I’ve written about the virtues of sleeping on your back before. I’ve tried sleeping on my back before—many, many times. But I always wake up scrunched into a ball on my (left) side. I attribute this aversion to back sleeping to one thing and one thing only: It’s uncomfortable. But with every passing night, I wake to see my sleep wrinkle on the left side of my face growing deeper and deeper and more permanent. So I decided to take action.
Keep reading to find how I finally trained myself to sleep on my back!
Like I just mentioned, the issue is I find sleeping on my back very uncomfortable. (There’s a reason we spend our first nine months tucked into a ball, right? It’s comfy! Okay, maybe that’s not the reason…) But in order to break my bad habit, I forced myself to dig a little deeper and identify exactly why this position is uncomfortable to me. And I came up with two solid reasons. One, I like the feeling of my face smushed against the pillow. Two, my back hurts when I lie flat. With this in mind, I began experimenting with different ways to remedy these two hang-ups.
Trying to re-create some of the magic of side sleeping is tough. I’ve tried sleeping with a barricade of pillows around me on all sides—one on the left, one on the right, one wedged above my head. Despite this solution having the double benefit of preventing you from rolling over in your sleep and re-creating the sensation of side sleeping, I’ve found that it doesn’t do either. Eventually I tear through my pillow barricade and end up at square one. So I decided to take a different approach to re-creating the sensation of side sleeping.
Since the pillow-to-face thing really only applies to one side of the face, why not ditch the unsuccessful all-angles approach and just lay a pillow across one side of my face? Genius, I know. The trick here, though, is finding the right pillow for the job. My regular pillows are too big to the point where I basically end up smothering myself. Instead, I use what I like to call a nap pillow. A nap pillow is a smaller, more manageable pillow. It can be anything really—a throw pillow from the couch, one of the gazillions of decorative pillows on your bed, anything that’s soft enough to set on your face. My nap pillow is a small, blue, oblong one I’ve had on my bed for years. I use it to cover my left ear and eye, and it feels almost as if I’m sleeping snuggly on my side, even though I’m on my back. Which is a moot point, if when I’m in this position my lower back is in pain.
I did a little research on this one, and the general consensus was to stretch before bed. Apparently if your hip flexors and hamstrings are tight, it can pull your lower spine out of alignment when you lie flat. As someone who sits at a desk all day, it makes sense that my hip flexors and hamstrings would be tight, so I stretched. And nothing. I still felt the pinch in my lower back. But most of my sources pointed to regular stretching as the solution. Which, at first, I groaned at. “Oh goodie, one more thing I have to do before bed.” But after five or six days, I was able to lie on my back without pain. So I’m safely and comfortably on my back, but I still manage to wake up on my side. At first, I think it’s a fluke, and I tell myself my body will get used to its new sleeping position. When that doesn’t happen, I realize it takes more than simply overcoming the discomfort and pain issues to master this skill (yes, I consider back sleeping a skill).
Since the pillow barricade has already proven to be no match for my body’s desire to side sleep, I tried the incline technique. I’m not sure why this works, or even why I thought to try it in the first place—but I did, and it does. I create a little wedge of pillows (two or three) under my head and upper torso. This keeps my upper body propped up slightly, which makes it more difficult for me roll onto my side.
But here’s the really important part that I want to stress: When I say, “I finally trained myself to sleep on my back,” I mean I FINALLY trained myself. None of this happened overnight. Each of the little tweaks I made took weeks to get used to. Not to mention the months of trial and error that led me to the solutions I now rely on. And while I’ve finally gotten to the point where it’s comfortable to sleep on my back, I’m still not to a point where it feels totally natural. Every night when I go to bed, I work to get the conditions just right. If I skip stretching a few too many times, my back will ache when I lie down. If I don’t have my nap pillow positioned just so, it won’t matter that I’ve created the perfect wedge for my upper body. I’m confident that I’ll get to the point where it’s 100% natural (as I now know, these things take time), but for now I’m just happy I can comfortably sleep on my back.
PS: Scroll down for three sleep essentials that make it easier for me to fall asleep!