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Ask HN: How to learn to sleep on your back?
34 points by dawidw 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 75 comments
Hi. Do you know any techniques, tricks etc. how to learn to sleep on your back? I tried yesterday night and after couple of hours I gave up. I was just about to sleep, maybe even sleeping a little bit but then I was awake. After few cycles I was so tired that I just turned on my side and slept like a baby till morning. I'm sure that my current position is incorrect because I have often pain in lower spine or headache so I'd like to sleep in a proper position eventually.

Thank you in advance for all your help!

I have only my own body and anecdotes to go on so they may not fit you.

I have always slept on my side or almost stomach. One reason is when I sleep on my back I often get the night terrors (not sure the proper term). It's a thing where my mind snaps awake but not my body and it's as though I'm paralyzed. I hate that so that's one reason I don't sleep in my back.

The other is like you I don't fall asleep easily in my back.

About 10 years ago I got a tempurpedic memory foam mattress and suddenly I could sleep in my back.

After 2 years or so though i got rid of that mattress. it was too hot and it hurt my back in other ways. Something happened to my back such that sleeping on my back will often trigger severe pain that doesn't happen on my side.

one other thing I found is soft beds kill my back. it's a different kind of pain from the severe pain mentioned above. More like all my bones hurt at the joints when I wake up after sleeping on a soft bed. If I'm at a hotel and the bed is too soft I either have to sleep right on the edge of the mattress where it's stiffest or just sleep in the floor.

so recommendation number one. try different mattresses

the other thing that helped my back tremendously is excercise. I can't stress that enough. If I'm lazy and don't excercise for 8-12 days the pain comes back.

no idea if that was helpful.

> It's a thing where my mind snaps awake but not my body and it's as though I'm paralyzed

This is called Sleep Paralysis and it's pretty horrible to experience.


It can also be a pretty awesome experience. For about two months I experienced it as a teenager. Initially it was terrifying, but after about two weeks it morphed into out of body experiences, which were amazing. It was like a combined sleep paralysis with lucid dreaming.

Sleep paralysis is only horrible when your mind makes it so. The sudden experience of not being able to move makes people panic, and that panic then snowballs into terrible hallucinations. If you know it is just your own mind you are witnessing, then you can steer the experience.

The key is to not fight it or keep forcing your body to move. The best move is to relax, go back to sleep, then attempt waking up at some other point. I have experienced headaches after forcing my body to move during that paralysis phase.

The common contributing factors I know are heavy meals before sleep, prolonged lack of sleep, inconsistent sleeping patterns and stress. But its true, the paralysis always happens when sleeping on the back.

Sleeping on your back with the pillow in a position to put pressure on your upper neck apparently contributes to sleep paralysis. Shifting the pillow lower on your neck can help.

The term is sleep paralysis. It's why I rarely sleep on my back as well, for some reason I'm also more prone to suffer from it when I sleep on my side.

Apparently there is a pillow you can get which is shaped to curve up on the sides, making it uncomfortable to turn over to your side when sleeping. I've heard several people claim that it helped them "train" themselves to sleep on their backs; some even made their own makeshift barriers on the sides of their normal pillow to discourage flipping over.

I don't have such a pillow yet, but I also noticed folding my arms under my head (in a way where my right hand loosely grips my left shoulder and vice versa) creates a comfortable "nook" for my head when on my back. However while this position is comfortable for me, your arms do want to move after a while so it's not really practical to stay in that position for the entire night.

I've also heard it suggested that putting a long pillow or a foam tube of some kind covered with a blanket under your knees at night makes the position of lying on your back more comfortable. The idea is basically to raise your knees slightly instead of lying dead straight on the bed. That does indeed seem to be more comfortable for me, so I'm in the market for such a large firm pillow myself now.

There's also a pillow that gives you the correct head position[1] for sleeping on your side. Why change your position when you can just get rid of the headaches?

[1]: https://www.amazon.com/LoveHome-Softness-Orthopedic-Cervical...

Because headaches aren't the only reason for people wanting to sleep on their back. A couple of reasons I've heard:

* Some feel sleeping on the back is the healthiest, most balanced position (I have gotten this advice from my doctor before, for example). Just because you don't get headaches on your side doesn't mean it's the most ideal sleeping position.

* Some feel that their body specifically is in better balance on the back. For example, I noticed sometimes when I sleep on my side I get shoulder stiffness in the morning. It's not a big deal, but sleeping on the back prevents this.

* Sleeping on your side can also contribute to facial wrinkle formation caused by squishing one side of your face (and normally we favor a side) for ~8 hours every night. There are pillows to let you sleep on your side and try to alleviate this, too, but at this point personal preference combined with other points like the ones above might just encourage one to try to sleep on their back.

