Why can't I fall asleep on my back?
March 14, 2004 9:39 PM   Subscribe

Why can't I fall asleep on my back? [more]

For over a year I've been trying to get used to falling asleep on my back. It's the most comfortable position for my left shoulder, which was injured and can get really sore if I sleep on it wrong. My physical therapist said I might suffer some insomnia if I'm not used to sleeping on my back, but that was 18 months ago!

I lie on my back looking at the ceiling for as long as I can bear, getting more and more painfully sleepy, as the urge to flip onto my side or stomach builds to an irresistible level. I can never quiiiite fall all the way asleep, and the tiniest noise will rouse me.

What burns me most is, I wake up on my back more often than not. Why can't I fall asleep on my back? It would save me some pain, facilitate the healing process, and save me and my lady some tossing and turning.

Any tricks anyone can recommend for this or falling asleep in general? I never have trouble, except in this position, but I am willing to try general insomnia tricks.
posted by scarabic to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Put a pillow under your knees. Also, you may want to use a thinner head pillow than one you would use when sleeping on your side.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:46 PM on March 14, 2004

I'll be watching this thread with much interest since I, too, cannot fall asleep on my back. I'm not aware that I can or do sleep on my back at all, since I've never woken up in that position.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:02 PM on March 14, 2004

I have the exact same problem and have yet to find a useful solution. Thankfully, I don't have the shoulder issues you do.

Contrary to the advice above that you try a thinner pillow, I'd also suggest you might get a bigger pillow so that you can rest your head to the side (as you would if you slept on your side) without making it entirely uncomfortable. Perhaps if your head is angled to the side you'll be more likely to sleep on your back.

Great question, but a poor showing on my part, I'm fear.
posted by The God Complex at 10:58 PM on March 14, 2004

Chalk me up as another "impossible to sleep on the back" one. The worst of it for me is that it makes it completely impossible to sleep on a plane/train or while riding in a car. Frustrating as hell.

As an addendum to TGC's advice, I find it kind of helps to rest your head on one of the edges of your pillow, making it seem bigger and giving you some good neck/head support. Doesn't work all the time (or even enough to make me try it very often) but it has actually worked once or twice.
posted by Ufez Jones at 11:08 PM on March 14, 2004

I'm the same way. I've been a stomach sleeper since I was a baby (hey, it was before "back to sleep") I can not break myself of it.

The only time I ever fell asleep on my back was when I was in the hospital and had the head elevated on the bed.
posted by SuzySmith at 11:14 PM on March 14, 2004

I too find it very difficult to fall asleep on my back, or in a chair in a moving vehicle. One far-from-perfect method that I have found for doing so when necessary is putting something with some weight (a pillow, or a fleece jacket, or a folded-up blanket) over my middle -- thus crudely recreating the feeling of having my front up against the mattress when sleeping in my usual position. Pathetic as that may sound, I find that it helps.
posted by sueinnyc at 11:19 PM on March 14, 2004

It's hard for many people to breathe properly sleeping on their backs, and it often causes backache (and the snoring...ye gods, the snoring). Can you not find a position that's partially on your side (wedge a pillow underneath one side of your back), rather than all the way on your back?
posted by biscotti at 11:37 PM on March 14, 2004

I used to sleep on my back. Then I saw Friday the 13th as a wee impressionable little lad. There's that scene where the guy is laying down on a cot, and a hand comes around from under him and grabs his head, then an arrow gets shoved up through him.

Been sleeping on my stomach ever since (because of course as everybody knows my stomach is impervious to arrows, and if anybody is hiding under the bed, facing down is the appropriate way to fight them).

Seriously though, it's got to be just a matter of getting used to it. Maybe pills or alcohol would help until you get over the hump.
posted by willnot at 11:42 PM on March 14, 2004

I never naturally slept on my back as a kid until I trained myself to do it in high school. The pillow I used before, mostly to sleep on my side, was too puffy and in training I sometimes went without a pillow altogether.

The only other things I can really remember about how I did it is a distinct memory of keeping my arms outside the covers at my sides and also, at least some of the time at the beginning, having my legs in a "vee" instead of against one another. I think this anchored me on my back and kept me from trying to turn onto my side by instinct. Of course, given the amount of space that can take up, it helped to be the only one in the bed.

What willnot says above was true for me: once I learned how to do it I never had problems with it again. Also, I no longer have to do the arms and legs akimbo thing. So to get yourself ready to fall asleep upon hitting the covers while first trying the suggestions in this thread, I suggest that you (1) not go to bed before you're tired; (2) take a hot shower before bed; (3) have freshly laundered sheets. All of those things make me fall asleep faster. Good luck!
posted by onlyconnect at 12:20 AM on March 15, 2004

willnot's story reminds me of why I think I had the hardest time sleeping on my back for a long time.

