How to Sleep on Your Back 

Whether you curve up in the fetal position or stretch out on your back, you likely have a preferred sleep position. However, certain positions are considered healthier than others. Although it is not the most popular, back sleeping, or the supine position, is widely thought to be the safest position for sleep. When resting on your back, body weight is evenly distributed, preventing pressure and tension from building up.

If you want to try back sleeping, we outline the safest and best ways to do so. We also cover the benefits of back sleeping, when to avoid it altogether, and common issues associated with this position.

How to Sleep on Your Back

If you want to start sleeping on your back, there are a few things to keep in mind. These tips ensure you wake up with fewer aches and pains and get a good night’s sleep.

Rest on the Correct Mattress Firmness

The firmness of your mattress is the first thing you should consider when back sleeping. In most cases, the best mattress for back sleepers has a medium to medium-firm feel. These mattresses have a slight softness that contours to the joints and guards against pressure points.

A medium or medium-firm mattress also prevents the hips and shoulders from sinking too far into the bed and forcing the spine out of alignment. When the spine is neutral, and the joints are cushioned, you are less likely to wake with aches and pains.

At Zoma, our memory foam and hybrid mattresses have a medium comfort level ideal for back sleeping. The gel-infused memory foam features Triangulex™ technology. Across the surface of this foam, hundreds of triangular cutouts respond to different levels of pressure. This feature ensures body weight stays evenly distributed to alleviate stress on the spine.

The transition layer is made with our highly responsive foam, Reactiv™, which keeps the body lifted on the mattress rather than cradled. These two layers work together to provide contouring and pressure relief.

If you are a heavier back sleeper (230 pounds or more), you may prefer the Zoma Hybrid. This mattress has a slight bounce that prevents excess sinking and makes movement across the bed more comfortable. Plus, our hybrid’s spring coil base is zoned to deliver the perfect level of support to each area of the body.

Support Your Neck

When back sleeping, your neck should remain aligned with your head and spine. If your head droops down, it can cause pressure to build up and lead to chronic neck pain. If your head is pushed too far forward, it can pressure the trachea and disrupt your breathing. The best pillows for back sleepers are soft and conforming with a medium loft.

Our Zoma Pillow is filled with shredded MicroCushions™ that form to the unique shape of your head and neck to ensure proper alignment. Plus, it has a soft, ventilated cover to wick heat and moisture away from your face and neck.

If you can’t replace your pillow right away, you can also roll up a bath towel and place it under your neck. This allows you to adjust the elevation of your head and keep your spine neutral.

Stretch Out Your Arms and Legs

A common way to sleep is in the soldier position, which keeps the arms close to the body and the legs together. However, this position can often feel rigid and uncomfortable. Spreading out your arms and legs a little will keep your weight distributed, so pressure and tension don’t build up in the muscles.

If you have trouble resting on your back but want to train yourself to do so, try building a pillow barrier around yourself. When you try to roll to the side during the night, the pillows will remind you to stay on your back. Body pillows like our new Zoma Body Pillow are the perfect size for a barrier.

Common Back Sleeping Issues

Increased Snoring

If you find back sleeping causes you to snore, consider elevating your head. Raising the head to a 30 to 45-degree angle reduces pressure on the trachea and opens up the airways, making breathing more comfortable and reducing snoring. This slight elevation can also reduce sinus congestion and acid reflux.

To find a safe and comfortable head elevation during sleep, we suggest sleeping on an adjustable bed frame. These frames allow you to lift the legs and upper body to find the perfect sleep position. Lifting the leg during sleep can also reduce lower back pain and improve blood flow.

Our Zoma Adjustable Bed comes with two preset positions, including Zero-Gravity and Flat. With two customizable presets, you can also save your favorite sleeping positions, so they are easy to find every night. This base pairs well with most bed frames, or it can be used as a stand-alone foundation.

Without an adjustable base, you can get a similar effect by using a wedge pillow. These pillows have a triangular shape and are tapered on an incline to lift the head, neck, and upper back.

