Why Sleeping on Your Back is a Good Idea

Stop for a second and think about how you sleep. What position are you in most of the time? Why did you choose that position? Is it actually the best one for you? There are benefits and downsides to pretty much every sleeping position, but one does stand a bit above the rest.

Sleeping on your back brings numerous benefits and only one real downside as compared to each of the other common positions. Sleeping on your side, in the fetal position or on your stomach may be comfortable, but before you go to bed tonight, think about your back.

The Good

Looking to get your life a little more in order? Sleeping on your back won’t help you manage your finances, but it can assist in many other great ways. Reducing pain, helping digestion and keeping a youthful look are among the benefits sleeping on your back offers.

Alignment

If you’re feeling out of sorts, sleeping on your back could be just the thing to putting everything back in line and keeping it from getting wonky again. When you sleep on your back you put your head, neck and spine into a position which doesn’t cause any extra strain or discomfort. When everything is good and lined up, pain tends to fade away, over time.

Some exterior things can hamper this, however. A poor mattress, for instance, can be a problem. You also need a good pillow. The perfect pillow and mattress will provide you with good support for your spine, head and neck without pushing them past comfortable limits. You don’t want to have your head elevated, for instance. You just want your neck to be supported, so a pillow in which your head sinks would be great.

Acid Attacks

For many people, stomach acid can be a real pain when trying to sleep. Acid reflux is when stomach acid makes its way back into your esophagus. It tastes gross, is very uncomfortable and generally just isn’t a good thing. Acid reflux, and the evolved version gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), tend to really kick in once you’ve gone to bed.


Sleeping in certain positions can cause the acid in your stomach to move into your throat, some more easily than others. Sleeping on your back tends to avoid this issue. By keeping everything in line, and having your head slightly elevated, the acid reflux sensations can be stopped. Think of it like a hose with water still in it after the valve has been turned off. If you keep it straight, or tilted downward, the water either stays or flows out, but if you tilt it back the other way, water comes out the wrong end. Where acid reflux is concerned, the esophagus works the same way.

Looking Young

If you want to maintain that youthful glow forever, you’re going to want to sleep on your back. One thing sleeping on your back provides which other positions absolutely do not is a lack of friction on your face. Since the back of your head is on your pillow, your face remains free from any sort of external pressure, which means you’re less likely to develop premature wrinkles.

Sleeping on your back, combined with a regiment of moisturizer and the avoidance of harsh ultraviolet rays, can help you maintain a wrinkle less face for far longer than people who sleep on the sides or their stomach.

Staying Abreast

Women concerned with the loftiness of their breasts should also consider sleeping on their back. While on your back, your breasts are completely supported, helping to reduce sagging.

The Bad

While sleeping on your back is arguably the best position, that isn’t to say it doesn’t come without downsides. Not only can sleeping on your back cause problems for others sleeping around you, it can lead to more severe issues with existing conditions.

Snoring

One thing very much connected to sleeping on your back is snoring. This happens because, when you lay on your back, your tongue and throat muscles relax, causing them to partially block the flow of air leading into and out of your body. When air does flow past, it makes these muscles vibrate, and we call the produced sound “snoring.”

This is further worsened by weight problems, as those who are overweight tend to have more fatty tissue in their neck areas, causing the airway to narrow and increase the blockage.

Sleep Apnea

For the same reason sleeping on your back causes snoring, it can be a real issue for those who suffer from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing is obstructed from time to time while you sleep. There are multiple things which can cause sleep apnea, and symptoms range from sleepiness during the daytime to snoring.

Sleeping on your back, since it relaxes the tongue and throat muscles, can lead to even more possible issues with sleep apnea. If you’re not sure whether or not you have sleep apnea issues, talk to your doctor about having an evaluation done.

Pregnancy


There are great benefits to sleeping on your back, but this isn’t true when it comes to women who are pregnant. When pregnant, the be all end all is sleeping on your side, particularly the left, as that increases blood and nutrients which make their way to the placenta.

Sleeping on your back, however, can cause major issues with breathing and your digestive system, as this position causes the abdomen to press down on your intestines and some major blood vessels.

Because of this, you’re also prone to have lower blood pressure, as well as a decrease in blood circulation, neither of which are good for the development of your baby in the womb. The rule of thumb, really, is to just not sleep on your back while pregnant.

The Others

Unfortunately, sleeping on one’s back is not possible for some people. Switching up sleeping habits after literal decades of sleeping one way can be exceedingly difficult for some people. Our bodies will naturally adjust to what we’re used to, and retraining them isn’t easy. And, to be fair, some people just don’t feel comfortable when they sleep on their back.

