's something that everyone can do? If so, then you might be interested in knowing how to sleep on your back in a comfortable way. This is precisely what we're here to explore!

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Key Takeaways:

  • Back sleeping is the second most common sleeping position, right behind side sleeping.
  • Back sleeping is best accomplished by lying on your back, arms and legs extended, and head slightly elevated with a pillow. If that doesn't work, try elevating your knees, lower back, and arms separately or all at once with a pillow(s).
  • Back sleeping maintains proper spinal alignment, can help relieve pain and pressure, and prevents facial compression.
  • Individuals with obstructive sleep apnea, chronic snoring, acid reflux, and/or heartburn should avoid back sleeping. Side sleeping is recommended for pregnant women in their second and third trimesters.
  • When sleeping on your back, avoid elevating your upper or lower body for an extended period of time, sleeping with your arms above your head, sleeping with your legs crossed, and elevating your head, arms, back, or knees too high.

What is back sleeping?

Back sleeping is a type of sleep position in which the sleeper lies on their back with their head and neck in a neutral position, looking up at the ceiling, and their arms and legs extended. This is the world's second most common sleep position, behind side sleeping, and is often recommended by physicians and sleep specialists.

Back sleeping allows for a more uniform distribution of pressure across the body and helps to align the spine. Additionally, when done correctly, this sleeping position can improve posture and provide a variety of other health benefits.

What are the benefits of sleeping on your back?

Like side sleeping, sleeping on your back is also considered to be very beneficial. In fact, some of the disadvantages of side sleeping may even be lessened by sleeping on your back. Here are all the major benefits of back sleeping -

  • Ensures proper spinal alignment

Sleeping on your back keeps the spine in its neutral position, thus reducing the risk of spinal misalignment. Gravitational pressure on the spine is also reduced when sleeping on one's back.

  • Relieves neck and back pain

We learned that back sleeping is capable of keeping your spine neutrally aligned. A well-aligned spine facilitates the undisrupted healing of neck and back while also reducing the possibility of future pain.

  • Reduces pressure on your spine, neck, shoulders, and hips

When you sleep on your back, your hips and shoulders are not pressed against the mattress all night. Likewise, your spine and neck do not bend or twist in unnatural ways. As a result, back sleeping prevents and alleviates pressure in these areas of the body.

back sleeping relieves pressure on neck, shoulders, and spine
  • Prevents wrinkles from forming on your face

In the back sleeping posture, you only need to rest the back of your head on the pillow, avoiding the rest of your face from coming into contact with it. This helps prevent your skin from being compressed and eventually wrinkled.

What are the drawbacks of sleeping on your back?

Back sleeping is not the most ideal sleeping position by any means. There are as many drawbacks to it as there are benefits. The most common issue with back sleeping is that it tends to flare up certain health conditions. Since we’ve covered the advantages of back sleeping, let's examine some of its disadvantages.

  • Obstructive sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea patients should make every effort to avoid sleeping on their backs. This phenomenon occurs when the airway collapses while a person is sleeping. As a result, they can't breathe and are awakened. Sleeping on your back can exacerbate OSA. Side sleeping or stomach sleeping is typically preferable for those with OSA.

  • Chronic snoring

Studies show that snoring is most likely to increase when you sleep on your back. Although it can occur on its own, persistent snoring can also be a sign of sleep apnea. Since gravity's effect on the throat causes the airway to become more constricted, snoring is usually loudest when sleeping on the back. Here, sleeping on your side is preferable because it lessens airway compression.

  • Acid reflux and heartburn

The backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus is referred to as acid reflux. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is the term used to describe them when they happen frequently and have potentially harmful effects. Research has shown that the back sleeping position only serves to exacerbate GERD, which produces heartburn as a symptom.

  • Pregnancy complications

Once you're about 20 weeks pregnant, the vena cava, a significant blood vessel, may become compressed if you sleep on your back. According to research, back sleeping can also increase the likelihood of stillbirth. In the second and third trimesters, it is safer for your baby if you sleep on your side.

What are some tips for sleeping on your back comfortably?

  1. Make sure your mattress is supportive and comfortable

A mattress that is too soft or too firm can cause discomfort and make it difficult to fall asleep. The ideal mattress ought to offer sufficient support to maintain a neutral spine alignment and lessen pressure points.