Lower Back Pain and Hip Pain

Many people experience lower back pain and hip pain when back sleeping—this is likely because the mattress they are resting on is too soft. A soft mattress may cause the hips and torso to sink too far into the bed, putting pressure on the lumbar spine and the hip flexors.

If you experience lower back or hip pain while back sleeping, but you are unable to purchase a new mattress for back pain, you can place a small pillow beneath your knees or lower back. This slight adjustment can lift the hips and alleviate tension in the back muscles.

If you want to prevent or relieve back pain, science suggests that a medium-firm mattress might be the best way to do so.

Benefits of Back Sleeping

Although it may not be right for everyone, sleeping on your back has been associated with the following health benefits:

  • Fewer morning aches and pains: When resting on your back, bodyweight is evenly distributed. This means the hips and shoulders will not bear intense pressure during sleep. Plus, when the hips and shoulders are aligned, the spine remains in a neutral position, and muscles can fully relax and recover.
  • Reduce face wrinkles and creases: When side and stomach sleeping, your face is often pressed into the pillow. This causes creases in the skin which can lead to deep lines and wrinkles over time.
  • Reduce acid reflux and heartburn: Right-side sleeping is typically the best position for heartburn and acid reflux. However, elevating the head while back sleeping can also prevent stomach acid from entering the esophagus and causing irritation and burning.

Frequently Asked Questions

What sleeping position is best for your heart?

Studies show the best sleep position for heart health is right-side sleeping. This position pulls the heart toward the center of your chest and creates a better cardiac output and heart rate. The Journal of the American College of Cardiology also notes right-side sleeping causes fewer heart palpitations than left-side sleeping.

When should you stop sleeping on your back?

Back sleeping can often put pressure on the trachea, which causes snoring and can aggravate symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea. If you have sleep apnea or you frequently snore, you may want to avoid this position altogether. However, using an adjustable bed or wedge pillow can improve this issue and help you find restful sleep.

Pregnant women, especially those in the second and third trimester, should also avoid back sleeping. This position can decrease circulation, which can be dangerous when you are pregnant. Plus, back sleeping may not support the weight of a growing belly.

In most cases, the best sleeping position for pregnant women is side sleeping. Using a body pillow can also provide additional support and alleviate pressure on the back and hips.

What's the worst way to sleep?

When resting on the stomach, the natural curve of your spine becomes exaggerated. This position puts pressure on the back and neck, causing pain and discomfort the next day. For this reason, stomach sleepers often suffer from chronic back pain. Therefore, we recommend avoiding stomach sleeping whenever possible.

If you can't avoid this position, be sure to rest on a firmer mattress. A firm comfort level will keep the hips lifted and minimize pressure on the spine.

Are firm pillows good for side sleepers?

Medium to medium-firm pillows are a good choice for side sleepers. The pillow should be soft enough to cradle and support the head neck. However, it should also be firm enough to keep the head from drooping. The most important thing is that the head remains aligned  with the neck and spine.

When it comes to a pillow for side sleeping, you want to look for one with a high loft. Try one that's between 4 to 6 inches thick.

Why does my back hurt when I sleep on my side?

If your back hurts while side sleeping, your mattress may be too soft. The hips and shoulders tend to sink into the bed when resting on your side. On a softer mattress, these areas can sink too far down and force the spine to bow. Over time, sleeping in this position can lead to chronic pain.

Conclusion

Above all, your sleep position should put you at ease and help you slip into a deep sleep. If back sleeping doesn’t feel right, don’t force it. However, if you are interested in back sleeping, the tips above can help you find a safe, comfortable position.

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

Michelle Zhang, Wellness Writer Michelle Zhang

Michelle Zhang is a regular contributor to our Zoma blog and is our go-to sleep researcher. In her time with Zoma, Michelle has researched and published many articles on widespread sleeping habits and troubles. In her time outside of Zoma, Michelle is an occupational therapist and long-distance runner. She believes leading a healthy lifestyle is the key to getting better sleep at night.

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