For those people, it might be nice to know what the various benefits and detractors there are to the other sleeping positions. Are all others equally bad when compared to sleeping on your back? No, in fact. Some are most certainly better than others.

Sleeping On Your Side


Sleeping on your side, sometimes called S.O.S. in certain circles, actually shares quite a few benefits with sleeping on your back, and even has the added benefit of combating snoring issues. Shared benefits include neck and back pain prevention and reduction of acid reflux issues, thanks to an elevated head and proper body support and alignment.

However, if you’re looking to keep your skin soft and smooth, sleeping on your side isn’t your best bet. Not only are you pushing part of your face into a pillow, which stretches out your skin, women will have issues with their breasts not having enough support, which could cause them to sag. The ligaments begin to stretch, losing their elasticity.

Additionally, you’ll need a pretty thick pillow in order to get the full benefits of sleeping on your back while sleeping on your side. Needing to keep your head straight means a pillow must fill the distance between the bed and your head, which is the full length of your shoulders.

There is also debate about which side is best to sleep on, but it seems the left side wins out. According to some doctors, sleeping this way helps with digestion since the colon naturally moves waste in that direction. Additionally, sleeping on your left side is also reported to help your heart do its job and can help out the spleen and the lymphatic system.

The Fetal Position

As much as you may want to be a baby again and not have to worry about the stresses of life, sleeping in the fetal position is not your best option, though it’s still not the worst. You’re still going to have the benefit of not being a loud snorer, but you lose pretty much every other benefit which comes with sleeping on your side.

Because of your curled up position, you put additional strain on your neck and back. This also prevents proper breathing since your diaphragm becomes restricted while in this position. As with side sleeping, you also become at risk of premature wrinkles and breast sag.

Sleeping On Your Stomach

By most accounts, sleeping on your stomach is the worst of the worst, unless you’ve got a whole bunch of pillows to prop you up and put your body into decent positions like my wife does. The one good part of sleeping on your stomach is a lack of snoring, but other than that, you could be in for a bad time, at least when compared to the other positions.

When sleeping on your stomach, it’s tough to keep your spine in a neutral position. Your body is going to want to adjust from time to time, which could move things around back there. Additionally, unless you have a pillow with a hole in it or don’t mind suffocating yourself, your neck isn’t going to be feeling very good.

It would be the way it feels after you have to strain your head to look at something for a long period of time, except far longer. You could find yourself suffering some real aches and pains by morning. The added pressure also can cause issues on your joints and muscles, which can lead to nerve issues such as pain, numbness and tingling.

However, there is one really good benefit to sleeping on your stomach: fighting snoring. Whereas sleeping on your back can cause the tongue and neck muscles to obstruct your breathing airways, sleeping on your stomach can keep it clear. Not only does this work to ease issues with snoring, it can also be a benefit to those with sleep apnea.

Bedding

Having the right kind of bedding, from your pillows to your mattress, is important in order to have the best sleep you can get, no matter which position you choose. When sleeping on your back, the best bedding is going to help you maintain your position and reap the full benefits of your chosen position.

Pillows

The best pillows will be ones into which your head can sink. Maybe only one, for your head, anyway. You want to make sure your neck is supported without elevating your head so far that your neck becomes out of shape. Sleeping without a pillow is also an option, though most folks can’t handle that.


Positioning pillows, however, can be quite helpful.  In order to maintain your position, and feel incredibly comfortable, consider getting some additional pillows for around your body. You can place one under arm, for instance, to help keep you in place and your spine straight. A pillow under the knees is also a good idea as it can help with alignment of your spine.

Mattress

So, what about the big kahuna? How does one pick the perfect mattress if they like to sleep on their back? There are many things to consider, ranging from the materials with which it is made to the firmness levels it provides.

For the most part, people who sleep on their back are going to get the best feel from using a medium or medium firm mattress. For mattresses which offer different firmness levels, this is what you should try. If the mattress you want doesn’t offer different levels of firmness, chances are it’s probably in this range already.

Now, there are several types of mattresses. In modern days you have latex, memory foam, innerspring and hybrids which combine these into a single mattress. All of them have decent benefits and, depending on your wallet and the kind of mattress you like, you can probably find one which works out fairly well for you.

Innerspring Mattresses

The innerspring mattress is the granddaddy of modern mattresses. It’s a step up from the bundles of hay and other materials used to fill mattresses centuries ago, but the mattresses which have come after it have taken the idea of the innerspring mattress and upgraded tremendously.

