We spend about one-third of our lives sleeping. What’s more, sleep influences everything from our energy levels to our cognitive function and risk for chronic illness. Finding a comfortable position to sleep in should be prioritized when building healthy sleep habits.
There are three main sleeping positions: back, stomach, and side, with variations for each. Each sleeping position comes with its pros and cons. However, out of the three, sleeping on your back is associated with many benefits.
In this guide from ASYSTEM, we’ll go over the different reasons why sleeping on your back is the best sleep position. If you’re not currently a back sleeper, we’ll give you some tips for switching over to sleeping on your back.
Read on for your most restorative sleep yet.
What Are the Benefits of Sleeping on Your Back?
Reduced Neck and Back Pain
Sleeping on your back distributes weight evenly on your spine while maintaining its natural curvature, placing less pressure on your back. Compare this, for instance, to sleeping on your stomach. When you do this, you usually turn your head to one side, which can put added pressure on your neck for hours. Even side sleeping, like sleeping in the fetal position, can lead to pain or pressure in your arms and shoulders.
How you sleep on your back also matters. One study found that those who slept with their arms by their sides — as opposed to on the chest or the forehead — experienced less neck pain in the morning. This is likely thanks to even weight distribution along your spine, which ensures that no part of your body has extra weight added to it.
When your head is facing down — such as when sleeping on your stomach — blood flow to the head increases. This can cause more mucus to collect in the sinuses, potentially worsening pre-existing congestion problems.
However, keeping your head elevated above your heart can help relieve some congestion. This is best accomplished by sleeping on your back and propping up your head with a pillow.
As a bonus, this can help those suffering from heartburn and acid reflux. If you sleep on your back with your head slightly elevated, you can prevent stomach acid from splashing back up. This can significantly improve how you feel come morning time.
A certain type of headache — called a cervicogenic headache — happens when any pain from the neck radiates into the head. While these are often mistaken for migraines, the cause may actually be a poor sleeping position that puts extra pressure on the neck.
Sleeping on your back can relieve some of the tension in your neck and thus, help with cervicogenic headache symptoms. To optimize your sleeping position, make sure to use a pillow that supports the natural curvature of your neck while propping up your head with a flat pillow.
You know the importance of washing your face before bed and slathering on that high-performing skincare. However, did you know that bacteria from your pillowcase can transfer to your skin, clog your pores, and get in the way of your perfect skin goals?
Even if you regularly wash your pillowcase, some of the ingredients in your laundry detergent can contribute to clogged pores. Aside from that, having one side of your face planted into your pillow can lead to rubbing while you sleep, which can increase skin irritation.
By sleeping on your back, you’ll avoid contact between your skin and your pillow — for significantly clearer skin. As a bonus, none of your nighttime skincare products will rub off while you sleep, making sure that all the active ingredients go towards improving your skin.
Wrinkles form due to repetitive movements, which cause creases in the skin. For instance, constantly raising your eyebrows can lead you to form forehead wrinkles over time.
Well, the same story applies to your sleeping position. If you’re forming creases when you’re, for instance, sleeping on your side, then you can start to see more wrinkles on that side with the years. Studies show that side sleepers tend to experience greater wrinkles on the side they sleep on.
In addition, rubbing your face against your pillow can increase inflammation in the skin, which can increase the overall appearance of aging. By back sleeping, you’ll be making sure that your skin doesn’t crease while you’re sleeping and that you’re getting ample circulation to keep your skin as healthy as possible.
When you sleep on your stomach or your side, fluid can build up in the face, which can increase puffiness around the eyes and cheeks. Sleeping on your back with your head elevated helps keep fluid from building up in any area of your face, which can mean a fresh complexion come morning time.
Are There Any Downsides of Sleeping on Your Back?
Despite the various benefits of sleeping on your back, there can be some downsides to this sleeping position.
While sleeping on your back is a great way to relieve back and neck pressure, it can make it worse for those with lower back pain. This is the case if you are not supporting the natural curve of your back with the right mattress and pillows for your body. If you don’t support your back, your lower spine can arch, which can increase pressure on your lower back.
Sleeping on your back may also not be a great idea if you have sleep apnea. If you suffer from this common sleep disorder, sleeping on your back can cause your tongue to relax and fall back, obstructing the airway. As a result, you may experience a sudden lack of oxygen in the middle of the night, which can cause your body to jolt awake.
Last, some people may not like sleeping on their backs simply because they don’t like it. Although the benefits of sleeping on your back are plentiful, they don’t outweigh the negative consequences of sleep deprivation. So, if sleeping on your back is not for you, don’t stress. Instead, focus on getting a good night’s sleep — whichever position it may be in.
How Should I Sleep on My Back?
For some people, falling asleep on their back is incredibly easy. For others, it might take a bit more time and effort to get used to this sleeping position.
If you want to experience the benefits of sleeping on your back but find yourself running into some trouble, then the following tips can help you adjust:
Put a Pillow Under Your Lower Back
We all have a different curvature in our back. If you find that back sleeping puts pressure on your lower back, it might help to place a pillow under it while you sleep.
Of course, the type of pillow you choose is just as important. For some, a large, fluffy pillow will do the trick. For others, a small memory option may be the most effective. Make sure to do a bit of experimenting to pick a pillow that provides you with the support that you need.
Put a Pillow Under Your Knees
Another way to make sure that your lower back is well-supported is to keep your knees slightly bent while you sleep. The best way to achieve this is to place a memory foam pillow underneath your knees or calves. You can consider putting a small rolled-up towel underneath your lower back for extra support.
Surround Yourself With Pillows
If you are an active sleeper, then you can begin sleeping on your back, but roll over onto your stomach or side shortly after falling asleep. This can undo some of the benefits of sleeping on your back.
To prevent this from happening, you can place pillows around your hips. This will prevent you from rolling over on your side during the night. Of course, if you share your bed with someone, make sure to check in with them before implementing this strategy.
Sleeping on your back has various benefits, such as decreased back and neck pain, improved nasal congestion, and fresher-looking skin. For side or stomach sleepers, switching over can be easy with the right support — which you can get by placing a pillow underneath your neck, lower back, or knees.
Of course, if back sleeping just isn’t for you, then don’t worry: The most important thing is to focus on getting the best sleep that you can — whether that’s on your back, side, or stomach.
You can also add a natural sleep aid to your nighttime routine to optimize your sleep. ASYSTEM’s Sleep Gummies contain a blend of ingredients clinically proven to support your sleep — like Chamomile Extract, Lemon Balm Extract, and Rhodiola Extract — so you wake up feeling refreshed every morning.
Meet our Experts
This article has been reviewed by members of our Scientific Advisory Board.
Former Olympic Athlete, Founder, B2ten Foundation (coach to multiple Olympic Champions)
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