  1. Adjust your pillow

Pillows are essential for keeping your head and neck in a neutral position, so it’s important to find the right pillow for your sleeping position. A pillow that is too thick/high or too thin/low can cause neck and shoulder pain. The best pillows for back sleepers are typically those made of memory foam or latex, with medium firmness and height.

  1. Use a body pillow (optional)

A body pillow can help to support your entire body and keep your spine in alignment.

  1. Practice good posture

Maintain good posture throughout the day, as it will make it easier for you to relax and fall asleep.

  1. Put pillows under your knees and lower back

A mid-loft pillow under your knees and a thin pillow under your lower back will support your body's natural curvature and lessen pressure on your spine.

  1. Maintain a healthy sleep routine.

This entails creating a regular bedtime routine and staying away from activities that might keep you up at night, like using electronics right before bed.

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What is the ideal way to sleep on your back?

There are two ways in which back sleepers can practice their posture efficiently.

  1. The regular

The most common position is to lie on your back, arms and legs extended, and head slightly elevated with a pillow. This position aids in the reduction of pressure points and the alignment of your spine.

In this position, your head is raised to a comfortable level, your arms are kept comfortably extended away from your body, your upper and lower backs are flat on the mattress surface, and your knees and legs are slightly spaced apart.

  1. Elevated knees/lower back/arms

If you find that the standard back sleeping position doesn't work for you, try using pillow(s) to elevate your knees, lower back, and arms separately or all at once.

  • Elevating your knees with a medium-thick pillow maintains the natural curve of your back while distributing your body weight more evenly and reducing stress on the lumbar spine.
  • Elevating your lower back with a thin/medium thick pillow (depending on body weight) can relieve pressure on your spine and nerves.
  • Elevating your arms with a thin pillow can help you distribute your body weight more evenly while also improving your posture.

These are some of the most practical ways to sleep on your back. Other back sleeping positions you can try include the "soldier," in which your arms and legs are kept close to your body, and the "shooting star," in which your arms and legs are stretched up and out to resemble a star. Experiment with all the positions mentioned above and choose the one that feels most comfortable.

What should you avoid doing when sleeping on your back?

You should avoid:

  • Elevating your upper or lower body for an extended period of time in a recliner bed or other similar device -  It can cause pain by stretching you out of shape and misaligning your spine. Temporary use is acceptable.
  • Sleeping with your arms above your head - Shoulder pain is inevitable if you sleep on your back with your hands propped up above your head. You may even experience tingling and numbness in your hands and arms as a result of the pressure put on the nerves.
  • Sleeping with your legs crossed - This can cause circulation problems. Cross-legged posture places undue pressure on particular body parts. As a result of this pressure, circulatory issues and vein disease, also known as venous insufficiency, may develop.
  • Elevating your head, arms, back, or knees too high - In this case, some—like the knees—need more elevation than others, while others—like the back—only require minimal elevation. Always keep your elevation at a comfortable level that doesn't throw your body out of balance.

What are the best pillows for back sleepers?

There are a few things to think about when choosing pillows. You need a pillow that is both comfortable and supportive, but not too thick or thin. A thick pillow may cause your head to slant forward, which may result in neck pain. If your pillow is too thin, it won’t provide adequate support. A good rule of thumb is to look for a pillow that is thick enough to keep your head and neck in alignment but not so thick that it causes your head to tilt forward.

When searching for the best pillow for back sleeping, two factors—material and design—must be taken into account.

Material

Memory foam or latex pillows are the best options for back sleepers. Other materials we can suggest for back sleeping include buckwheat, feather, and down.

MEMORY FOAM PILLOWS

Memory foam is a synthetic material created by increasing the elasticity and viscosity of polyurethane. The best memory foam pillow for back sleepers offers sufficient head and neck support while also significantly contouring your body. The issues with memory foam are for you to judge.

Memory foam traps heat and raises your body temperature while you're trying to sleep. For a cool experience, look for a memory foam pillow that has been infused with gel. In the initial stages of usage, memory foam may emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

NATURAL LATEX PILLOWS

Latex pillows are a great alternative to memory foam pillows for back sleepers because they offer a more supportive surface. Furthermore, latex is environmentally friendly and cooling in nature, which means no off-gassing and more comfortable nights. Its issues are minimal and manageable, too.