In the end I'm not very interested in why OP or anyone else wants to sleep on their back, nor am I interested in convincing them into or out of a certain sleeping position - that's not what this post seemed to be about. It specifically asked "How?" in the topic, not "Let's debate why or why not."

I have even 2 such pillows but I can't sleep on any of them even when I'm on my side. I guess they are comfortable when you sleep on your back.

Anyway, mostly I suffer from pain of lumbar part of spine.

Are you sure you're putting the high part under your neck?

If I remember correctly I was using both ways and for some reason it was uncomfortable for me. Maybe I should give it a try and lying on my back.

I don't know about the back, but it's fantastic on my side (the high part should be supporting your neck). Maybe give it another go?

You're looking at Youtube movies, but don't look at your own body. You're jumping to conclusions while you don't have enough data.

Setup a ceiling camera to film yourself while you sleep. Study the result carefully. Try to determine why your body is doing what it is doing.

Wow, this is obvious but I didn’t think about doing it. I don’t have sleeping issues but I do have other posture problems (eg while sitting and coding) that I could debug that’s way. Thanks!

I would recommend the WyzeCam, it's a $20 camera that I think would work well for your situation.

This is a totally wild guess, but what if you use a hammock?

Hammocks are kind of popular in Colombia, and we use it a lot when in vacation. To rest on them in sunny days. Or windy, like in my case!

Hammock make almost impossible to sleep against their curve, so this could make the trick.

BTW this kind of hammock is the most confortable:


Is made by the indians in the guajira region, and them sleep in them by tradition


For anyone interested in this: Do not get a hammock with two of those wooden bars to spread the hammock. Those are beyond awful. Other than that you'll also want to lie in your hammock at an angle so you're not shaped like a banana.


The trick is "lie in your hammock at an angle". Or your back will yell at you

I had to learn how to do this a number of years ago due to a severe spine injury. What I've found helps is having a large-ish but very soft pillow that accommodates my head lying to one side or another while I'm sleeping on my back.

How long did it take you learn that? Did you have any system to do that? Eg. every night lay on the back 15 minutes longer? Or you just had couple of sleepless nights until you got used to it?

Well, it helped that doing anything other than lying on my back triggered absolutely massive waves of pain. So I didn't really have a choice. I recommend taking a sleep aid beforehand and following all the usual advice for insomnia - avoid screens, read a book, lower the lights.

It felt very weird for about 3 nights, and after a few weeks started to feel natural.

So it seems that just keeping position on back should do the trick. Sleeping on back sounds so abstract and not fitting to me... that I need to give it a try! Thanks for sharing your experience!

It's probably easier to set up your mattress/pillow to let you sleep comfortably on your side. This advice - https://purple.com/blog/the-side-sleepers-guide-to-sleeping - is from a mattress company, but several of the tips were things I learned from a physiotherapist, and in particular the pillow between my knees feels like it helps my lower back relax.

This is funny... Only because I can relate but in the completely opposite sense. I am often told to sleep on my side to reduce snoring noises, but I find sleeping on my back much more comfortable and will always roll on to my back after a few hours on my side.

One old snoring trick to avoid back sleeping is to put a tennis ball in a sock and attach it to your shirt. Maybe you can build something similar to avoid side sleeping... Though mechanically might be a bit harder to attach to your body.

I had pain in my lower back until I bought a knee pillow. Found it online of course. In addition when I do need to sleep on my back, because of a sinus issue (allergies), if I raise my feet and my head it helps.

A few years ago my wife convinced me to buy one of those beds where you can raise the foot or head. We paid WAY too much for it, I later found cheaper ones online. But I must say I am grateful my wife convinced me to buy it.

Three things:

- sleep on a very hard surface - you are more vulnerable on your back than on your side (fetal position) so make sure you are in a 'sacred space' where you feel safe - don't force yourself to sleep like this always, it's pretty advanced and not every day is a high confidence day

You could also try a flotation spa while you are getting to learn to relax on your back. Yoga nidra is another possibility.

You might want to get rid of your pillow. Pain in neck and head often is related to that.

@Tharkum is right. Sleeping on the back is heavily related to snoring.

Is it just because of back pain?

I think there is some evidence side-sleeping is best, eg https://americanpostureinstitute.com/proper-sleeping-posture... So maybe it's your bed.

You may have sleep apnea. Consider seeing a sleep doctor.

Apnea is often worse if you sleep on your back. Doctors sometimes prescribe wearing a fanny pack to prevent it.

I don't think I have it because I sleep very well on my side. But it causes back ache in the morning. Anyway - thanks for suggestion.

I get this. My default, most comfortable position is to sleep on my back, but if I do get terrible nightmares, headaches, and general shittiness.

If you sleep on your side you have no nightmares or you have no dreams at all? If the latter, I'd suspect that you don't get REM phase.

I love sleeping on my side but you're right, it causes back, neck, shoulder, chest issues from being curled up all night.

