And then I woke up and my pillow was missing.
September 16, 2005 11:28 AM   Subscribe

Need some help with positions in bed... positions for falling asleep, that is. Is there a way to train yourself to sleep on your back if you always sleep on your stomach?

When I was a kid I used to only be able to fall asleep if I was lying on my side. Then for a while I was a back sleeper. But 10 years ago my college boyfriend used to fall asleep on his stomach, and it must have rubbed off on me, because now I'm almost completely unable to fall asleep unless I'm lying on my stomach. For the most part this hasn't been a problem. I find something about the position to be very soothing. (Maybe it reminds me of the way I used to sleep as a baby?) But it bugs me that I can't fall asleep any other way. The position tends to make my nose stuffier, so then I have to breathe through my mouth, which means I end up drooling on my pillow, which I think leads to acne breakouts. So it'd be nice to be able to fall asleep on my back sometimes.

Further info: I usually wake up on my back, so I apparently switch to that position once I'm already asleep. I can't seem to fall asleep on my back even when I'm exhausted, so "tire yourself out more before bed" isn't the answer.
posted by MsMolly to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Advice from a sleep center doc: Get a cheap t-shirt and sew a pocket to the front of it. Put a tennis ball in the pocket before you go to sleep. When you attempt to roll over on the tennis ball, you'll wake up. This should condition you.
posted by spicynuts at 11:55 AM on September 16, 2005

I managed to train myself out of it through effort and some tired nights and days, though only to my side - I need to be near dead exausted to fall asleep on my back. Having a body pillow or the like to throw the top leg over to make my back more comfortable is a big help.
posted by phearlez at 12:01 PM on September 16, 2005

Try a pillow under the knees when on your back. I wouldn't be able to fall asleep with my buckwheat hull pillow under my head. (I am a former stomach sleeper that had to change positions for back reasons.)
posted by 6:1 at 12:11 PM on September 16, 2005

I've had some success with relaxation / tension releasing techniques like the corpse pose, or similar variations. It usually allows me to drift off while lying on my back, but I'm almost always in a different position when I wake up.
posted by sarahmelah at 12:20 PM on September 16, 2005

A doc once told my sister to hold a pillow on her stomach while she lay on her back. I guess it was supposed to mimic being on her stomach somewhat.
posted by OmieWise at 12:38 PM on September 16, 2005

I would be interested in finding out how to retrain myself to sleep on my back or side. I will occasionally wake up from a deep sleep on my stomach with my arms up around my head and both of them completely numb from having the blood pinched off to them.
posted by fenriq at 12:49 PM on September 16, 2005

I don't sleep on my back because I have an irrational fear of someone throwing something at my groin, a game my brothers and I played growing up.
posted by craniac at 1:03 PM on September 16, 2005

I had trouble sleeping on my stomach until I got pregnant. You need to sleep on your side when you're pregnant. By the end of the second trimester, I could not comfortably sleep on my stomach anyway. After I had my baby, I thought I would go back to sleeping on my stomach. But I don't like it now.

That being said, getting pregnant is not the solution to your problem! But, if you are planning on having a baby at some point, you might be able to leverage the situation then. Otherwise, I think the tennis ball idea is a good one.
posted by acoutu at 1:08 PM on September 16, 2005

Try a pillow under the knees when on your back.

This does make things a lot more comfortable. Also consider a pillow between the knees when on your side, or fall asleep hugging a pillow to help your shoulders line up.

Also consider your (head) pillow; if you sleep on your stomach you presumably have a very flat pillow. On your back you'll need a slightly loftier one, and on your side a significantly loftier one, to keep your neck straight and comfortable.
posted by mendel at 1:11 PM on September 16, 2005

Response by poster: Metafilter: I have an irrational fear of someone throwing something at my groin.

These are good answers so far, guys. I do have a thicker pillow for when I try to sleep on my back, so I'm set there, but maybe I'll try a pillow under my knees, or get a body pillow and try sleeping on my side.

Keep 'em coming.
posted by MsMolly at 1:43 PM on September 16, 2005

Must be a group of us stomach-sleepers who have difficulty with any other pose... I didn't like stomach-sleeping because it meant my neck was always turned 90 degrees, and I was having neck problems, but couldn't fall asleep otherwise. Couldn't do back or side for a long time, but finally MADE myself do the side thing, mainly by not allowing myself to turn onto my stomach for 2-3 nights.

That's really all it took, but it's a little hellish. Having knee/body pillows helps considerably; sometimes I'm 3/4 way towards the tummy angle but that's better than flat out. Sometimes I will turn on my stomach until I'm very sleepy, and only then turn on my side; that seems to work. Still can't fall asleep lying on my back, though.

