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Back Sleeper Guide: Mastering the Art of the Best Sleep Position

Dr. Jordan Burns, DC, MS

Dr. Jordan Burns, DC, MS

Dr. Burns is an established authority in sleep health, combining over a decade of hands-on experience in chiropractic care with a deeply rooted knowledge of sleep science. A holder of degrees in Kinesiology, Life Sciences, Sports Science and Rehabilitation, and Chiropractic, his interdisciplinary background uniquely positions him at the intersection of wellness, ergonomics, and sleep […]

Sleep Tips
Read Time: 7 minutes

  • Back Sleeper Benefits: Back sleeping, adopted by only 10% of people, boasts advantages such as preventing shoulder aches, reducing acid reflux, relieving tension headaches, improving spinal alignment, and minimizing sinus buildup, face skin irritation, and wrinkles.
  • Types of Back Sleepers: Back sleepers come in two primary types—The Soldier (arms down at sides) and The Starfish (arms overhead, legs spread). Each type offers unique comfort considerations, allowing individuals to find the most suitable position for restful sleep.
  • Training Tips for Back Sleeping: Transitioning to back sleeping may require effort. Utilize techniques like pillow placement, limb positioning, and investing in a supportive mattress to comfortably train yourself to sleep on your back and reap its numerous benefits.

Are you craving a better night’s sleep? If so, you might want to consider becoming a back sleeper. While only 10% of people sleep on their backs, this position offers numerous benefits, including good spinal alignment and improved sleep health. This comprehensive article will discuss the advantages of sleeping on your back and the different types of back sleepers and provide practical tips on how to train yourself to sleep in this position. Additionally, we will recommend the best mattresses for back sleepers, ensuring you achieve the perfect combination of support and comfort for a restful slumber.

Benefits of Sleeping on Your Back

Sleeping on your back offers many benefits that make it an ideal sleep position for many individuals. Let’s delve into these advantages:

It may Prevent Shoulder Aches

Sleeping on your side or stomach can sometimes cause shoulder and neck pain due to the constriction of muscles. However, back sleeping evenly distributes your weight and reduces stress on your neck and shoulder muscles. The prone position, with your arms down by your sides, can help prevent musculoskeletal pain, relieving those prone to shoulder aches.

It can Lower the Chance of Acid Reflux.

Back your sleeping position can be particularly advantageous for individuals suffering from acid reflux. Ensuring that your neck is positioned higher than your stomach while you sleep prevents food and acid from creeping back up your esophagus. This position creates an ideal environment to alleviate acid reflux symptoms.

It can Help Relieve Tension Headaches.

Stress, jaw clenching, and poor sleeping positions, such as sleeping on your stomach, can contribute to tension headaches. Sleeping on your back can assist in neutralizing your spine-aligned neck position, relieving tension, and minimizing these painful headaches.

Can Improve Spinal Alignment

Side or stomach sleepers often experience neck and back pain due to improper spinal alignment during sleep. Sleeping on your back with a supportive pillow aids in maintaining a more neutral alignment for your neck, head, and spine, thereby minimizing the risk of discomfort and pain.

“Sleeping on your back is often considered one 1 Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. See the source of the best positions for spinal health, as it allows the spine to rest in a neutral position, minimizing stress on pressure points,” says Dr. Jordan Burns. “Back sleeping can help reduce chronic back pain by evenly distributing weight and maintaining proper spine, neck, and head alignment.”

Can Relieve Sinus Buildup

Proper pillow placement while sleeping on your back can aid in draining sinus buildup throughout the night, preventing congestion upon waking up. This can significantly reduce discomfort, particularly for individuals who frequently experience nasal congestion.

May Prevent Face Skin Irritation

Sleeping with the left side of your face pressed against a pillow all night, as is common when sleeping on your stomach or side, can lead to skin irritation and breakouts. By sleeping face-up, you can reduce contact between your face and the pillow, minimizing the accumulation of oils and dirt contributing to skin issues.

Might Reduce Wrinkles and Creases

Repeatedly pressing your face against a pillow can contribute to the development of deeper wrinkles over time. Additionally, waking up with creases, sleep wrinkles, and marks on your face from the pillow and sheets can be bothersome. Sleeping on your back can help minimize facial contact with the pillow, potentially reducing the formation of wrinkles and creases. Consider using a smooth surface Silk Pillowcase for added comfort and skincare benefits.

When to Consider Other Sleeping Positions

While back sleeping offers numerous advantages, there are specific scenarios where it may be beneficial to explore other sleep positions. Let’s consider a few instances where alternative positions may be more suitable:

  • When pregnant: It is generally advised against sleeping on your back during pregnancy, as it may decrease blood circulation to the baby. Instead, side sleeping with the aid of a pregnancy pillow is recommended.
  • When experiencing persistent lower back pain: Some individuals find that lying on their back exacerbates lower back pain. If you fall into this category, consider experimenting with side sleeping instead.
  • When suffering from sleep apnea: Back sleeping worsens sleep apnea symptoms. The prone position may cause the chin to fall forward, obstructing breathing. If you have sleep apnea, it is advisable to explore alternative sleep positions.
  • When snoring loudly: Sleeping on your back can increase snoring, as the tongue tends to fall back, and the mouth may hang open. Sleeping may not be your best choice if you are concerned about disturbing others with your snoring.
  • When back sleeping is uncomfortable for you: Some individuals find it challenging to sleep on their backs. For those individuals, a combination of back and side sleeping may be more comfortable. However, training yourself to sleep on your back is possible with patience and practice.

Despite these potential downsides, the benefits of back sleeping outweigh the cons. If you don’t fall into any of the mentioned conditions, sleeping on your back is still considered the most beneficial sleep position.