Due to the high cost of production, natural latex will cost the buyer more money. An excellent latex pillow costs between $70 and $150. Latex will also have a vanilla scent in the beginning. Some may like it, some may not.

Design

A back sleeper needs to take into account four design elements for their pillows: loft, size, shape, and firmness.

LOFT

A pillow's loft is a measurement of its height or thickness. Back sleepers typically favor medium-loft pillows, which range in thickness from 3 to 5 inches.

SIZE

The pillow's size should be chosen based on how much you move while sleeping. King, queen, and standard are the three most popular pillow sizes. Body pillows can also be beneficial.

SHAPE

Back sleepers should find a typical, rounded-shaped pillow to be comfortable. When doing research, you will come across numerous other pillow designs, including rectangles and convoluted (contour pillows). Always choose the option that supports you and keeps your head at a neutral level.

FIRMNESS

A pillow's firmness level controls how soft or firm it feels and how much it flattens when subjected to weight. Commonly, medium-firm pillows are preferred by back sleepers.

What is the best pillow placement for back sleepers?

The position of the pillow is crucial for back sleepers, regardless of the type of pillow you choose. Your ability to sleep and any pain you are experiencing are both exacerbated by improper pillow placement.

Your head, neck, and spine should all be aligned when you place the pillow under your head, and your spine should be in a neutral position. This means that it shouldn't be too high, where it only supports the head and exposes the neck, nor too low, where it drops down to your shoulders and leaves your head unsupported.

In this instance, the pillow's design should also be taken into account. Having a pillow that is either too thick or too thin can be uncomfortable. Opt for a pillow loft, size, and firmness that feels most comfortable to you. If you have the opportunity to try out a pillow before purchasing it, do so for at least 5-10 minutes.

What are the best mattresses for back sleepers?

Mattresses, like pillows, must provide adequate back support while also being comfortable to sleep on. It can be uncomfortable and challenging to fall asleep on a mattress that is either too soft or too firm. The best mattress should fit your body type and sleeping preferences.

Medium-firm mattresses are the most ideal for back sleepers. These mattresses will lessen any pressure points and assist in maintaining a neutral spine. Additionally, mattresses with a cooling layer can help keep you cool and comfortable throughout the night.

Material

You should choose a mattress material that conforms to your body well, won't sink under your weight, will last for a long time, and will keep you cool while you sleep. Such materials include natural latex and memory foam.

NATURAL LATEX

Natural latex mattresses are all-foam, with layers of Dunlop and Talalay latex foams, and are excellent for sleeping. They're eco-friendly, hypoallergenic, contouring, supportive, cooling, long-lasting, and resilient. Latex mattresses can provide all of the qualities that a back sleeper prefers. A latex mattress' responsiveness and bounce are its main characteristics. You won't feel bogged down while using it, making movement fairly simple.

MEMORY FOAM

Memory foam mattresses are also made entirely of foam, with layers of thick and soft memory foam, and they are excellent at contouring and relieving pressure. They absorb heat from the sleeper and perfectly conform to their body. However, memory foam may not provide as much support as it does comfort. Furthermore, regular memory foam can be hot to sleep on, so choosing a variant, such as gel-infused memory foam, can help keep you cool.

Construction

Mattresses come in three models: All foam, hybrids, and innerspring.

All foam mattresses are constructed entirely of foam layers. Whereas the bottom layers may be dense for better support, the top layer will be designed for comfort.

Innersprings and hybrids use springs as the lower layer to provide bounce and support, while foam serves as the top layer for comfort.

All foams and hybrids are excellent choices for back sleepers. Innersprings may be an ineffective mattresses for pressure relief and contour, but they do provide adequate support.

SIZE

Twin, twin XL, full, queen, king, and California king are the different mattress sizes offered to you in ascending order. Choose this factor based on how much space your body requires to back sleep effectively.

HEIGHT

The usual heights you're given are 8, 10, and 12 inches. Back sleepers may require a comfort layer of up to 2-3 inches and a support layer of up to 5-7 inches. In general, a good supportive mattress can range in thickness from 8 to 10 inches. Consider your weight when selecting the height. Mattress height increases with body size.

