Home / Blog January 03, 2023

Why Can’t I Sleep On My Back? How and When to Try Back Sleeping

Many people believe sleeping on your back is the best sleep position for your health. But when it comes to sleeping positions, there’s no one-size-fits-all advice. So who should sleep on their back? And who shouldn’t sleep on their back? Learn more about the pros and cons of back sleeping and how to train your body to sleep in this position

why can't i sleep on my back

Bearassentials

Sleeping on your back can help promote back and neck health.

Back sleeping isn’t recommended for pregnant people or for people with some medical conditions.

Finding a comfortable position for your head, neck, and lower back can help you feel more natural sleeping on your back. 

Did you know?
On average, less than half of the population regularly sleep on their backs.

If you tend to wake up feeling sore or poorly rested, you might be thinking about switching sleeping positions. Sleeping on your back can be a great way to keep your limbs aligned and prevent numbness. For many people, it also helps them access deeper breathing and fall asleep more quickly.

To start sleeping on your back, you’ll first want to learn more about the benefits and drawbacks of this sleeping position. There are some health conditions that make back sleeping a bad idea, and pregnant people should avoid back sleeping whenever possible.

If back sleeping is the best choice for you, you can get more comfortable in this sleeping position by trying different supportive pillows and positions for your arms and legs. Keeping your sleep hygiene consistent will also help you ease into sleeping on your back more quickly.

Benefits of Sleeping On Your Back

Benefits of Sleeping On Your Back

For people that struggle to find restorative rest, the best sleeping position might be whichever one helps them fall (and stay) asleep. But if you find it easy to rest on your back, there are several potential health benefits.

First, sleeping on your back can help keep your spine aligned, which is good news for your back and neck. It’s a good idea to sleep with your hands at your sides or on your chest if you do experience back or neck pain, because these positions can help bring down your pain levels.

Sleeping on your back is also a good idea if you’re feeling congested. This is because sleeping on your back elevates your head a bit more than other sleeping positions. Any mucus in your system will have a clearer path down away from your sinuses.

It’s even possible that sleeping on your back could help you fall asleep faster! Sleeping on your back can allow you to breathe more deeply than other sleeping positions. When you sleep on your side or on your stomach, your lungs and diaphragm are more compressed.

Sleeping on your back can help some people access deeper breathing — that slow, steady flow of air that relaxes your whole body. If you’ve ever felt the relaxation that comes from slowing down and focusing on your breath, it will come as no surprise that deep breathing can help you sleep better!

Many people incorporate breathing exercises into their bedtime routines to help them ease into a sleepier state of mind. By sleeping on your back, you can ensure that your body is in the right position to continue this relaxing pattern all night long.

Other people have more aesthetic reasons for avoiding back sleeping. Some people find that sleeping on their side or stomach leaves their skin feeling less-than-lovely.

The skin on our faces is especially sensitive, and increased contact with your pillow or sheets sometimes causes breakouts or other inflammation. Side and stomach sleeping are also linked to wrinkles.

Best Back Sleeping Positions

There are many different ways to support your body while you sleep on your back. You can choose to place a pillow beneath your knees or place extra pillows at your sides. The best back sleeping position for you likely comes down to your own personal health situation.

If you’re switching to back sleeping because you suffer from back pain, placing a pillow beneath your head and a second pillow beneath your knees might do the trick.

Where you place your arms can also make a difference. You might associate sleeping on your back with keeping your arms flat at your sides, but some people prefer the “starfish position,” where you stretch your limbs out across the bed. This one might be easier when sleeping alone!

To lend yourself a little extra support, you can also try switching up your pillow. Everyone has a different preference when it comes to pillow texture — some prefer a soft, cloud-like resting spot, while others like a firm, sturdy cushion. There are also many different shapes and sizes you can try out to lend your body the support it needs.

If you’re looking for a supportive, satisfyingly squashy body pillow, our Cuddler might be a useful option. It’s sustainably made out of plant-based Melofoam™, and designed to melt away day-to-day tension.

Downsides to Sleeping On Your Back

While back sleeping can be good for your health in many ways, it can also worsen certain conditions such as sleep apnea, lower back pain, and heartburn. And for pregnant people, back sleeping is highly discouraged, especially during the third trimester.