The best thing I found was to invest in a great firm mattress. Then every couple of nights I'll remove my pillow. It was tough to do at first as we're not used to lying so flat.

However it does force you to lie on your back, align your back and neck in a flat position. You can feel it all resetting to the correct position. Putting your pillow on one side of your face helps to stop your head rolling sideways.

Even if you only do this for a few hours a night before grabbing your pillow back it still makes a positive difference.

For most of my life I've slept on my stomach. That changed when I moved to Chicago for a 6 month period.

At the time a bed was too expensive for a temporary situation and I always hated air mattresses. So, I decided to sleep on the floor.

The floor was carpeted, but the hardness punishes you if you move during the night. After a couple of weeks, I was having the best sleep of my life. I'd sleep the entire night without moving.

It's been about 5 years. I no longer sleep on the floor, but I do continue to sleep on my back. I also sleep for most of the night.

I've never slept on my back and never want to.

If the problem is a sore back, get a better mattress.

Oddly enough the best mattresses can be cheap. A thin-ish (4 inch) rubber mattress on a hard base is ideal for me.

I would suggest kneeling and placing your weight on your toes (curled underneath, heels touching one another with butt resting on them, think Japanese praying in front shrine) this puts a lot of weight on your pelvic floor and strengthens the lower back and spine which gets out of whack from sitting long periods. Do it barefoot, shoes are cheating. Sleeping on your back will naturally keep you more awake , don’t fight it !

I bend the lower part of a pillow up to make a small "V" in which I position my neck. I find this comfortable, and a good way to prevent me from rolling my head in my sleep, which causes neck pain.

I've also found that I can only sleep on my back with my legs crossed. I'm not sure of the ergonomic consequences of this position. I also have a very firm mattress, which just makes sleeping on my side untenable.

I suggest not using a pillow, or using the thinnest one you can. I used to have upper back/shoulder pain and went to a chiropractor. He showed me that my “head carriage” was off - I held my head too far forward, which caused neck/shoulder muscles to strain more to keep the head up. I corrected it by not using a pillow when laying on my back. A decade of pain gone in a couple of nights! YMMV

It's much harder to choke in your sleep if you're on your side (especially important if you've been drinking)

I can't sleep on my back either. I've tried multiple times, but I just can't get asleep unless I lay on my stomach.

Thin pillows and/or rolled towels seem to help, as well as strategically placing them under the knees, lower back and neck.

I might have to give blackout curtains, sleeping mask, earplugs and weighted blankets a shot.

According to study I've done on the Internet, sleeping on side was considered as 'not that bad', 'you can use it if you're unable to sleep on back' etc. But sleeping on stomach was always considered as wrong. Good luck!

I was never able to sleep on my back. I usually slept face-down with me head tilted a bit. I didn't know why. I now know I had sleep apnea my whole life. I started using a cpap about 15 years ago and I can now sleep any way I want.

Use one of those $20 airport plane neck pillows to help you learn to sleep on your back. I think this will work because it will give your neck the comfort and support that you get from sleeping on your side.

Get a harder mattress, a flatter pillow (you might have test a couple) and try locking your hands under the pillow behind your neck.

Also, get a lower spine MRI scan and go see a specialist about your pain...

I've gone through few web pages and videos on YouTube and I'm 100% sure that my sleeping position is just wrong. Basically I'm kind of 'twisted' - upper part is lying on side but hips and below are like lying on stomach. So even if my spine problem is not caused by that (I think it is), I want to learn proper sleeping position to avoid that factor now or in the future.

Just keep a pillow below your knees. It will keep your knee slightly bent and relaxed. The pillow prevents turning to the side. Works for me, otherwise a stomach sleeper.

Just jam yourself in position with your quilt and pillows so that you can't unconsciously roll. You want a pillow under your neck, but not too much and not too hard.

I would love to learn to sleep on my side...I snore terribly when I'm on my back. No matter what I do, I always find a way to turn onto my back in my sleep.

I used to snore so bad that no position was helping. I've had surgery of soft palate and nasal septum and now even I want to try make sound of snoring, I'm unable to. If I'm snoring now, it's not due to mechanical parts of my mouth but the liquid produced by nose due to allergy. Yesterday night I found that that liquid is going back to my throat and my nose stays clean. The only problem is that I can't sleep on my back.

And there is third factor which makes people snore - overweight.

Curious what your feedback is on that surgery? Are you happy you got it done? Many people lose weight after getting it too...

When I was teenager, during some play I got my nose hit. At the beginning I didn't notice anything special - my nose had been usually blocked due to allergy so I was mouth breathing anyway. After couple of years I got signals that I'm terribly snoring and it occurred that my nasal septum is broken and my soft palate is too loose which are the reason of snoring. I had my surgery done but it failed - my nose was still completely blocked (I wasn't able to take 1 full breath) and I was still snoring. So that was many (15?) years ago.

