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Supine Position | How to Sleep on Your Back [Correctly]

Do you sleep on your back? If so, you’re a rare breed. You could even call yourself a sleep unicorn. Sleep experts estimate that just eight percent of people are back sleepers. But many also say that back sleeping is the best sleeping position. There are several reasons why sleeping on your back (also known as the “supine position”) may be a great idea.

4 Pros of Sleeping in the Supine Position

  1. Optimal Neck and Spine Alignment
  2. Less Muscle Tension
  3. Fewer Facial and Neck Wrinkles
  4. Support After Hip Replacement Recovery
sleeping on back

Today, it’s the norm for pediatricians to recommend that infants should sleep on their backs. You’ve probably heard that babies should never, ever sleep on their stomachs — which is known as prone position. The reason is simple: Medical studies have proven that back sleeping sharply reduces risks of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). But this advice to avoid prone positioning applies to babies under 12-months old.

Why should adults consider sleeping on their backs, as well? There are several health-related reasons why the supine position is recommended by doctors. The supine sleeping position offers cosmetic benefits as well. It’s important to note, however, that back sleeping isn’t a great idea for a patient with certain medical conditions, such as sleep apnea. Keep reading to learn more about sleeping in the supine position.

4 Pros of Sleeping in the Supine Position

1. Optimal Neck and Spine Alignment

Do you ever wake up feeling stiffness or discomfort in your head, neck, or spine? Have you had an injury in that area that affects your brachial plexus? Physicians often advise a patient with these complaints to try back sleeping. For many people, sleeping in the supine position can alleviate many painful woes.

When you sleep on your back, your body is in a straight anatomical position. This ensures your weight is distributed more evenly throughout your body frame. If you have any lower back pain issues, this can take a lot of stress off that sensitive region — especially if you use extra pillows. Simply place pillows under your knees, calves, and your head to achieve the best sleeping position.

The Back Sleeper Test can tell you which mattress is best for your spine.

2. Less Muscle Tension

Sleeping on your back can help soothe muscle tension in your neck, shoulders, and other nearby muscles. Neck and shoulder muscles do a lot of work and carry a lot of stress for us every day. By sleeping in a supine posture, you can help those muscles stay in correct alignment and relax while you sleep. As you can imagine, the correct sleeping posture that mitigates painful muscle tensions will help you relax more deeply. You’ll get a better night’s sleep and wake feeling refreshed and ready to face the world.

Plus, if you have bouts of insomnia, muscle tension in your neck and shoulders can be a contributing factor. Shift your sleeping posture to the supine position to ease those tensions and reduce instances of insomnia.

3. Fewer Facial and Neck Wrinkles

Wrinkles are inevitable as we get older. But did you know that you can delay or avoid the appearance of some wrinkles by sleeping in the supine position?

When you sleep on your side, you hasten the development of “sleep lines.” These lines typically show up along the temples, eyes, cheeks, and mouth. In fact, dermatologists can usually tell which side a patient sleeps on — just by looking at his or her face. Often, dermatologists find a patient will have more pronounced sleep lines on the side that he or she favors while sleeping.

But sleeping on your back can help you bypass this common issue. When you sleep in the supine position, your face does not rub against your pillow, which can help your skin stay smooth. And it can help avoid facial asymmetry — which occurs when putting extra pressure on one side of your face for years causes differences in volume or texture of your skin.

What about the neck area? Dermatologists say similar same problems can occur for a patient who is a side sleeper. Sleeping in the same position puts prolonged pressure in the same area, which can cause collagen to break down over time. By sleeping on your back, you allow your neck to lengthen instead of scrunching it down and causing wrinkles.

4. Support After Hip Replacement Surgery

Individuals who have had a total hip replacement, known as a total hip arthroplasty, will want to take up back sleeping. Physicians will often say the supine posture is the best patient positioning since helps to avoid twisting the leg in a bad direction.

If you find yourself in this situation, try to sleep with your toes pointed towards the ceiling and avoid turning your feet to the side where you had surgery. Note that there are more restrictions for the hip replacements using the posterior approach compared to anterior approach hip replacements. Following your doctor’s sleeping guidelines can ensure the best outcome measures and speediest recovery time.

