Sleeping position is strongly related to sleep quality, but what works for one person will not necessarily work for another. Supine sleeping — that is, sleeping on the back — may benefit some people.
In this article, we cover the possible benefits of sleeping on the back and explain when it might not be right for a person. We also provide tips on good sleep hygiene.
Experts call lying on the back the supine position.
People who sleep on their back might do so with their arms and legs stretched out to the sides in a starfish position. Others might sleep with their arms at their sides.
The benefits of sleeping in a supine position vary from person to person but might include the following:
Easing neck or back pain
Sleeping on the back places the whole spine, including the neck, in a neutral position.
This position prevents compression and twisting, which can lead to lower back pain or neck pain.
Poor neck alignment during sleep can cause headaches. Cervicogenic headaches are one example of this.
People who have these headaches will often wake up in the night with a pain that radiates from their back to the back of the head and the forehead.
Possibly preventing wrinkles
Studies have shown that pressing the face into pillows during sleep can compress the skin. Over time, this may contribute to visible signs of aging by causing sleep wrinkles.
This tends to affect people who sleep on their stomach or side. Sleeping in a supine position can help stop a person’s face from pressing into pillows during the night.
Some other ways to help reduce wrinkles include:
- quitting smoking, if applicable
- avoiding excessive sun exposure
- eating a healthful diet
- moisturizing the skin daily
The position that a person sleeps in is usually set early in life and is not always easy to change.
It is also worth remembering that people do not usually stay in the same position in which they fell asleep. Adults will usually change positions anywhere between 11 and 45 times during a typical 8-hour night.
What is more, supine sleeping is not right for everyone. While some people say that it can help with aches and pains, others report that it makes them feel worse.
If a person wanted to try training themselves to sleep on their back, they could do so by:
- using a small rounded pillow underneath the neck and a flatter pillow under the head
- using a memory foam pillow
- placing a pillow underneath the knees
- using a pillow under the lower back
- ensuring that they have a supportive mattress
Whichever approach a person chooses, they should understand that developing new habits may take some time.
Good quality sleep does not start or end with the sleeping position. People who want to get a better sleep should start by developing good sleep hygiene.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, good sleep hygiene refers to a series of habits that help a person fall asleep and stay asleep.
The following habits help promote good sleep hygiene:
- going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends
- going to bed early enough to allow for at least 7 hours of sleep
- going to bed only when feeling sleepy
- getting out of bed if unable to fall asleep after 20 minutes
- setting a relaxing nighttime routine, such as having a warm bath or reading before bedtime
- using the bed only for sleep and sex
- making sure that the bedroom is quiet, relaxing, and at a cool, comfortable temperature
- switching off all electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime
- exercising daily
- avoiding caffeine in the late afternoon and early evening
- avoiding alcohol before bedtime
Sleeping on the back is not right for everyone.
People with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) should avoid sleeping in a supine position.
OSA is a common sleep disorder in which all or part of a person’s airway collapses while they are asleep. This stops them from breathing and wakes them up.
Sleeping on the back can make OSA worse. People with the condition are usually better off sleeping on their side or stomach.
Sleeping on the back can also make people more likely to snore and make back pain worse.
Experts advise pregnant people in their third trimester to avoid sleeping on their back because it can reduce the amount of blood flowing to the fetus. It is usually more comfortable for the person to sleep on their side.
Sleep position is closely linked to sleep quality, but the best position is different for everyone.
Supine sleeping can be kinder on the back and neck because it keeps the spine in a neutral position. It can also help a person avoid nighttime headaches and sleep wrinkles.
However, in some people, it can make problems worse. People with OSA and pregnant people in their third trimester should avoid sleeping on their back if they can.
A person can train themselves to sleep on their back if they want to. Some techniques include using extra pillows and making sure that a person has a supportive mattress.
It is also worth remembering that everyone changes position many times in their sleep. Even if a person falls asleep on their back or side, it does not mean that they will stay in that position throughout the night.