Can Sleeping On Your Back Help You Feel More Rested?

Everyone knows that a good night’s sleep is essential for our good health. What most of us often tend to ignore is the importance of the position in which we sleep. Many people sleep on their sides, splayed out across the bed, or in the fetal position. Sleeping on your back might just be the easiest and cost-effective solution you can get to get relief from a wide range of problems, including health woes to sleeping issues. Sleeping on your back may strike you as being uncomfortable at first, but back sleeping might just be worth the effort once you find out all the benefits it provides. Read on to find out if sleeping on your back can help you feel more rested.

Can Sleeping On Your Back Help You Feel More Rested?

Sleeping on your back, medically referred to as supine sleeping, has a wide range of health benefits that you are unlikely to have ever thought about. Some of the most common benefits of back sleeping include:(1,2,3)

  • Keeps the spine aligned
  • Reduction in tension headaches
  • Relieves sinus buildup
  • Reduces pressure and compression on the chest
  • Prevents wrinkles and irritation on the face

Back sleeping is also recommended for infants. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, babies should sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).(4) This is attributed to the fact that when infants sleep on the stomach or in a prone position, it increases the following:(5)

  • Upper airway secretions
  • Respiratory work of breathing
  • Nasal bacterial load

A study from 2019 found that side and back sleeping is linked with less spinal pain as compared to stomach sleeping for adults.(6)

While back sleeping is known to have benefits, it is still not the most popular position of sleeping that most people prefer.

A 2017 study carried out by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) found that most people prefer to sleep on their sides, especially as they start approaching adulthood. The study also found an interesting fact that children sleep equally on their back, side, and front.(7)

The study from 2019 mentioned above also found that more than 60 percent of adults in Europe are side sleepers or lateral sleepers.

Still, there are many reasons why you should make the switch to sleeping on your back, regardless of whether you sleep on your side or on your tummy.

Health Benefits of Sleeping On Your Back

Here are some of the reasons why you should be sleeping on your back:

  1. Helps Reduce Neck and Back Pain

    Sleeping on your back can help decrease pressure on the spine. This is because the back sleeping position mimics a person standing up straight. Sleeping on your stomach with your head to one side is the same as having your head turned in one direction for several hours while you are standing or sitting, which causes soreness. This also compresses the spine because your neck remains tilted back.

    It is much easier to give rest to your spine when you lie on your back. You can use pillows for extra comfort and maintain the natural curve of the spine.

    A 2017 study carried out by the Jeonju Vision College in South Korea found that sleeping on the back while keeping both your hands at your side or on the chest is one of the best ways to prevent pain.(8)

  2. May Relieve Sinus Buildup

    Sleeping while keeping your head elevated above your heart helps in relieving congestion and also prevents clogging of the nasal passages. When your head is down, mucus starts pooling in the sinuses. But, if you prop up your head, gravity will do its part and help drain mucus and keep the airways clear.

    According to a 2016 study, sleeping on your back can help with acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).(9)

  3. Help Prevent Tension Headaches

    Just like the benefits back sleeping has on your spine and neck, it can also relieve the pressure off of your head.

    Headaches that are known as cervicogenic headaches, meaning headaches that are rooted in the cervical spine, begin in the neck and are often confused for migraine headaches. Symptoms of such headaches may include:(10,11,12)

    By keeping your neck, head, and spine in a neutral position, you can help relieve pressure and also avoid pain.

    A good tip is that even when you are sleeping on your back, it might be a habit to turn your head. You can use pillows to provide neck support and also prevent your body from giving in to the temptation to turn to your side.(13)

  4. Sleeping On Your Back Helps Improve Breathing

    If you are lying on your back, it may help your breathing. If you are lying down on your side or belly, you will be crowding your breathing space. The diaphragm is the muscle responsible for breathing, and when you lie down on your side or tummy, it compresses the diaphragm, making your breathing shallower.