Purple leads to ideal spinal alignment

How to Train Yourself to Sleep on Your Back

Sure, sleeping on your back sounds like a great idea. The health and cosmetic benefits make complete sense, and you want to give it a go. But how can you train yourself to sleep on your back? You may not find it natural after years of side sleeping. But you can retrain yourself to sleep in supine position with a little practice and dedication. Here are a few helpful tips to get started:

Lay Down Flat

To become a back sleeper, we’ll start by stating the obvious — you need to lay down flat on your back. Start with your head and neck in a neutral position. Avoid twisting any part of your body. Don’t face your head to one side or move your legs to the right or left.

Most likely, you’ll need to experiment with a few positions to find out what feels most comfortable for you. Some people like sleeping in a “goalpost” position, which means raising your arms up towards your head to create a sort-of football goal post shape. But other people find that this position causes unwanted pressure and shoulder pain.

If the goalpost position doesn’t work for you, don’t give up. There are other sleeping positions to try. Another option is “soldier” position. In this position, place your arms straight down by your side. If you ever wake up with a tingling feeling in your pinky and ring finger, your ulnar nerve is getting compressed while you sleep. That happens when your elbow is bent for a long period and is a sign that a straight-armed sleeping position may be best for you.

You can also test out the starfish position. To sleep like a starfish, stretch your arms in legs into an “X” formation. For many people, the starfish posture is extremely comfortable. But keep in mind that you’ll need to have ample bed space. If you share a bed with a partner, a queen size may not be large enough.
Keep Your Head Slightly Raised
Another tip for comfortable back sleeping is to use a pillow to keep your head slightly raised. If desired, you can also place pillows under your arms for more support. Whatever you do, don’t prop your head too high or leave it too flat. Both can create unnatural alignment, which can be a pain the neck — literally!

Place a Pillow Beneath Your Knees

We’ll be honest here. When you’re first training yourself to sleep in supine position it can feel uncomfortable for your lower back. You may experience some unwanted pain or pressure. But never fear! There’s an easy solution: Put a pillow under your knees and experience the relief. That should feel much better.

Stretch Before Going to Bed

Another way to mitigate lower back pain or pressure and make back sleeping more comfortable is to do a bit of light stretching before you turn in for the night. If you do a lot of sitting during the day (like most people), your hip flexors and hamstrings can get tight.

A yoga posture called the pigeon pose can help. With pigeon pose, you start on the floor, place one leg forward at a right angle, and stretch your other leg back. Try to get your hips flat on the floor. If that’s not possible, place a small pillow underneath your front leg to ease the stretch. Be sure to hold pigeon posture for about one minute on both sides to help avoid any lower back pain and pressure when you sleep in supine position.

Don’t Give Up!

It can definitely take a while to adjust to back sleeping. You may start on your back and find yourself habitually rolling over to your side during the night, curled into a fetal position. That’s perfectly normal. It doesn’t mean you failed. It just means try, try again.

Be persistent. If you find yourself rolling over, just shift back to the supine position and try again. Eventually, you’ll be an expert at sleeping in supine position.

goldy locks trying to sleep

Who Should Avoid Sleeping in the Supine Position?

The supine position is great for most of us — but it’s not for everyone. If you have certain medical conditions, the supine position should be avoided.

Pregnant Woman

Pregnancy is a wonderful, magical passage for moms-to-be (and dads-to-be, too). But medical professionals suggest that every pregnant patient should avoid supine position. It makes sense when you think about it.

During pregnancy, a woman’s body is rapidly changing shape — both inside and out. The supine position can cause uncomfortable backaches and digestive system issues. Also, back sleeping while pregnant puts unwanted pressure on major blood vessels which can diminish circulation and lower your blood pressure.

But what if you’re a dedicated back sleeper? Doctors advise each patient to start transitioning to side sleeping (aka, the “lateral position”) in early pregnancy. Which side is best? Researchers say that the left lateral position is the best side to sleep on when pregnant. So go left lateral during pregnancy and shift to your back after baby arrives for best sleeping results.

Chronic Snorers

Snoring is very common and tends to increase as we age. You can snore like a chainsaw and never know about it unless someone in your household tells you. While disturbing others is a big drawback of snoring, the associated health risks are a greater concern. Unfortunately, the supine sleeping position can cause snoring issues to worsen.

