You’ve read about it or heard it before – that sleeping on your stomach is often described as the worst sleeping position for your body. For many tummy sleepers, this is a habit that usually begins in childhood and has been their go-to sleep position for many years. On the other hand, if you learned that sleeping on your stomach was better for conditions like sleep apnea or snoring, it’s understandable that you would consider it in order to prevent these issues.
After you have built up the habit, as time passes, it becomes harder and harder to stop sleeping on your stomach. The more you build up the tendency to fall asleep face-down, or end up that way, the more you begin to think that’s the only way for you. Even if you’ve tried to stop in the past, you may be left wondering how to actually stop sleeping on your stomach. It will take some work and time, but it is possible with some helpful tips.
Understanding Stomach Sleeping
If you think about it, we really only have three sleeping position options (four if you count side sleeping as two) available to us – on your back, on your side, and on your stomach. So, it may seem a little ridiculous to completely cut out one entire option. However, before continuing to sleep this way, it’s essential for both lifelong and new stomach sleepers to fully understand the countereffects that arise when you sleep in this position. These include:
- Issues with the lumbar spine/lower back. Because most people do not take extra steps to ensure that the curve of their spine remains natural, such as placing a pillow under the hips while sleeping, the majority of people who sleep on their stomach will begin to feel lower back pain. Pain can be felt during sleep and can last into the next day.
- Places compression and stress on the spine. While we’re awake, our spine has a natural “S” shaped curve, however, when you sleep on your stomach, the curve in your neck is exaggerated while the one in your lower back is decreased. Over time, this compression on your neck will only add extra stress to your spine.
- Increases neck pain. The safest way to sleep on your stomach without suffocation is obviously to turn your head to one side or the other. The craning of your neck for six or more hours per night, every night, will undoubtedly bring pain and stress to the muscles in your neck.
- You are more likely to fall asleep on your arms. For those who roll in their sleep, if your habit is to sleep on your stomach, the chances of rolling onto one of your arms are increased. This will lead to waking with paresthesia when your arm is numb or tingling due to putting pressure on a nerve and blocking blood flow.
- Poor sleep quality. Not only are the physical health issues a concern, but the problems that arise from them can lead to disrupted sleep. Long-term discomfort and the need to adjust your back and neck will interrupt the sleep stages, and you may not even realize it, leaving you feeling unrested in the morning.
When it comes to the pros and cons of a situation, sometimes the cons heavily outweigh the pros. If your reason is for snoring or sleep apnea, it may be worth it to look into other alternatives if it means protecting your neck and spine in the long run.
How To Actually Stop Sleeping On Your Stomach
The good news is that just like many other habits, you can change your sleep habits. It will take some effort each night, but we have some tricks that will help you begin your journey to side or back sleeping bliss. We have already covered the “why” above so in this quick guide, we’ll break down the “how” into three main categories that you can use throughout the process.
1. Prepare Mentally
The first (and most effective) step to making any kind of change is to commit to doing it. Which is easier than it sounds. Rather than deciding that you will stop sleeping on your stomach if you happen to think about it, you need to determine that you can and will change your sleep position. If you go to bed telling yourself that you don’t want to sleep on your stomach anymore, your brain will continue the thought process, even while you’re asleep.
To aid this approach, try taking on the mantra, “I will stop sleeping on my stomach.” You may be wondering whether something like mental repetition works, but never underestimate the power of the mind. By making the statement and following it with action, you are much more likely to actually make the change you want.
2. Get Some Help
For many of us, once we have fallen asleep, our bodies tend to do what they wish. Even with the greatest intentions, if you have formed the habit of sleeping on your stomach, you can inevitably end up in that position shortly after you have drifted off. For this reason, you may need to enlist the help of some tools.
Use extra pillows. If you don’t have a surplus of pillows around the house, run to your nearest discount store and buy some cheap ones. You will want at least four cushions to stack at your sides (two on each side) or two body pillows. When you get into bed, set the pillows up like a barrier around you from the bottom of the head pillow, down to your legs.
Make sure the pillows block as much of your body as possible from twisting or turning. The reason you want the pillows to cover as much surface as possible is that you probably don’t know which part of your body turns first – is it your shoulders, hips, legs, or is it different each time? The barrier is especially important to consider if you choose to sleep on your side. All it takes is the top leg or shoulder to fall forward, and suddenly you’re back on your stomach.
If you want a better solution that doesn’t require a thousand pillows to keep you from turning over, I highly recommend a body pillow placed on either side of you. I had the best luck on Amazon, where I bought two BioPEDIC Premium Body Pillows. They were pretty cheap and work extremely well!
Use a tennis ball or marble. Before bed, tape a tennis ball, marble, or any small-sized ball to your chest. The presence of the marble won’t have any effect on you while you sleep on your stomach or back, however, if you do roll, your body will learn very quickly that it’s doing the wrong thing. Commit to doing this each night until you feel confident that you are staying on your back or side for at least most of the night.
Use a contour pillow. Contour pillows are quite helpful for soreness in the neck or back and ensure that your spine stays in alignment throughout the night. But a contour pillow is only comfortable if you are sleeping on your side or back. By removing all other pillows from the bed (aside from your barrier cushions), any attempt to sleep face-down on a contour pillow will wake you up just enough to remind you to go back to one of the other positions. (These types of pillows are also known as cervical or orthopedic pillows.) I personally use Nature’s Guest Adjustable Cervical Pillow (link to Amazon) as my go to cervical pillow to force me to sleep comfortably on my back or side. It helped immensely in my transition from sleeping on my stomach – something I’ve been doing my entire life up until now!
Use your partner. If you have someone who you regularly share a bed with, ask them to help you out if they wake up throughout the night. After their midnight trip to the bathroom or the kitchen, they can check on how you’re sleeping and get you to roll over. Depending on how lightly you sleep, you may not even notice when they do. For those of us who don’t wake much during the night, having someone else keep an eye on you can be incredibly helpful when you’re trying to break a bad habit.
3. Recognize That It’s A Process
Like with anything new, it’s important to remember that change doesn’t happen overnight. If you have been habitually sleeping on your stomach for many years, or almost all your life, changing this habit can take some time. Some people report that it can take anywhere from as little as two weeks up to 6 months. Try these small steps to help keep you going in the right direction:
Keep changing your position. If you happen to wake up in the middle of the night and find yourself on your stomach, commit to rolling back onto your back. Breaking a habit is almost as much about the mental aspect as it is about the physical. Ensure that each time you go to sleep, you aim to fall asleep on your back or side.
Take naps on the couch. If you’re planning on taking an afternoon nap, do it on your couch rather than the bed. Because the surface area is so much smaller than your bed, it gives you less space to roll over without realizing that you’re doing so. Also, for the most part, you won’t go into a deep sleep during a 30-minute nap, so your brain is still able to process your intent to stay off your stomach.
Switch it up. Some tactics will work for some people, while others may not. If it’s been a few days or weeks and you still aren’t getting into a rhythm, have another look at the above suggestions. Maybe there were one or two ideas that you didn’t try for long enough or didn’t try at all. Instead of skipping ideas that you don’t think will work, exhaust every option until you know that it doesn’t work. Your commitment might be the final bridge to actually stop sleeping on your stomach.