It’s fairly rare to come across a classic innerspring mattress anymore. In most cases, the interconnected coils of old have been replaced with individually wrapped coils. Whereas the older systems would share movement across a large section of the bed, these newer coils are allowed to move independently of each other, letting the mattress more easily conform to your body. For a back sleeper, this is important, as it allows for proper support for the curvature of your body.

Typically, this is found on the support layer of the mattress. The layers you actually feel when you lie down on a mattress are called the comfort layers, and those can have a great effect on your sleeping position, as well. Latex offers a great amount of firmness without reducing much mobility. Laying on a latex mattress will let the comfort layer adjust to your body and work with a support layer to properly keep your spine and neck aligned. This is, of course, assuming the mattress has a good support layer of either latex foam, high-density support foam or those individually wrapped coils we talked about.

Some mattresses even take it a step further, using foams for comfort, individually wrapped coils for support, then a linked innerspring layer for deep support. These tend to be a little on the pricier side, but they offer pretty much the best of all worlds. This could also, however, a bit overkill, as some of those lower levels might not even be felt.

Latex Mattresses

Latex foam mattresses are considered to be one of the best options for people who sleep on their back. Not only does it have enough give to make your body feel enveloped and straight, the density of latex foam provides a fair amount of support, with enough sinkage to be very comfortable.

Another interesting aspect of some latex mattresses is their ability to have multiple levels of firmness. Using different techniques to process the latex, and then further using methods which can allow for changes in the texture, different firmness levels can be built into a single mattress. In this way, the support level for the neck and back, for instance, can be different than that of the legs. On top of that, some mattresses even allow for different firmness levels for different sides of the mattress. This allows you to change it fairly easily as you see fit.

Memory Foam

If you want to know what magic feels like, just lie down in a memory foam mattress. For sleeping, it may not be for everyone, but just feeling how it works is like getting a glimpse of the future.

Originally designed by NASA for use in the space system, memory foam is a material which is designed to conform to your body using your body heat. When you lie on a memory foam mattress, your body heat begins to cause the material to, essentially, melt. It becomes more viscous, causing your body to sink in and become very well supported.

The biggest downside to this, however, is the heat. As it uses the heat, it can remain trapped, leading to uncomfortable levels of heat while sleeping. Modern memory foam mattresses have ways to combat this, whether through a change in their cell structure to allow for the passage of air or through different heat-sapping materials pumped into them. Still, heat can remain an issue for many, even with these newer developments.

Additionally, the softness of memory foam can make it difficult to maneuver, so those looking to start sleeping on their back to avoid pain issues, or who have limited mobility, may find it difficult to get out of a memory foam mattress without struggling.

Your Best Bet

Your mileage is going to vary depending on what you prefer. If you can handle the heat and really like to sink in, memory foam is a fantastic option for people who sleep on their back. The support is top notch since it molds to your body. Overall, though, my vote goes to latex foam. Not only does it conform to your body, it doesn’t have the same heat and mobility issues which are inherent with memory foam. The added spring from latex is great for moving around.

Personally, I toss full innerspring mattresses out the door. Yes, the support is decent, but they can have problems conforming to your body and, in poorly made versions, the springs can begin to wear through the mattress and poke into your back, which is quite the opposite of what you want to happen when trying to sleep.

In the End

Sleeping on your back is, by most people’s accounts, the best way to sleep. It keeps you from suffering back pain, keeps you looking young and makes for a general good sleeping experience. It’s not for everyone, particularly those who may suffer from sleep apnea or are overweight, but it can work.

Fortunately, there are also many ways out there to improve your back sleeping experience, from pillows to mattresses. Finding everything you need for the ideal night’s rest is not something which is going to take a lot of time and difficulty.

For those who don’t currently sleep on their back, try giving it a chance. You may find that, after a bit of getting used to, you wake up feeling more refreshed than before. This is especially true for those who currently sleep on their stomachs. Side sleepers may not notice a major change right away, but it’s going to help out in the long run.

Whatever you end up doing, make sure you get a healthy and restful rest. It’s hard to get through the day when you don’t have the best kind of sleep possible.

About the author

Brenda Bostwick

Brenda has over a decade of experience in the industry and is the lead editor for Sleep Buffs. She’s also a sleep enthusiast and loves to weed out the good from the bad when it comes to sleep products, and she’s seen her fair share of bad ones! Brenda knows how important sleep health is and through Sleep Buffs she hopes to share that passion with visitors so they can find the products that are right for them and rest assured they are making the right choice.

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