FIRMNESS

The three common firmness levels for mattresses are soft, medium, and firm. Adapt this factor based on body weight. Choose a soft or medium-firm feel if you weigh less than 130 pounds. Choose a medium-firm mattress if you weigh between 130 and 230 pounds. Choose a firm mattress if you weigh more than 230 pounds.

What are some bedtime routines that back sleepers should practice?

A bedtime routine is a set of activities that a person usually performs before climbing into bed and drifting off to sleep. Many of us have simple bedtime rituals like reading a book, taking a warm bath, or even doing the unhealthy activity of doomscrolling. Here are some that you can combine with your back sleeping position for optimal sleep quality -

  • Set a consistent time for sleeping and waking

An average person requires 7-9 hours of restful sleep to function normally. Establishing a regular sleep-wake cycle can help you adjust to the bedtime routine and prevent oversleeping or undersleeping.

  • Avoid alcohol, water, and caffeine before going to bed

These liquids may wake you up unexpectedly and disturb your sleep, leaving you exhausted the next day. Drinking before bed may even cause indigestion and heartburn, which will prevent you from falling asleep until the next morning.

  • Avoid eating before going to bed

As your body prepares to sleep, it slows down some of its functions to allow for adequate rest. When you eat before bed, especially high-carb foods, your body won't be able to properly digest the food, leading to issues like weight gain, indigestion, acid reflux, etc.

  • Exercise enough during the day

Maintaining a regular exercise routine during the day will keep you healthy and improve your sleep. However, it's best to steer clear of intense physical activities just before bedtime.

  • Avoid screens at least an hour before bed

As the blue light from screens can interfere with your sleep cycle, try to avoid using them for at least an hour before bed. If you're having trouble falling asleep, swap out the screens for books.

  • Relax and wind down before bed

You can calm yourself down before going to sleep by engaging in activities like taking a warm bath, keeping a sleep journal, practicing deep breathing exercises, yoga, and meditation. They will relieve your stress, leading to improved sleep quality.

Creating a consistent bedtime routine is essential for back sleepers. Activities that promote relaxation, such as reading or taking a warm bath, should be a part of a healthy bedtime routine. It's also important to steer clear of activities that might keep you up at night, like using electronics right before bed. Furthermore, you should avoid eating and exercising right before bed because they can disturb your sleep.

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Conclusion

While there are many advantages to sleeping on your back, there are some typical sleep issues that can arise as well. The best positions, pillows, mattresses, and bedtime rituals for back sleepers are all covered in this comprehensive overview of how to comfortably sleep on your back. These recommendations will help you get a good night's sleep and wake up feeling rejuvenated and energized.

FAQs

  1. How do you train yourself to sleep on your back?

Start off by finding the most comfortable sleeping position for your back. Once that's done, ensure that you have the right set of bedding accessories that aid you with your position. If you find yourself shifting positions, build a pillow fortress around you to discourage this.

  1. Is it OK to sleep on your back all night?

Of course! Unlike stomach sleepers, there's no harm in back and side sleeping all night. In fact, it can even be beneficial for you as it keeps your spine aligned. Just make sure that you're back sleeping the right way. If you like stretching your arms and legs out instead of tucking them in, then, by all means, do not hesitate.

  1. What firmness is best for back sleepers?

Medium firmness is often the most recommended firmness level for back sleepers, in the case of both mattresses and pillows.

  1. Should you be sleeping on your back during pregnancy?

Sleeping on your back during pregnancy is not recommended. This position can cause your uterus to compress major blood vessels, which can reduce the amount of oxygen and nutrients going to the baby. Additionally, it can also cause back and neck pain. If you’re pregnant, sleeping on your side with a pillow between your legs and your head slightly elevated is best.

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Disclaimer: What is said in this article has been referenced from multiple sources and is intended only for educational and informational purposes. Please note that no content in this article is a substitute for professional advice from a qualified doctor or healthcare provider. Always consult an experienced doctor with any concerns you may have regarding a health condition or treatment, and never disregard any medical suggestions or delay in seeking treatment because of something you read here.

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