Confession: I’ve tried sleeping on my back, on one side, on the other, and curled up in the fetal position. No matter what, I always revert back to my favorite position and end up sleeping on my stomach.
It’s the least popular way to fall asleep, and potentially the most harmful: by sleeping on your stomach and keeping your head turned in one direction for hours on end, you’re causing strain on your back and neck and risking chronic pain.
So, this week, I set myself a goal: night after night, I would attempt the impossible and try to start sleeping on my back. But what are the benefits? And more importantly, how hard is it to switch positions?
The benefits of sleeping on your back
Although side sleeping is generally the most common sleeping position, there is not one perfect sleeping position and a lot depends on your personal health needs. If you suffer from acid reflux, snoring, allergies or heartburn, for example, side sleeping is generally best, and in most cases, it’s ranked along with back sleeping as the best position.
The National Sleep Foundation considers sleeping on the back beneficial as it promotes ‘keeping your spine in alignment and evenly distributing your body weight, preventing any potential aches in the neck or back’. It can help support your spine and in turn, relieve pressure on the spinal tissues and enable your muscles to relax.
Dr Lindsay Browning, a psychologist, neuroscientist, sleep expert and author of Navigating Sleeplessness, says that besides being great for people experiencing back pain, the supine position (that’s the technical term for lying on your back) can also help anyone suffering from hayfever or other allergies. This is because ‘sleeping on your back with an elevated head position can help to encourage drainage of your nasal passages during the night, reducing sinus build-up,’ Dr Browning tells Metro.co.uk.
Switching to sleeping on your back can also help with your beauty routine: studies show that pressing your face into the pillow or the mattress for hours on end every night can contribute to the formation of facial lines and wrinkles, as well as spread bacteria from the dirty pillow to your face. Sleeping on your back could help clear up acne and skin inflammation, while reducing signs of aging.
Who should avoid sleeping on their back
There are some instances where back sleeping is not recommended: people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) should avoid it, as it can make symptoms worse and cause airway collapse.
Pregnant people should also sleep on their side, rather than on their back, as the baby’s weight can put pressure on the mother’s organs and prevent blood from flowing.
‘If you sleep on your side,’ says Dr Browning, ‘then you can maintain a better spinal alignment by making sure that your pillow and mattress are giving you the right level of support to keep your spine and neck neutral during the night.’
Side sleeping is also preferred to back sleeping for individuals who suffer from acid reflux, as a supine position can worsen symptoms like coughing and chest pain.
How to train yourself to sleep on your back
Here’s the catch: it can take up to four weeks to accommodate a change in position, and it’s not always easy to permanently incorporate a switch in their sleeping routine.
We usually adopt our preferred sleeping position early on in life, and like any hard-wired habit, this makes it harder to abandon it in favor of a new one.
But there are some tips and tricks we can use.
Dr Browning says to start by making sure you’re using the right pillow: ‘You may find that sleeping with one less pillow or using a softer/flatter pillow will help your neck to be in the right position,’ she tells us, ‘ which will help encourage you to stay in a back sleeping position during the night.’
If you opt for removing a pillow, instead of putting it away you could try placing it under your knees, as this will help support your lower back and keep your legs flat on the bed.
If you sleep alone and don’t suffer from claustrophobia, you could also try to restrict your movements during the night by surrounding yourself with pillows. This might make it easier to stick to one position, and let’s face it – it could be fun to try… like building a fort.
Dr Browning also recommends ‘a heavier duvet over a light one, or covers that you can tuck yourself into bed with, as this could also help restrict your natural movements in the night and encourage you to stay in the same position that you fell asleep in ‘.
Lastly, you might think your bedroom temperature would have little to do with your sleeping position, but you’d be surprised: when you turn up the heat, you will be more likely to wake up throughout the night feeling hot, and try to reposition yourself.
Dr Brownings says: ‘Natural fiber bed covers and pajamas can help keep you cool, since they allow air to flow and also can wick away sweat’ – this could help to reduce the dreaded tossing and turning effect and keep you on your back.
Should you wake at any point in the night, you can check to see if you are on your back, and if not, reposition yourself. It’s important to correct your position every time you have the chance to do so, as this will help you get used to the switch.
The results of my week-long experiment
I’ll be honest, the first three nights were a nightmare. I gave up on night one, stared at the ceiling for hours the following night, and spent night three tossing and turning in my makeshift pillow. I was too hot, I felt too restricted, and I was desperate to pick up my phone and stop scrolling since it was clear I wasn’t going to fall asleep anytime soon.
On the fourth night, though, something incredible happened. I was so grumpy, and so incredibly tired, that I fell asleep the minute my head hit the pillow. I woke up refreshed and newly motivated.
From then on, it became easier. Not easy, per se (I gave up again on night six), but manageable. It might take me a little longer to get used to sleeping on my back, but I’m committed to learning: it might be uncomfortable and a little tedious, but it beats twisting my neck for 28 years and rendering my retinol useless.
The best sleep-boosting buys
Keen to improve your sleep? Try our pick of the best sleep-boosting products…
Spacemasks self-heating eye masks five-pack
We know what you’re thinking: Can some warm eye masks really make that big a difference when it comes to drifting off?
The answer is yes. Yes, they can.
The warmth of these eyemasks plus their lavender scent is super soothing, while the small amount of weight on your eyelids helps to tell your brain it’s time to snooze.
Honestly, it’s tricky to explain just how great these are for times when you’re struggling to fall asleep. Buy a pack and try them. You won’t regret it.
Buy for £19.21 here
Are you being kept up by anxiety? A weighted blanket can make a massive difference in soothing your mind and body.
Expect the deepest sleep ever.
Buy for £74.50 (down from £139.97)
Sleepy body lotion
One of our favorites – this is a super soothing cream that you can smother yourself in the next time you’re struggling to drift off.
Buy for £10 from Lush
5-HTP+ by FutureYou Cambridge
This supplement uses 5-HTP, an amino acid produced by the body by tryptophan, saffron, which some studies suggest improves sleep quality, B6, and lavender oil, all of which are claimed to help you drift off.
You can get a free 28-day trial here, then a box costs £14.40 a month.
This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray
‘This stuff is like magic,’ wrote one reviewer. ‘Absolutely amazing, I’m so pleased I bought it.
‘I’ve had issues with sleeping my whole life and tried nearly everything under the sun to try and aid my sleep.
‘I had my eye on this product for a while but was hesitant to buy because of the price, however I finally caved and it’s worth every penny!’
Buy for £13.87 from Amazon
For side sleepers!
Buy for £16.95
This article contains affiliate links. We may earn a small commission on purchases made through one of these links but this never influences our experts’ opinions. Products are tested and reviewed independently of commercial initiatives.
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