Juliette Kando is a dancer, choreologist, author on fitness and health, and Fellow of the Benesh Institute at the Royal Academy of Dance.
Most of us have adopted a favorite “going to sleep” position, be it the fetal position - all nicely curled up on your side, or sleeping on your stomach or on your back (the supine position). Research shows that sleeping on your back has many benefits that can cure chronic ailments and reduces what is called “sleep wrinkles”. Despite this, only 8% of people sleep on their backs. If you are naturally one of them, count yourself lucky because back sleeping is the best option for pain management, as it allows your body to rest in the most neutral position. It is not easy for the remaining 92% to sleep on their backs voluntarily. In this article, we discuss why we twist and turn so much during sleep, the many benefits of sleeping on your back, and how to train the body to adopt the supine position as a permanent solution to chronic conditions like
- Headaches and migraine
- Neck and shoulder pain
- Chronic backache
- Disfiguring fold-wrinkles and puffy eyes
- Sleep apnea
Why Do We Twist and Turn So Much During Sleep?
Sleep is when the body can rest and recuperate from daily effort and stress. Why do we twist and turn so many times during sleep? Adults usually change positions anywhere between 11 and 45 times during a typical 8 hour night. The body moves around during sleep to get more comfortable, to allow various parts of the body, including internal organs to take turns in fully relaxing for optimum rest and recovery. If the body is allowed to sleep in the anatomically most advantageous position as in lying on its back, the sleep-disturbing twisting and turning diminish considerably to offer a more restful night's sleep.
Benefits of Sleeping on Your Back
When you sleep on your back all that twisting and turning becomes unnecessary. Sleeping flat on your back is a shortcut. It is the most neutral position for effective skeletal re-alignment. In the yoga position Shavasana, you relax on your back on the floor with conscious breathing to allow the whole body to sink deeper and deeper into gravity on each out-breath. Apply Shavasana every night when you go to sleep to reap the benefits of this ancient practice throughout the night if possible.
Benefits of Shavasana
Savasana transforms the focus of the body from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system. I plain English Savasana teaches us how to move from anxiety and hypertension to the deepest relaxation where all systems (skeletal, muscular, lymphatic, respiratory, digestive, nervous, endocrine, cardiovascular, urinary, reproductive, and immune systems) get the best chance to be fully restored and enhanced.
Prevents Sleep Wrinkles and Puffy Eyes
You don’t have to wake up with puffy cheeks and bags under your eyes. Pressing the face into pillows during sleep can fold and compress the skin. This tends to affect people who sleep on their stomachs or side. Over time, this may contribute to visible signs of aging by causing so-called “sleep wrinkles” so often seen as shown in the next video. Sleeping in a supine position can help stop a person’s face from pressing into pillows during the night.
The Truth About Sleep Wrinkles
Easing Back Ache and Neck and Shoulder Pain
Sleeping on the back places the whole spine, the neck, and shoulders, in the most neutral and best-aligned position. This position prevents compression and twisting into incorrectly aligned positions which can lead to chronic lower back pain or neck and shoulder pain.
Poor neck alignment during sleep can cause tension headaches. When your neck is in an awkward or uncomfortable position, which is the case when you sleep on your side or stomach, it may be the root cause of headaches and migraines. Those who suffer from chronic headaches often wake up in the morning with pain that radiates from the upper back to the back of the head and the forehead. Sleeping on your back takes the pressure off the neck and shoulder area. You can avoid tension headaches by sleeping on your back.
Sleeping On Your Back - Head Segment
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How to Train Your Body to Sleep On Your Back
If you want to train your body to sleep on your back you must first learn to lie down comfortably on the floor to discover if you need any supporting props. The degree of discomfort experienced while lying on the floor exactly determines how much the spine and neck are over-curved. You can use props to support over-curvature in the spine and neck as shown in the picture below. With practice, the props can be smaller and smaller until you are able to lie down on your back on the floor comfortably.
Props to Use If Necessary
- a small yoga block or a thick book or a small, firm pillow under the head
- A bolster or rolled-up towel underneath the knees
- If needed, use a very small pillow under the lower back
Now Back to Bed
The lying on the floor exercise has established which props if any, you need to lie down comfortably in bed. My personal choice of head support is the key to stop myself from rolling over onto my side during the night. It is a very simple solution. What is it?
The Firm Travel Neck Pillow
The picture shows how using a firm travel neck pillow will definitely stop you from moving out of the supine sleeping position throughout the night. In this case, the pillow is not used around the neck. It is used under the head with the opening at the back. Because the head is now resting in the hollow part of the travel pillow and is, as it were, stuck there, it is far less likely that you will roll over onto your side or onto your belly during sleep. By applying the Shavasana pose and breathing method previously discussed, it should be very easy to fall asleep on your back for sweet dreams and joyful waking up in the morning.
Final Trick: A TV Screen on the Ceiling
I have another very unconventional trick up my sleeve. There is a television screen mounted above my bed on the ceiling. It is set to go off 15 minutes after it is switched on. So when I feel like it, I watch a movie or a ballet or a meditation video while comfortably lying in bed on my back before going to sleep. That option I leave up to you to choose or reject.
Don’t Give Up
Developing new habits may take some time and perseverance. Training through self-discovery and self-assessment makes you more aware of your body and encourages a gradual change of habits for the better. All in good time, within a few weeks, the new habits become the new “normal” and because you realize that the new habits make you feel so much better you wouldn’t ever want to revert back to the old habits which now feel very uncomfortable.
Where Is the Proof?
The proof is in how you feel when you wake up in the morning. Those who have managed to train themselves to sleep on their backs report they no longer wake up with backache, neck and shoulder pain, with puffed up eyelids and wrinkled faces. Dr. Chang says. "Since we spend nearly one-third of our lives sleeping – or trying to – spending some time optimizing your sleeping position is a worthwhile pursuit."
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.