Sleep Resources

How to Train Yourself to Sleep on Your Back

Maximize your sleep experience by training yourself to sleep on your back with these helpful tips.

By Daniel Grogan

Mattress Nerd consulted Dr. Tom Ingegno, DACM, MSOM, LAC to ensure that this article met our editorial standards


Are you tired of waking up with aches and pains in your joints and ligaments, or soreness in your lower back? Do you find yourself suffering from annoying tension headaches every morning? Are you getting numerous creases, wrinkles, and other skin irritations on your face? Chances are that you deal with these issues because you’re a stomach sleeper or side sleeper, but you can potentially solve all these problems and more by training yourself on how to sleep on your back.

Related: Best Mattresses for Back Pain

Believe it or not, sleeping on your back is the best position because it comes with an incredible range of health benefits, especially if you’re someone who suffers from back pain. Trying out this sleeping position can help you maintain proper alignment of your spine, reduce the chances of waking up with tension headaches, relieve annoying sinus problems, and even assist you with avoiding minor skin conditions such as wrinkles and creases. 

If you’re not a natural back sleeper, then you might understand how difficult it is to force yourself to adapt to this new position. Fortunately, there are ways to condition yourself so that you can fall asleep and stay asleep on your back, resulting in the good night’s rest you deserve. Read on to learn some of the helpful tips from sleep experts on how to train yourself to transition from stomach sleeping or side sleeping, and move on to back sleeping. 

Get the Right Mattress

A positive back sleeping experience begins with the mattress. Nowadays, there are so many mattress types from which to choose. You need to consider the materials, the firmness level, the size, and much more. When it comes to comfortably sleeping on your back, you ultimately want to look at the level of firmness.

When you sleep on your back, you need to think about the positioning of your spine. Your goal is to keep your spine as straight as possible, which can only be achieved with the proper mattress firmness. A mattress that is too firm will create unwanted pressure and tension on your shoulders and your pelvic area. On the other hand, a mattress that is too soft will cause your hips to sink in, throwing your spinal alignment off and causing lower back pain. For the best back sleeping experience, you want a mattress that is medium-firm.

Memory foam is a great option if you’re looking to sleep on your back. The beauty of memory foam is that it both cradles the natural curve of your body, and it also hugs you as you sleep, which can make it more difficult to accidentally roll onto your side or stomach. If you’re worried about overheating at night, we recommend looking at memory foam mattresses with integrated gel technology, which can provide excellent cooling and ventilation to keep you refreshed all night long. Many of our best memory foam mattresses have technology that helps keep things cool at night.. You can also look into adding a memory foam mattress topper to assist with cooling and rollover prevention.

A medium-firm memory foam mattress will make sure your entire body remains nice and straight, but it will still give you the proper cushioning around your pelvic and hip area. If you’re a heavier individual, you’ll want something just a little higher on the mattress firmness scale to adequately support your hips and to keep you from rolling over.

One more thing to consider is the age of your mattress. An older mattress will deteriorate and lose its shape over time. You don’t want to continue to sleep on an old mattress that no longer supports you. There are some mattresses that are guaranteed to last for a very long time, but the general rule of thumb is to look at changing out your mattress every 10 to 15 years. If your mattress is starting to lose its shape or you’re feeling yourself sinking into it more than normal, it may be time to invest in a new mattress. And if you’re committed to becoming a back sleeper, our list of best mattresses for back sleepers is a great place to look.

Related: How Often Should You Replace your Mattress?

Get the Right Pillow

It’s not just your mattress that can impact your sleep experience. You also want to carefully look at your pillow as well. In addition to supporting your spine’s alignment, a high-quality pillow will also give your neck the much-needed care and attention it deserves. But what are the best-suited pillows for back sleepers?

You should pick a pillow that will not only cradle your head while you rest, but will also ensure it stays elevated throughout the night. A pillow that is too flat or too thick may cause your head to be unlevel with your body, which then leads to neck pain and upper body pain in the morning. An improper pillow can also lead to a restricted airflow, which may cause you to snore or suffer from sleep apnea. Finally, a pillow that doesn’t accommodate your upper body can lead to digestive issues like acid reflux and heartburn.

Similar to your mattress, consider a pillow that’s made out of some type of memory foam to assist you with training yourself to sleep on your back. The thickness and hugging sensation of a foam pillow can help you to stay on your back and prevent you from inadvertently flipping over in your sleep.

Put a Pillow Under Your Knees

You’ve probably heard of people putting pillows between their legs to help them remain comfortable as they sleep. While this is a great way to support side sleepers, you can also use pillows while you train to become a back sleeper, except you’ll want to put the pillow underneath your knees instead.

Putting a pillow under your knees as you sleep on your back is a great way to keep your spine aligned and your back straight, especially if you have a softer mattress. In addition to this, a pillow under your knees can act as a deterrent to keep you from rolling onto your side or stomach.

Build a Pillow Fort

When we say, “build a pillow fort,” we’re not referring to the one you played in as a child. We’re talking about a small barrier of pillows around your body as you sleep, which can assist you with your journey toward becoming a back sleeper.

It’s recommended that you place pillows closely against either side of your body when you sleep, almost like a cocoon. Even though they may be soft, by using these pillows as an enclosure, you’re much less likely to turn or roll in your sleep, which will force you to remain in a neutral position throughout the night. If you’re a heavier individual and you have the pillows to spare, it is wise to use additional pillows in your fort to better assist with rollover prevention. 

Another tactic that works based on a similar principle is the tennis ball trick. For this strategy, you simply need to place tennis balls in the pockets of your sleep pants. At night, if you try to roll over, the balls will dig into your right side or left side, which can prevent you from turning. You can achieve even better results by using this method in combination with the pillow fort idea.

Summary

Sleeping on your back comes with many wellness benefits, and if you’re not a natural back sleeper, you should train yourself to adapt to this new sleep position as soon as possible. With these aforementioned tips, we hope you get on the right track to becoming a back sleeper so that you can start having a quality, restful sleep sooner rather than later. If back sleeping just isn’t taking for you, our articles on how to properly sleep on your stomach and the best side to sleep on may still be able to help you get a more comfortable night’s sleep.

Meet Our Medical Reviewer

Dr. Tom Ingegno, DACM, MSOM, LAC

Dr. Tom Ingegno, Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, has over 20 years of experience in the integrative and functional medicine space. He owns and operates Charm City Integrative Health, a multifaceted clinic that NYT bestseller and futurist David Houle called, the “Future of Medicine.”