    There have been multiple studies that have found a link between deep diaphragmatic breathing while waking with:(14)

    • Improved mood
    • Improved attention span
    • Reduced stress

    A study from 2018 found that slow and deep breathing helps in melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone that induces sleep, promotes relaxation, and also increases parasympathetic nervous system activity.(15)

  5. Help Reduce Puffiness of the Face

    When you lie down on any part of your face, fluid starts to accumulate in that area. This fluid buildup can lead to swelling in the face and puffiness around the eyes. By changing your sleeping position to back sleeping, you can reduce stop this fluid pooling and reduce the puffiness.

    Just make sure to elevate your head a little bit to help control where the fluid goes. This can also help you avoid bags under your eyes and puffiness so that you get up looking well-rested and refreshed.

Conclusion

Even though there are many different ways to sleep, sleeping on your back has many benefits that can be hard to ignore. These include improved breathing, smoother and clearer skin, reduced back pain, and a better quality of sleep so that you wake up feeling more refreshed and relaxed. If you do decide to make the switch to back sleeping, you should take as much time as you need and arm yourself with comfortable pillows to make the transition as easy as possible. Once you have changed over to back sleeping, you will find that you have a much better quality of sleep.

References:

  1. Haex, B., 2004. Back and bed: ergonomic aspects of sleeping. CRC press.
  2. Desouzart, G., Matos, R., Melo, F. and Filgueiras, E., 2016. Effects of sleeping position on back pain in physically active seniors: A controlled pilot study. Work, 53(2), pp.235-240.
  3. Tetley, M., 2000. Instinctive sleeping and resting postures: an anthropological and zoological approach to treatment of low back and joint pain. Bmj, 321(7276), pp.1616-1618.
  4. Moon, R.Y., Darnall, R.A., Feldman-Winter, L., Goodstein, M.H., Hauck, F.R. and Task Force on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, 2016. SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths: evidence base for 2016 updated recommendations for a safe infant sleeping environment. Pediatrics, 138(5).
  5. Olarinde, O., Banerjee, A.R. and O’Callaghan, C., 2006. Effect of sleeping position on nasal patency in newborns. Archives of Disease in Childhood-Fetal and Neonatal Edition, 91(5), pp.F365-F366.
  6. Cary, D., Briffa, K. and McKenna, L., 2019. Identifying relationships between sleep posture and non-specific spinal symptoms in adults: A scoping review. BMJ open, 9(6), p.e027633.
  7. Skarpsno, E.S., Mork, P.J., Nilsen, T.I.L. and Holtermann, A., 2017. Sleep positions and nocturnal body movements based on free-living accelerometer recordings: association with demographics, lifestyle, and insomnia symptoms. Nature and science of sleep, 9, p.267.
  8. Lee, W.H. and Ko, M.S., 2017. Effect of sleep posture on neck muscle activity. Journal of physical therapy science, 29(6), pp.1021-1024.
  9. Haldeman, S. and Dagenais, S., 2001. Cervicogenic headaches: a critical review. The spine journal, 1(1), pp.31-46.
  10. Page, P., 2011. Cervicogenic headaches: an evidence-led approach to clinical management. International journal of sports physical therapy, 6(3), p.254.
  11. Jaeger, B., 1989. Are “cervicogenic” headaches due to myofascial pain and cervical spine dysfunction?. Cephalalgia, 9(3), pp.157-164.
  12. Gordon, S.J., Grimmer, K.A. and Trott, P., 2007. Sleep position, age, gender, sleep quality and waking cervico-thoracic symptoms. Internet Journal of Allied Health Sciences and Practice, 5(1), p.6.
  13. Ma, X., Yue, Z.Q., Gong, Z.Q., Zhang, H., Duan, N.Y., Shi, Y.T., Wei, G.X. and Li, Y.F., 2017. The effect of diaphragmatic breathing on attention, negative affect and stress in healthy adults. Frontiers in psychology, 8, p.874.
  14. Jerath, R., Beveridge, C. and Barnes, V.A., 2019. Self-regulation of breathing as an adjunctive treatment of insomnia. Frontiers in psychiatry, 9, p.780.