When I was really little I remember waking up, and my stomach wasn't feeling too good, so I did waht every kid would do, go sleep next to mommy in her bed. I'm lying there, half asleep, probably drifting into some daydream or another, and the scariest thing happened, I think what it was was that I let out a (relatively speaking given my size) huge fart. The sensation of that, as I was lying on my back on a waterbed, probably scarred me for a long time because I distinctly remember never ever sleeping on my back after that. I think I thought a monster was trying to get me.

Anyway, for me I've found the pillow under the knees thing helps, as I said in my boobies, but now I don't even need that.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:22 AM on March 15, 2004 [1 favorite]

My experience seems to indicate that I wiggle on my stomach/side in ways that release tension in my back, so I fall asleep.

After sex I often fall asleep on my back.

Solution: plo chops.
posted by Goofyy at 3:53 AM on March 15, 2004

One far-from-perfect method that I have found for doing so when necessary is putting something with some weight..over my middle.

This works for me, too: If I am reading in bed and fall asleep with a book on my chest, I conk out like I've sapped by a blackjack. If I don't, I can't. It's also probably related to having my head propped up on two pillows.

I have migrated from a belly-sleeper to a side-sleeper, though, by putting two large pillows on either side, so that I roll over on them. This was very helpful these last two months, because I dislocated my shoulder and couldn't do a full turn without risking damage to the offended limb.

Still can't make the transition to back-sleeper, though.
posted by Mo Nickels at 6:00 AM on March 15, 2004

I don't sleep on my back because I'll either get sleep paralysis or will sleepwalk if I do.

But, I've been in the same situation where an injury has forced me to sleep on my back. What I did was sleep with a bolster pillow so I was in a semi-upright position. (My bolster pillow supports the back and has "arms" that can keep one from rolling over - it's the type advertised for reading in bed.) This was enough where I could fall asleep without my usual supine-position related problems, though it was never as restful as sleeping on my stomach.
posted by Sangre Azul at 7:54 AM on March 15, 2004

This is what an article on the BBC's site has this to say about sleep positions. Seems they're somewhat personality-related.

Here's another point of view that had me until I scrolled down a bit. "The Hazel", indeed!
posted by SteveInMaine at 8:16 AM on March 15, 2004

Of course the first sentence should have read:

This is what an article on the BBC's site has to say about sleep positions.

posted by SteveInMaine at 8:21 AM on March 15, 2004

I'm most comfortable on my back, and longed to fall asleep there all my life--but I couldn't because I had apnea. I thought it was the slightest noise waking me, but it was actually that I would stop breathing for a second. I didn't realize this until I got older, and it got bad enough to be detectable.

One solution I found prior to treatment was to get one of those wedge pillows that allows you to sit up in bed. I use that and another pillow to slouch down comfortably. It's kind of a half-sitting position, and I can sleep that way the whole night.
posted by frykitty at 9:13 AM on March 15, 2004

Throw your lower back out really wickedly. Then you're forced to sleep on your back.

posted by five fresh fish at 9:19 AM on March 15, 2004

Have a baby. Then, assuming you ever get the opportunity to sleep again, you'll find that you can sleep on your back, on your stomach, standing, while driving, and just about any other way you can possibly imagine.
posted by vraxoin at 9:41 AM on March 15, 2004

I was on the wrestling team in high school, and one of the rumors was that you should sleep on your stomach so that you felt more natural lying on your stomach than on your back. Figuring "why not?", I started sleeping on my stomach. Fifteen years later, I can't sleep on my back, can't sleep in a hammock, etc.
posted by goethean at 9:51 AM on March 15, 2004

Response by poster: Heh. It might take that, vraxoin, to get me through the "training period."

Wow. Great suggestions and lots of support, all. I'm going to keep an eye out for apnea, and see what I can engineer with pillows. I have this fear, though, that my gf is going to wake up one morning, look over at me, and I'll be fully encased in a fort of cushions and pillows.

I've found that having one on top of me helps as well. And there are a few stupid pillow tricks I know that keep my shoulder comfortable on my stomach or side. It's just that when I'm on my back, gravity naturally pulls the shoulder into the correct position for healing, so the more time I spend there, the better.

Thanks all!
posted by scarabic at 10:12 AM on March 15, 2004

I use one of these. It helps support your neck and keep you aligned. I can't sleep well without it. It goes everywhere with me.
posted by MsVader at 10:15 AM on March 15, 2004

I can't sleep on my back in my bed, but I can on my sofa. On my sofa though, I curl up sortof using the back as if that's the part I'm laying on, and I always have an extra pillow propping up my head so my head can rest on something. I think it comes down to liking the security of the fetal position and needing to feel something at least along my side to feel like it's sleeptime. You can try a body pillow to see if this helps.
posted by dness2 at 1:41 PM on March 15, 2004

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