What makes us disposed to certain positions? Are we all anxious sleepers? For instance, do most of us with these issues have trouble falling asleep on planes or while sitting up? I sure do!
posted by rleamon at 2:08 PM on September 16, 2005

I don't sleep on my back because I have an irrational fear of someone throwing something at my groin, a game my brothers and I played growing up.

I have a cat who thinks it's funny to pounce on my crotch when I'm in bed, so now I fall asleep covering myself with both hands.
I taught myself to sleep on my back years ago after I went camping without a sleeping pad and we managed to set up our tent on top of some small roots. Trying to sleep on my side meant roots digging into my hips all night long. What I did was to just lay on my back for as long as I could stand when I was going to bed. For a while I wouldn't fall asleep for like half an hour, and I would have to turn over on to my side. Eventually I started falling asleep and it's become more natural over the years. I was also doing some meditative relaxation as I went to bed at the time, which seemed to help me fall asleep however I wanted.
posted by Who_Am_I at 2:09 PM on September 16, 2005

Another stomach sleeper here, and it's killing my neck so thanks for asking the question!
posted by stray at 2:33 PM on September 16, 2005

Is it true that sleeping on one particular side (can't remember which) of your body puts extra strain on your heart?
posted by Edame at 2:36 PM on September 16, 2005

This was asked last year, with most of the same replies. I still like to fall asleep on my stomach though, most of the time, but a recent illness has given me medications that make my joints kill, and sleeping on my back alleviates some of that pain.

I only have two suggestions: get a long body pillow. At first, try to sleep on your side with it. You may be angled more towards sleeping on your stomach, but still on your side. Each night, angle yourself a bit further so that you're eventually on your side completely. Use the body pillow to hug, and to drape your top leg over. Do that for a while. Then, lay on your back, with a normal pillow under your knees, so that your back isn't arched. The key here is that body pillow: drape the body pillow over your torso, putting both of your arms on *top* of the pillow on either side of your torso. Basically, the combined weight of your arms and the body pillow kind of put some pressure on your belly/chest, and it almost feels like you're sleeping on your side or stomach!

Maybe scarabic's got some good suggestions after the other thread!
posted by fionab at 2:40 PM on September 16, 2005

Sleeping on your left side provides for less pressure on your vena cava. However, I don't think it's much of an issue unless you're pregnant or have circulation or other health issues.
posted by acoutu at 3:21 PM on September 16, 2005

I’ve occasionally arranged some pillows to create a slightly sloping (from shoulders to hips) version of the face hole in a massage table, so I can continue to fall asleep on my stomach (it’s like a trigger for sleep for me; can’t fall asleep as easily any other way) even if I’m having some neck or shoulder pain. Works well, and I never wake up in the slightly awkward position it puts me in; I’m always on my side or back in the morning.
posted by dpcoffin at 3:26 PM on September 16, 2005

dpcoffin: if only they made matresses with head-holes.

I really like falling asleep on my stomach, but don't do it often because of the neck-twisting and arm-numbing side effects. If I could just arrange to have some agent rotate me after I'm asleep without disturbing me, I'd be all set.
posted by cortex at 3:47 PM on September 16, 2005

I accidentally trained myself to sleep on my back by staying at a place for 6 weeks where I slept on the couch.

Otherwise, I find it matters to make the room totally dark. In rooms that aren't dark I eventually turn to my stomach in an attempt to avoid the light.
posted by xo at 11:43 PM on September 16, 2005

Actually, these days I sleep on a feather bed on a foam slab on a platform that’s wider than the mattress by about 8 inches on each side, so I no longer need to create the head hole with pillows. I just sort of hang my face off the edge, which is softened by the feather padding spilling over onto the platform. Sometimes I’ll throw a pillow onto the platform to support my off-the-bed shoulder, but usually that isn’t needed; arms are always straight down by my sides. By morning, I’ve always rolled back towards the center of the bed and off my stomach.

Definitely seems to be the best arrangement I’ve yet found; thanks very much for the opportunity to publicly document it....crawling into my drop-off zone now...nite’nite!
posted by dpcoffin at 12:02 AM on September 17, 2005

i have a tendency to turn onto my stomach and end up with back aches. i get back aches even on sleeping on my back if i wake up late in the morning. I guess my back muscles are starting to show their age or whatever and tend to get stiff when i decide to stay late in bed on weekends.

I have been trying to sleep on my side using a body pillow. I have also noticed since I started using a memory foam mattress topper and memory foam pillows, they may have been helping a bit.
posted by flyby22 at 7:47 AM on September 17, 2005

The stuffiness and acne could indicate a chemical sensitivity to your laundry detergent. If sleeping on your back helps, you might also try switching to a hypoallergenic detergent and/or double-rinsing the sheets.
posted by futility closet at 10:17 AM on September 17, 2005

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