Medically Reviewed by Amy Wolkin, DPT, MBA
Dr. Amy Wolkin is a physical therapist based in Atlanta, GA. After graduating from Wellesley College in 2012, she pursued dual graduate degrees at Emory University. She graduated in 2017 with her Master of Business Administration and Doctor of Physical Therapy degrees. Her clinical interests are outpatient orthopedics, women’s health, and pediatric sports medicine. She has advanced training in dry needling and pelvic floor physical therapy.
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Training yourself to sleep in a new position is hard. If you’re a primary stomach or side sleeper, you know how difficult it can be learning to sleep on your back. I (Slumber Yard team member McKenzie) have spent many nights trying to fall asleep on my back, only to give up 30-45 minutes later because I just can’t get comfortable enough to drift off. However, sleeping on your back has proven to be more beneficial for your health and physical appearance, and we’ll elaborate on all of that as we continue. Even J-Lo, the pop sensation who seemingly never ages, sleeps with a bunch of pillows surrounding her, so she’s able to sleep on her back throughout the entire night comfortably. If that sounds bizarre to you, trust us when we say she has a reason! (We’ll tell you all about it). Continue along to find out how to sleep on your back and why it’s beneficial for you.

Train Yourself To Sleep On Your Back

There is a list of reasons why it’s more advantageous to sleep on your back than your side or stomach, and we’ll start with the most important:

Better spine alignment

When your back is flat against a surface, you’re in the most neutral position for your spine and your neck’s natural curve.  By sleeping on your stomach, you have to twist your neck to breathe, which can cause you to wake up with soreness in your neck and back. IF you’re someone who suffers from back pain check out our guide on the best mattresses for back pain.

Minimize acid reflux

Sleeping on your back also helps minimize acid reflux and it helps drain fluid, so you don’t wake up with puffy cheeks and bags under your eyes. Sleeping a little more elevated, like with extra pillows or an adjustable bed base, will also help with this, but the first step is sleeping on your back.

Reduce tension headaches

Sleeping on your back can take some of the pressure off your neck that leads to tension headaches. When your neck is in an awkward or uncomfortable position, which sometimes happens on your side or stomach, it’ll cause that pain in your head that’s so frustrating. 

Appearance

One major reason J-Lo sleeps on her back — according to her pal Khloe Kardashian — is to prevent both face and neck wrinkles. Sleeping on your stomach or side causes premature aging, and it makes sense because your face is continuously pressed up against a surface for hours at a time. And speaking of having your face pressed up against a surface, do you know how much bacteria is on your pillow, especially if you aren’t regularly washing your pillowcases at least every other week? We don’t know the exact answer, but it’s a lot. So sleeping on your back also helps prevent acne and annoying breakouts.

How To Sleep on Your Back

So, how do you learn to sleep on your back? Below is a list of methods that people have found work for them, and we think trying a variety of them can give you the best results. The most important thing to remember, though, is to stay persistent. You probably won’t get the hang of it the first night or first week, but it’ll eventually come easier for you. You just have to practice! Now let’s get into it.

1) Consider A Firmer Mattress

If you have an incredibly soft mattress that has an impression of your body, there’s a good chance you won’t feel comfortable sleeping on your back. Not only that, but your hips and core will likely sag into the mattress, meaning you could wake up with a sore, aching back. If this sounds familiar, it might be time for a newer, firmer mattress. Be sure to check out our list of the Best Mattresses For Back Sleepers and Best Mattresses for Back Pain to get an idea of beds that properly support your lower back and hips. If your bed still has life left in it, though, you can always look into buying a mattress topper. This is a relatively affordable way to change up your mattress’s feel without buying a whole new one. 

If you share your bed with a partner, this might be the opportunity to consider investing in a bed with two different feels so you can each have the firmness level or elevation you need. Check out our list of the best beds for couples and see if you can find a mattress that will keep you both comfortable while you sleep.

2) Elevate Your Head

When you’re sleeping on your back, it’s important to have your neck supported if you want to be comfortable and maintain proper alignment. Now, this can either be done with the right pillows or with pretty much any adjustable bed frame. If you want to go the pillow route, soft and floppy pillows will not be your friend. You should find a firm pillow that props your head up and keeps your neck in a proper “C” curve.

If you have an adjustable bed frame or are interested in one, you can position the base’s head portion to make you sit slightly upwards, and it’s honestly pretty comfortable. This will also prevent you from putting in much effort to keep your neck and head propped up. You’ll likely be pretty uncomfortable if you try to sleep on your side or stomach while your head is raised, so this is a great way to train yourself to sleep on your back.

3) Pillows, Pillows, And More Pillows

Taking the pillow method we just mentioned earlier a step further, you can also do it like J-Lo and surround yourself with them, if that’s what it’s going to take to get you to sleep on your back. Put one pillow under your head, underneath each arm, under your knees, and on the sides of your stomach. It might feel uncomfortable under your knees at first, but doing a few minor stretches before bed should help with that.

You or a partner may think this is a little overkill, but it’ll help you keep from rolling over onto your side or your stomach, especially in the beginning.

4) The Starfish Position

If that last method was out of the question for you because you sleep with a significant other who would undoubtedly be annoyed with you, you might want to skip right over this tip. It’s the starfish position, and you quite literally lay like the five-legged sea creature across your mattress. Once you get used to sleeping with your limbs spread out every which way, it’s pretty enjoyable. But you do take up about ¾ of the mattress doing it, so again, this tip is probably best for those of you who don’t sleep with a partner.

5) Avoid Eating Right Before Bedtime

This tip should be done in conjunction with the others you try out, but it’s important to always follow if you want any luck sleeping on your back. If you eat a meal less than two hours before you go to bed, especially an unhealthy one, you’ll probably be pretty uncomfortable if you try to fall asleep face-up. So try to avoid it at all costs. This is a good tip to follow in general but will be especially helpful if you’re trying to sleep on your back.

Keep Practicing

We all have a favorite sleeping position, but sleeping on your back has many benefits. It’s not going to be ideal for everyone, especially right away, but it’s worth trying. Learning to sleep on your back takes practice, and you have to be patient with yourself. You have to train yourself to sleep on your back just as you have to train yourself to sit up straight. It takes time, constant reminders, and being kind to yourself to learn to sleep on your back.

To start, try to fall asleep on your back by simply laying on your back each night before bedtime. It might help to read a book in this position to get you relaxed and ready to fall asleep on your back. If you’re really struggling, don’t force yourself. It’s more important that you get to sleep, even if it means having to resort to sleeping in a different position in the meantime. With practice and trying out these tips for sleeping on your back, you’ll get there in no time!

Good luck!

FAQ

Who shouldn’t sleep on their back? 

People who have sleep apnea or experience regular back pain may not like sleeping on their backs. Back sleeping is not recommended for pregnant women.

Can I sleep on my back while I’m pregnant? 

If you’re pregnant, you shouldn’t sleep on your back because the baby will be lying on top of the vena cava, a large vein that gets blood to the heart. And the pressure from the baby can limit the blood flow to the heart. The position can also feel uncomfortable as all the extra weight will be pressing on your spine.

Why can’t I fall asleep on my back? 

You may need to adjust your pillow height or sleep on a firmer mattress. Training yourself to sleep on your back takes practice, so don’t give up too quickly.