How To Sleep On Your Back

By Mitchell Tollsen
Last Updated On November 17th, 2020

If you’re waking up with aches and pains, chances are you’re not sleeping in the right position. You can consider the back sleeping position because it maintains your spine’s natural…

How To Sleep On Your Back

If you’re waking up with aches and pains, chances are you’re not sleeping in the right position. You can consider the back sleeping position because it maintains your spine’s natural alignment.

When you sleep on your back, your spine is straight. Back-sleeping supports your spine while promoting its healthiest posture through the night.

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There are different ways to optimize sleeping on your back. In this article, we discuss the most common back sleeping variations and how to benefit from sleeping this way.

Back Sleeping Types

There are two different types of back sleeping. The way your hands are positioned while sleeping determines your preferred way of back sleeping.

In one of the positions both arms are above the head and your legs are slightly parted. In the other, your arms lay by your side and your legs may or may not be parted, depending on your preferences.

How to Sleep on Your Back

Here we provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to best sleep on your back. Following these steps can help you make the most of the back-sleeping position.

Align Your Neck

Lay flat on your back with a pillow underneath your head, aligning your spine. The key lies in finding the best pillow to support the curvature of your neck. Your neck should be in a straight line with your spine. Usually, a pillow 5 to 6-inches high (medium pillow loft) is perfect for supporting your head and neck in its natural position. Too thick or thin pillows may cause spinal misalignment, leading to pain in the shoulder and neck region.

Put a Pillow Under Your Knees

Placing a pillow, rolled-up blanket, or towel under your knees supports the normal curvature of your lower back region, reducing stress on your spine. When you sleep on your back by placing pillows, a rolled-up blanket, or a towel under your knees, your spine is well-supported, reducing the chances of stress.

Keep Your Arms Up

Laying on your back with your arms up by the side of your pillow relaxes your muscles reducing pressure points. However, placing your hands under your head or tilting your arms at an angle higher than 90 degrees can stress your arms’ nerves and muscles.

Spread Your Legs Slightly

Spreading your hands and legs relaxes your muscles, alleviating aches.

Benefits of Sleeping on Your Back

There are many advantages of sleeping on your back, and if you can do it correctly your overall physical health may improve. Apart from keeping your spine aligned, this position relieves sinusitis, headache, and even boosts skin health.

Maintains Spinal Alignment

Sleeping on your back keeps your head, neck, and spine aligned in a neutral position, the way they are meant to be. This supine position reduces the chances of accidental strain to your spine due to a bad sleeping posture.

Relieves Sinusitis

When you sleep on your back with a pillow comfortably supporting your head and neck, you reduce the chances of nasal congestion, or sinusitis. In this inclined position, gravity causes the mucus to drain, preventing stuffy-nose-related sleep disruptions. Back sleeping with the head in an elevated position reduces runny nose, coughing, and other allergy symptoms.

Reduces Tension Headaches

Back sleeping keeps your head, neck, and lower back in neutral alignment as if you are standing. Your spine is supported in its natural position, so it won’t be strained. A strained neck triggers tension headaches.

Boosts Skin Health

In the back sleeping position, you are face-up, reducing the chances of wrinkles and breakouts because your face doesn’t touch the pillow or bed. Pressure to the same area of skin for a prolonged time breaks down collagen, causing unwanted fine lines.

May Reduce Acid Reflux

Lying on your back with a pillow under your head may reduce the chances of acid reflux and heartburn. This position keeps your esophagus at a higher elevation than your stomach, preventing stomach acid from moving upwards.

Possible Disadvantages of Back Sleeping

Though the back sleeping position has many advantages, there may be some potential drawbacks. For people with certain pre-existing conditions, back-sleeping may not be the best sleeping position.

Increases Snoring

Sleeping on your back may lead to collapsed soft tissues in the upper airway, reducing space for the passage of air while breathing. Narrowed air space causes vibration leading to snoring. The chances of snoring are higher in those who are obese because their throat muscles are loose and prone to collapsing faster.

Worsens Obstructive Sleep apnea (OSA)

Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a condition in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. Those who have OSA may wake up gasping for air because their air passage is narrowed by relaxing throat muscles. The supine position increases the likelihood of collapsing throat muscles, thus aggravating symptoms of OSA.