Types of Back Sleepers

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Back sleeping is not a one-size-fits-all approach. There are two primary types of back-to-side sleepers, each with unique characteristics and considerations. Let’s explore these types:

The Soldier

In the soldier position, back sleepers lie with their arms down at their sides. This sleep position, reminiscent of the Savasana pose in yoga, evenly distributes pressure across the entire body, promoting deep relaxation. While the soldier position shares all the benefits of back sleeping, some individuals may find it slightly stiff and notice increased snoring.

The Starfish

The starfish position involves back sleepers placing their arms over their heads and spreading out their legs. This position offers some individuals a more comfortable and natural alternative to the soldier position. However, a good sleeping posture with the arms raised may lead to shoulder aches for certain individuals.

How to Train Yourself to Sleep on Your Back

If you are accustomed to sleeping on your side or stomach, transitioning to back sleeping may require some effort. Additionally, even if you fall asleep on your back, you may wake up in a different position. Here are some tips to help you train yourself to sleep comfortably on your back:

Tip #1: Place a Pillow Under Your Knees

If experiencing discomfort while lying flat on your back, consider placing a small pillow or a rolled-up towel under your knees and lower back. This can alleviate tension and provide better support for your lower back throughout the night.

Tip #2: Spread Out Your Limbs

Sleeping on your back doesn’t mean you have to restrict your limbs to your sides. Experiment with spreading out your arms or lifting them over your head in a starfish-like manner. You can also try spreading out your legs to find the best pillow most comfortable configuration for your body.

Tip #3: Raise Your Head and Provide Neck Support.

Invest in a pillow specifically designed for back sleepers. Look for a supportive pillow that elevates your head and shoulders slightly above the rest of your body.

“While back sleeping is beneficial, ensuring proper support to avoid discomfort is crucial,” says Dr. Burns. “Research indicates 2 Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. See the source 3 Verified Source ScienceDirect One of the largest hubs for research studies and has published over 12 million different trusted resources. See the source that using a pillow that supports the natural curve of the neck and a mattress that provides adequate support to the spine is essential.”

“For many, placing a small pillow or a rolled towel under the knees can alleviate lower back strain by maintaining the spine’s natural curve.”

Tip #4: Avoid Eating Right Before Bed

Sleeping on your back can sometimes contribute to painful acid reflux. To minimize the chances of experiencing acid reflux during sleep, avoid consuming fatty, spicy, and acidic foods close to bedtime. Additionally, steer clear of alcohol, caffeine, and large meals before hitting the hay.

Tip #5: Place Pillows Around Your Body

To prevent yourself from rolling onto your side during the night, create a pillow fortress around the right pillow and your midsection. This is especially helpful for active sleepers or those who struggle to stay in one position. The pillows will gently remind you to stay on your back throughout the night.

“Consistency and patience are key for those looking to transition to back sleeping,” says Dr. Burns. “Using body pillows to discourage rolling onto your side or stomach can be helpful.” 

“It’s also important to ensure that the sleep environment is conducive to comfort and relaxation, as recommended by sleep professionals, to facilitate the transition and improve sleep quality.”

Tip #6: Get a Supportive Mattress

The right mattress is crucial in achieving restful sleep as a back sleeper. Too soft a mattress may cause your body to sink in, compromising spinal alignment. Opt for a firm mattress that provides ample support to sleep comfortably on your back.

Consider mattresses with gel pods cradling your hips and ergonomically aligning your spine. If purchasing a new mattress is not feasible, a substantial pillow or mattress topper can also provide the necessary support.

Back Sleeper FAQs

Why Can’t I Sleep On My Back?

Transitioning from stomach sleeping to back sleeping can be challenging initially. Face-ups may make some individuals feel more exposed than sleeping with their face pressed against a pillow. However, with persistence and the tips outlined above, you can gradually train yourself to sleep comfortably on your back. It is essential to prioritize deep sleep, so if you find that back sleeping hinders your ability to fall asleep, consider using a cozy weighted blanket or a gentle glow light to enhance your sleep environment.

Is Sleeping on Your Back Bad?

Sleeping on your back is commonly acknowledged by sleep experts as the healthiest and most advantageous sleep position. It promotes good spinal alignment and minimizes the risk of developing discomfort or pain. However, there are certain circumstances, such as pregnancy, sleep apnea, or loud snoring, where back sleeping may not be optimal.

Do Back Sleepers Need a Pillow?

Back sleepers are advised to utilize a supportive or wedge pillow that elevates the head and neck slightly without compromising the spine’s natural curvature. It is important not to promote the head too much, as this can make pressure points create an uncomfortable angle for the neck.

How Long Does It Take to Train Yourself to Sleep on Your Back?

The time required to train yourself to sleep on your back varies from person to person. It is unlikely to happen overnight, so be patient and consistent with the earlier tips. If you find that back sleeping simply doesn’t work for you, prioritize the sleep position that allows you to achieve the most restful sleep.


Mastering the art of back sleeping can significantly improve your sleep quality and overall well-being. By embracing this sleep position, you can enjoy benefits such as preventing shoulder aches, improving spinal alignment, and reducing the risk of acid reflux.

Take the time to train yourself to sleep on your back by following the practical tips provided. Investing in a supportive mattress to keep a good sleeping posture helps ensure optimal comfort and alignment. With dedication and the right sleep environment, you’ll be well on your way to a restful slumber as a back sleeper.

Harrison Wall is Sleep Junkie’s business strategist and sleep analyst. He also authors posts on bedding and mattress accessories. Harrison regularly coordinates with new mattress companies and tests their products to determine what really helps you get better rest and have brighter mornings.

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