Until 3 years ago it was getting worse. I was easily getting cold and other infections, snoring (which caused not sleeping well), cough. Until one day when I got constant cough that each repetition was literally making my head to explode. It was Saturday so I get to emergency when I got some strong drugs (something based on morphine) to stop that horrible cough. Then I decided that I had to do everything what was possible to do.

So I went to otolaryngologist who detected 3 problems: 1) completely destroyed tonsils causing ease of catching infections (and some "cosmetic" discomforts); 2) broken nasal septum which were blocking nose; 3) loose soft palate causing snoring. Tonsils were in bad shape so they were only to be removed. So the doctor fixed all the 3 points.

So what changed since then: - no snoring at all - even if want to simulate it my throat does not allow me to. Its shape really changed. Before it was like top left, now it's top right at the picture: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep_apnea#/media/File:UPPP._... - no infections at all (literally nothing!) - I am able to breath by nose as long as I want to, even during moderate effort (eg. during going by bicycle) - I started to have dreams. It seems that due to snoring and vibrations made by that I wasn't getting REM phase - no more every morning headaches - more energy

But: I keep forgetting to breath by nose. That's something I've been working on and it's getting better. My wife claims that I'm still snoring but on the video she took I can hear that it's sound like normal person make when has running nose. And I still have my allergy which every so often makes me sneeze and blocks my nose. So I get up morning with dry, open mouth and blocked nose (by allergy).

Until yesterday - when I was lying on my back in bed (barely sleeping) I felt that my mouth was closed all the time and the liquid made by allergy was going to throat.

So besides all the things I've read about sleeping on back - spine, muscles etc. I hope it would help me with my nose breathing too.

That's great info - thank you for sharing your journey. It sounds like UPPP was on balance quite positive for you. I feel like its sort of a blunt instrument in solving a very common and widespread problem people have. It can do more damage than good. But good to see that its brought some benefits for you.

> I feel like its sort of a blunt instrument in solving a very common and widespread problem people have.

Well, I think it's the only way to fix it. I've never heard any pill or exercise could fix your nasal septum or soft palate. Surgery is never nice nor safe, but what else can we do?

> It can do more damage than good

Each surgery may cause problems, especially when you need anesthesia. I heard that after badly treated palate you may have problem with swallowing - that your food and liquid may go through your nose, but doctor said that it's very rare and even those cases are temporary.

The decision for me was quite easy considering where I was before it. Practically I wasn't able to function normally so I didn't have much choice. Constant infections, bad sleep, always tired, headaches... continuing that could do only worse. And when you're in worse condition, the more risky is any surgery. So I really needed to remove root of the problem. I didn't want to waist any day longer having cold (again), not being able to go skiing, losing energy every year. I'm glad I've done it.

That's my story but you have to think about you. Take all the good and especially bad sides of having surgery and decide - have it now, some other day, or maybe never? Good luck!

And about losing weight after surgery. I guess once you fix your breathing, then you sleep better, so you have more energy to burn calories and that helps you lose weight.

Sounds like a success story? From what I've heard, the recovery is unpleasant and many people still end up snoring anyway, so I've been reluctant to go down that route.

As someone who exclusively sleeps on his back, what's the benefit?

I find it very hard to sleep on the side and impossible to sleep on my stomach.

from personal experience pain in your lower back after sleeping can be due to muscle weakness, or dodgy mattress among other things.

It’s easy: start working out a lot. If you’re truly exhausted at the end of the day, you’ll fall asleep easily, even on your back.

Or study a lot. A mental workout can be more exhausting than a physical one.

Do both!

For most higher animals mental effort and physical effort are coincident. Same for our ancestors. I think it would be wise for us living a modern lifestyle to try and emulate at least an average daily balance.

For back pain, the first step I'd recommend is to see a physiotherapist and get their opinion on your situation.

I recommend placing two or three pillows under your knees if you are trying to fall asleep on your back.

Try this - use a crumpled up blanket for a pillow and sleep on the floor. I bet your bed is too soft.

Whenever I want to sleep on my back I keep a hand on my stomach, otherwise I dream of falling..

Buy a pocket T-shirt comfortable to sleep in.

Buy a tennis ball.

Insert tennis ball into pocket.

Sew or glue pocket shut.

Good for stomach sleepers, anyway.

Duck tape and plastic wrap.

You could tie a plank across your stomach preventing rolling over.

I guess you're referring to the situation that someone starts sleeping on back but wakes up in different position? I haven't gone that far - last night I was just lying down couple of hours, very tired and sleepy but unable to fall asleep while lying on my back. Eventually I gave up, decided to ask HN, turned on my side and slept like a baby till morning. I was a little bit late at work though.

Get into BDSM and have your partner tie your down on your back?

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