How is snoring bad for your health? First, it can disrupt your sleep, which can make you feel less alert and focused during the day. But an even bigger issue is that snoring causes thickening of your carotid artery, which supplies blood to your neck, face, and brain. Over the long term, the damage to your carotid artery is one of the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Individuals with Sleep Apnea

Snoring can also be a tell-tale sign of a very serious sleep disorder called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). With obstructive sleep apnea, your throat muscles may relax and block your airway. This airway collapse can cause you to stop breathing temporarily. You may find yourself gasping or choking and awakening from sleep abruptly. These episodes of airway blockage and paused breathing can cause other unwanted symptoms — such as higher arterial pressure, increased cardiac output, and an irregular heart rate in an OSA patient. Sleep apnea sufferers often wear a mechanical ventilation device which forces their airway to stay open.

Obstructive sleep apnea isn’t the only type of apnea. There’s another condition called central sleep apnea which occurs when your brain doesn’t send the right signals to the muscles which control breathing. You can have a combination of both central and obstructive apnea called complex sleep apnea syndrome. There’s also hypopnea, a condition in which your airway is partially blocked and your breathing becomes slow and shallow. Apneas and hypopneas often occur together.

No matter what type of sleep apnea you have, it’s highly recommended to avoid back sleeping. The supine position can make it more likely for your tongue and the soft tissues of your throat to cause an airway obstruction. For many individuals, shifting to a lateral posture for sleeping can diminish sleep apnea symptoms. Always seek medical advice if you show signs of sleep apnea.

Best Mattress and Pillow for Back Sleeping

To get a good night’s sleep on your back, you also want the best mattress and perfect pillow to get the deep sleep you need and deserve. The whole point of back sleeping is to support your body’s natural alignment. With a firm pillow and even firmer mattress, you could feel like you’re sleeping on a slab of concrete and have a lot of trouble trying to fall asleep.

You don’t have a flat spine, so why would you ever sleep on a flat mattress? If you experience any stiffness or soreness, treat yourself to the best mattress for back pain for all types of sleepers. This can help, no matter if your preferred sleep style is supine, lateral, or prone position. You won’t regret it!

You need an adaptable mattress that aligns with the unique shape of your body. As a back sleeper, your mattress should conform to your spine’s natural curve. You should experience softness where you want it and firmness where you need it. With the right mattress, you can say goodbye to back pressure and pain for good!

Once you have the right mattress, it’s time to take a look at what’s right under your nose. And no, we’re not talking about that hipster handlebar mustache. We mean your pillow.

The best back sleeper pillows have a donut-like shape (but not a donut-like taste, sadly) that offers cervical support. They are fuller around the edges to support your neck and softer around the middle so your head can rest comfortably. With an ergonomically designed back sleeper pillow, you’ll get proper REM sleep and feel refreshed and invigorated each morning.
Here’s another pillow tip, especially for hot sleepers: You’ve got to be cool. Not Elvis cool or Fonzie cool — we’re talking temperature, here. A hot pillow is a big fat no for most people. And while everyone loves a cool pillow, back sleepers especially need one since they’re most apt to experience hot night sweats. Look for a breathable pillow that allows air to flow freely through it. You can keep your cool every time you turn in for the night and get luxuriously restful sleep.

Get a Better Night’s Sleep in the Supine Position

A good night’s rest is critical for good health. Through clinical research and observational study, scientists have determined that more of us should be facing the ceiling while we sleep. That’s right — sleeping on your side (“lateral position) or your stomach (“prone position”) isn’t the best option for everyone. In fact, in a supine vs. prone matchup, supine is the undisputed sleep champion. Unless you are pregnant or have snoring, airway, or apnea issues, sleeping on your back—in the supine position—is something you should definitely try.

What’s so great about sleeping on your back? Well, back sleeping mimics our typical upright position and supports natural spine curvature. Physicians tell patients who complain of aches and pains that this ideal sleeping alignment can eliminate many back and neck issues. Also, sleeping in the supine position is the best-kept-secret for keeping your face and neck free of unwanted wrinkles. Your face won’t develop unsightly and uneven sleep lines — and your future self will thank you!

When you’re ready to convert to the supine position, just follow our easy tips. Lay flat, use a pillow under your head to support your neck and add other pillows under your knees or arms for added comfort. Do some light stretching before bed, too.

Make your transition to back sleeping a success with the best-rated mattress and pillows. An innerspring foam or memory foam mattress may do the trick, but you’ll have better luck with an advanced mattress like the Purple mattress which can contour to your spinal shape for optimal pressure relief. A great pillow for back sleepers is a breathable donut-shaped pillow that supports your neck while letting your head rest comfortably. With some patience and persistence, the supine position will be second nature in no time.

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