May Increase Lower Back Pain

If you already have lower back pain, it’s beneficial to have enhanced lumbar support. Lying flat on your back doesn’t support your spine’s natural curvature, causing strain. Placing a pillow under your knees may help reduce the strain.

Affects Circulation During Pregnancy

After the first trimester of pregnancy, it may be uncomfortable to sleep on your back because of your growing belly. Sleeping on the back causes the weight of your abdomen to rest on your intestine and other blood vessels, affecting digestion and circulation.

It’s best to sleep on your side during pregnancy. If you accidentally roll over on your back, it’s not harmful, and you can turn to your side again as soon as you realize. You may keep a pillow under your hip to prevent yourself from rolling over to the back sleeping position.

Factors to Consider When Sleeping on Your Back

How To Sleep On Your Back

Some factors may enhance your back sleeping experience. They may also help diminish some of the risks associated with the supine position.

Mattress firmness

A body-conforming mattress such as memory foam or latex contours to the curves of your body, providing pressure point relief and reducing joint aches. By contouring to your body’s curves, your mattress supports every part of the body, evenly distributing weight across the sleeping surface. A medium or medium-firm body-contouring mattress eliminates the risk of waking up with body-pain in the back sleeping position.

Use a Pillow

You can optimize the benefits of back sleeping only when you elevate your head by using a pillow. In the supine position, supporting your head and neck region with a pillow helps maintain your spine’s neutral alignment, eliminating strain. Elevating your head also helps in relieving nasal congestion and acid reflux.

Keep a Humidifier

Dry air may cause nose and throat irritation, increasing the chances of snoring. Keeping a humidifier in the room moistens the air, preventing chances of nasal irritation.

Stretching Before Bedtime

Stretching your hip flexors before going to bed relaxes your muscles and prepares you for sleep. It’s especially beneficial for those with back pain to stretch before going to bed because it increases circulation, preventing chances of muscle stiffness.

Other Sleep Positions

While back-sleeping may be comfortable for some, there are others who prefer sleeping on their sides or stomach. Every sleep position has some advantages, however, we don’t recommend stomach sleeping because it strains your back and neck.

Side Sleeping

According to some studies, Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source side sleeping is the most popular sleep position. It also has some advantages such as boosting brain health, reducing chances of snoring, and acid reflux.

Stomach Sleeping

Some people prefer sleeping on their stomachs, but they are at risk of spinal misalignment. Sleeping on your stomach arches your spine unnaturally, straining your back and neck.

Combination Sleeping

Combination sleepers toss and turn through the night, changing different sleep positions. They take advantage of each sleeping position but also experience the drawbacks of all sleep positions.

FAQs

What’s the best position to sleep in with a stuffy nose?

Back sleeping with your head propped up on a pillow may be the best position to sleep in with a stuffy nose. Lying on your side clogs the sinuses of that particular side. For example, if you are turning to your left side, then the sinuses on the left feel clogged when you wake up the next morning.

Stomach sleeping comes with other disadvantages such as a strained neck or back. Back sleeping with an incline helps in maintaining the spine’s neutral alignment. Elevating your head helps relieve nasal congestion.

Should the shoulders be on the pillow when back sleeping?

No, you shouldn’t rest your shoulders on the pillow, only your head should be on the pillow. You can push the pillow down close to your shoulders. Placing your shoulders on the pillow may cause spinal misalignment, straining your neck and back.

Conclusion

Throughout the day we may be spending long hours standing or sitting in a bad posture, straining the spine. At bedtime, we have an opportunity to rectify this problem. By sleeping on our back (the right way) for seven to eight hours, we can support our spine without the risk of contorting and straining it.

This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.


About the author

Mitchell Tollsen is a graduate student and a freelance writer who’s contributed to the Early Bird blog for three years. Mitchell’s always been fascinated by the science of sleep and the restorative processes our bodies undergo when at rest. The self-titled “Sleep Expert” is always looking for ways to improve his shut-eye, and throughout the years has implemented numerous lifestyle changes and tried dozens of sleep-promoting gadgets to determine the best ways to truly get better rest.

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