Though sleeping on your back can generally help to reduce back or neck pain in the long run, it might aggravate the issue if your lower back is feeling particularly painful on a given night. That said, there are some ways to alleviate the pressure.

Keeping your back comfortable while you’re sleeping all comes down to the curvature of your spine. You want to make sure that your lower back is in the right position. Keeping a pillow under both knees can help get your body into the right position.

While there’s an easy pillow fix for lower back pain, other back sleeping issues aren’t always so simple. If you suffer from sleep apnea, sleeping on your back isn’t the best idea Sleep apnea patients are generally recommended to sleep on their side or even their stomach to keep the airways open.

For similar reasons, if you snore a lot while you sleep, back sleeping might make matters worse. Though back sleeping can help you breathe deeper by opening up your diaphragm, it also puts your upper airways in a compressed position. That means more (and noisier!) snoring might happen throughout the night.

Why Can’t I Sleep On My Back While Pregnant?

If you’re pregnant, chances are someone has already told you that sleeping on your back can be harmful to you and your baby.

This is because during later stages of pregnancy, the uterus starts to get bigger. If you lie flat on your back for long periods of time, your uterus might push down on a major vein that returns blood to your heart, slowing down the flow of blood throughout your body.

Generally, if you find yourself lying on your back for short periods of time while pregnant, this isn’t something to worry about. If you just can’t get comfy when you aren’t on your back, you can avoid the risk by propping your back up with supportive pillows so you’re not lying flat.

But sleeping on your side is generally the recommended sleeping position during pregnancy.

downsides of sleeping on your back

How to Sleep On Your Back – Training Tips

There’s no quick solution for how to train yourself to sleep on your back, but luckily, there are several ways you can make the experience a little easier and more comfortable.

The first step to sleeping on your back is finding a comfortable back sleeping position. As mentioned above, back sleeping doesn’t necessarily mean sleeping like a log with your arms stiff on either side.

You can experiment with stretching your arms above your head or out to the sides.

Pillow placement can also make a big difference if you’re trying to sleep on your back. Some people recommend lying on a towel instead of a pillow to keep your head from moving around as much while you’re sleeping. This technique can stop you from naturally rolling over onto your side or stomach.

It might sound uncomfortable, but if you roll up a towel and place it under your neck, you can actually alleviate neck pain. Even if you still move around some during the night, the rolled towel will support your neck while you do so.

On the other hand, you might sleep better with more support, rather than less. Supportive pillows can be placed on either side of your body to discourage turning over.

A larger pillow like a body pillow can even be wrapped around you in the shape of an upside-down U, providing a spot for you to rest your head and arms.

Once you’ve figured out a position and support solution that works for you, consistency is key — but don’t worry if it doesn’t work out every night. Back sleeping isn’t for everyone, and what’s most important is getting as much sleep as you need.

That said, if you make an effort to start out each night lying on your back, you might find that your body gets the message and follows the path of least resistance.

Keep Up Your Sleep Hygiene

In order to successfully switch to a different sleeping position, it’s important to do everything you can to encourage your body to sleep in other ways.

Try to follow a consistent sleep routine that includes relaxing activities and a firm cutoff for screens with blue light. This will encourage your body’s circadian rhythms to let your brain know when it’s time to get sleepy.

Getting regular exercise during the day can also be a big help for encouraging your body to sleep once you’re lying down.

You can even incorporate additional sleep aids into your routine such as herbal teas, aromatherapy, or a weighted blanket.

However you sleep best, consistent habits will help your body to understand it’s time for rest when you lie down in bed, whether you’re on your back, stomach, or side.

Conclusion

Now that you’ve learned a little more about the benefits and drawbacks of back sleeping, you can get a better sense of whether this sleeping position might be good for you.

If you suffer from back or neck pain, congestion, or sensitive skin, back sleeping can be a real lifesaver. However, if you’re pregnant or you have sleep-related breathing issues, back sleeping might not be the best choice.

If you find it’s time for a sleeping position change, you can follow the training tips above to get used to sleeping on your back, or check out the rest of the Lay Low for information on side and stomach sleeping.

However you choose to invest in your sleep, restorative rest is worth the effort.