We spend a third of our lives in bed, so finding the perfect position to sleep in is vital for a comfortable and well rested night’s sleep. Side, front and back are all positions people love to sleep in, but surprisingly, back sleepers only account for 8-10% of people, according to The Sleep Doctor (opens in new tab).
Many people tend to avoid sleeping on their back for various reasons. Pregnant women are encouraged not to sleep on their backs to avoid any added pressure and discomfort to the stomach. For those who snore or have sleep apnoea, lying on your back can obstruct your airways and worsen your snoring and symptoms. Finally, sufferers of heartburn or acid reflux might want to avoid this position, especially if they’ve eaten recently before bed.
Having listed these concerns, there are actually many health benefits to sleeping on your back, too. For starters, if you sleep on your back, you’re less at risk of experiencing any muscle or spine aches and pains. As your body doesn’t tend to touch the bedding too much, back sleepers’ skin tends to be clearer and less wrinkled. Your body also naturally aligns in this position and you might find that you toss and turn less.
Overall, sleeping on your back sounds like a pretty comfortable and beneficial position to sleep in, despite many people’s aversion to it. If you’re new to back sleeping or you want advice on how to sleep your best in this position, here are 5 tips for back sleepers, including the best mattress (opens in new tab) to buy, pillow placement and stretching tutorials.
1. Pick the right mattress & pillow
Whether you’re a back, front or side sleeper, it’s important that you have the right mattress suited to your body and sleep habits. The best mattress for back sleepers should be one that perfectly fits to and cradles the body, particularly the spine, lumbar and hips.
While sleeping on your back naturally aligns each part of your body, the lower back and hips need extra support to alleviate the pressure on your back. The best memory foam mattresses (opens in new tab) are perfectly equipped to do this as the sleep surface and foam moulds to your body shape, giving you support where you need it most. Medium to medium-hard firmness is also a good choice for back sleepers as it keeps your spine perfectly aligned. Anything too soft will have you sinking too much and using your muscles to keep yourself afloat, which will result in aches and pains the next morning and overtime.
If you’re still unsure which mattress is best for your back sleeping habits, we found that the Emma Original mattress (opens in new tab) is brilliant for all positions but its Airgocell and memory foam layers distribute weight evenly and support the shoulders, lower back, and joints. For something more specific to back sleeping, the Nectar Memory Foam mattress (opens in new tab) is said to be great for relieving back pain and the Silentnight Studio Original mattress (opens in new tab) has excellent pressure relief.
2. Place pillows under the knees & back
Keeping your spine aligned is incredibly important, which is why in our 5 tips for side sleepers (opens in new tab) guide, we encouraged them to align their body properly before drifting off to avoid back and muscle pain. For back sleepers, every part of you is in line but specific body parts need extra support, like your knees, hips and lower back.
To alleviate pressure, put a pillow under your knees and another under your lower back. This reduces the strain on your spine and supports its natural curvatures. These pillow placements also stop you from moving around too much and keep your muscles and joints in a natural position. If your butt tends to stick out, this pelvic tilt naturally increases the curve in your lower back, so placing a pillow there flexes the hips and opens up the joints. Using 1-2 regular pillows for this adds enough comfort and lift, and you can also find pillows specifically designed for back sleepers too.
3. Support your neck
Supporting your neck is incredibly important if you regularly sleep on your back. The best pillow (opens in new tab) keeps your head and neck supported and reduces the strain on your neck muscles. Not only is it important to keep aligned again here, but it’s also vital that you make sure your head isn’t over or under elevated.
According to Levitex (opens in new tab), if your pillow is too high, your neck is pushed forward which affects your posture, but if your pillow is too low, this can compress your spine uncomfortably. Similar to Goldilocks, you need a pillow that fits you just right, typically one that’s 3-5 inches thick or that’s made of memory foam. If your old pillow just isn’t hacking it anymore, you can use this under your knees or back instead.
4. Spread out
Many people think when they sleep on their back, they must be completely still and tucked in, much like a vampire in a coffin. But it's actually best to spread out while you sleep on your back, particularly your arms and legs. When you spread out while you sleep, you’re distributing your weight nicely and your muscles and joints are less likely to become stiff overnight, which can leave you feeling sore in the morning. So, go full starfish!
5. Stretch before bed
Finally, and something we should probably all be doing anyway, have a good stretch before bed. Stretching before you go to sleep has many benefits, like improving your circulation and smoothing out any kinks or soreness that you felt come on during the day. For back sleepers, focus on stretching your back, legs and neck before you catch some ZZZs. For stretching advice, we’ve got a full guide to the best stretching exercises (opens in new tab) and this 5 minute stretch routine (opens in new tab) is designed to ease back pain.