Tips to Help Avoid Stomach Sleeping

By Dr. Brandon Siegmund

October 23, 2017


best sleeping position

A lot of people are curious about whether or not they should be sleeping on their stomach. Most will say that it is the only way that they can sleep and others have been doing it since they were kids and it just feels “normal”. They’ve been doing it so long that they can’t imagine it’s caused any problems or that they should stop doing it.

I’ve been a stomach-sleeper and I can get adjusted any time I need to. I just got tired of gettin adjusted over and over again for an easily avoidable problem. I wasn’t doing my neck or back any favors by continuing to sleep in this bad posture position.

It’s important for stomach-sleepers to know that this position applies mechanical stress to the entire spine. Muscles and ligaments are stretched more on one side than the other, which physically pulls the vertebrae of the spine out of proper alignment. Among other things, this can cause chronic low back pain, neck pain and headaches, and accumulate into irreversible arthritic changes over time.

Any easy check is to turn your head from side to side. If you’re a stomach sleeper, you can probably turn your head one direction very well but not so much the other way. The side you can turn your head is the side you always have your head turned. Turning your head the other way isn’t as comfortable because you haven’t stretched out the muscles and ligaments on that side over time.

So I’d like to describe some ways for you to train yourself how to quit sleeping on your stomach. It’ll take time – don’t expect overnight success. But patients have informed me they’ve made the change in as little as two weeks. For others, it can take up to six months. Motivation is key, and realize you probably won’t become a back sleeper. Making the switch to your side is the easiest and fastest transition to make. Later, if you’re feeling ambitious, you can make the switch to your back.

Here are four ways to stop sleeping on your stomach…

Suggestion #1: Use a Therapeutic or cervical pillow. This is the easiest way, in my opinion, because it’s the “training wheels” of pillows. It’s uniquely designed to help you maintain back/side sleeping. The intelligent shape of it makes stomach-sleeping nearly impossible. There’s no question that it will wake you up if your body moves into the wrong position during the night.

Getting the right size is key. When switching to your side, just know you’re trying to fill the space from the shoulder to your neck. Your head should stay in a neutral position. You shouldn’t be at an up or down angle. Neutral angles put the least amount of strain on your spine.

Suggestion #2: “Will” yourself to stay on your back or side all night. This method is appealing because it doesn’t cost anything. It can be effective if you share your bed with someone who is a light sleeper. Ask them to nudge/poke if they notice you’ve unconsciously shifted onto your stomach during the night. Using a knee wedge or regular pillow under your knees will help as well o allow your pelvis and lower back to be in a better position.

Motivation is key, but this can be a stressful way of going about it. You’ll wake up when you find that you’re on your stomach because you’re kind of stressed out about messing up your neck. This is not the most popular suggestion, but it does work.

Suggestion #3: Use a Full Body Pillow. Considered a “side sleep stabilizer” this long cylindrical body pillow is designed to help stomach sleepers transition to side-sleeping. If you need the feeling of warmth, pressure, or support to fall asleep, this helps, as well as if you roll over at night the pillow will stay with you.

One of the main reasons people stay on their stomach is the coziness they feel. Back sleepers feel like there’s nothing between them and the ceiling and it’s not comforting. Hug that body pillow, move to more of a 45 degree angle and enjoy the coziness of stomach sleeping without actually being on your stomach.

Suggestion #4: In addition to implementing these methods, I recommend receiving an evaluation from a reputable chiropractor who will take x-rays of your neck and review the overall health of your spine. Improving spinal alignment can make the transition process from stomach-to-side/back more comfortable for you.

side sleeping

There may be a physical reason why sleeping in a bad position feels good and sleeping in a position that is good for you doesn’t feel good. You only feel comfortable sleeping out of whack if you’re out of whack. If your spine is in the right position, you’ll want to keep it that way and staying in an awkward position won’t feel comfortable.

Here’s a video we put together for a more comprehensive answer to the best way to sleep:

Dr. Brandon Siegmund

About the author

Dr. Brandon Siegmund was born and raised outside of Fort Worth. After he obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Biology from the University of Texas at Austin in 2006, Dr. Siegmund performed clinical research at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Click Here To Read Full Bio

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