How to sleep on your back — plus the 3 best mattresses for back sleeping

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Back sleeping is one of the healthiest ways to rest, but if you aren't used to lying on your back, it can be hard to adopt this new sleep style. But as a pressure-relieving and spine-supporting sleep position, it's worth making the effort to try and sleep on your back.

The position we fall asleep in might seem like a simple comfort choice, but - just like how sleeping on the best mattress for your sleep needs can impact your sleep quality - your sleep position can play an important role in your overall wellbeing. A healthy back sleeping position allows for the natural curve of the spine, while aiding even pressure relief across the body. This can limit back and joint pain, as well as reduce overall aches and pains. And all you need to achieve healthy back sleeping is a little help from your pillows.

The tips we've gathered here can help you consistently drift off in a back sleeping position, but to make the most of this sleep style, you need the best mattress to match. We'll dive into what to look for in a mattress for back sleepers below, but for now, let's explore why you should sleep on your back, and how to get started. 

What are the benefits of sleeping on your back?

Back sleeping is widely considered one of the healthiest positions to sleep in, thanks to the support it provides for the lumbar region. Side sleeping is also a recommended sleep position, but sleeping on your stomach is the unhealthiest sleep position, due to the prolonged pressure your neck and spine is placed under when lying on your front. 

But let's dive into the benefits of back sleeping. When lying on your back, gravity is able to distribute weight evenly across the body, taking pressure off the muscles and joints. "This helps your whole body relax, which is the best way for your body to recover," said Aimee Brame, consultant physician from Sleep Centre at London Bridge Hospital, when Tom's Guide spoke to her regarding what back sleeping does to the body

A woman with dark curly hair sleeps on her back in a white bed

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And weight distribution isn't the only benefit. “Sleeping on your back or your side allows for proper alignment of your spine" explained Dr. Ali H. Mesiwala, neurosurgeon and sports specialist at DISC Sports & Spine Center, when we asked him which is the healthiest sleep position. Allowing for the natural curve of the spine, back sleeping can help you avoid waking up with a sore and creaky lower back.

Back sleeping is good for your body, but that doesn't mean it's easy to break a bad sleep position habit. Thankfully, there are simple steps you can take that will make sleeping on your back feel as natural as closing your eyes and drifting off. 

How to sleep on your back: 5 top tips

1. Place a pillow under your knees

To help maintain a healthier back sleeping position, try placing a thin pillow beneath your knees. This slight elevation to the legs helps keep the spine at a neutral angle, and limits tossing and turning in the night.

Elevating the knees also supports the curve of your back, which means your back muscles aren't under stress while you sleep. And when your muscles can relax, your body can get on with recovery (a vital part of sleep). If you don't have any spare pillows lying around, try using a rolled up towel or folded blanket. 

2. Place a pillow under the small of your back

Placing a thin pillow beneath the small of your back can provide support and pressure relief for the lumbar region, as well as preventing you from rolling over in the night. 

While this tip can limit back pain, it's important to get the loft of the pillow right. Too low or too high and you might find you're less comfortable than before. An adjustable pillow will allow you to experiment with different heights, or you can folding and unfolding a blanket until it's the perfect height.

3. Surround yourself with pillows

If, despite your best efforts, you still find yourself switching to awkward sleep positions in the night, try the pillow barricade method. By placing pillows either side of you during the night, it's much harder to roll over, keeping you in a healthier back sleeping position.

A man lies on his back in bed, sleeping happily in a comfortable position

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Bed sharers might find this isn't possible (those extra pillows take up a fair bit of room). If this is you, experiment with holding your arms and legs in different positions, until you find something that feels right. 

4. Choose the right pillow for your head and neck

We've covered just about every other use for a pillow, so now let's discuss the one that goes under your head. The best pillow for back sleepers are typically medium to medium-firm, holding the head and neck aligned (and not flopping all over the place in the night). Choosing the right pillow can help limit neck and shoulder ache, making maintaining the perfect back sleeping position more comfortable. 

5. Try back sleeping for a few minutes each night

When sleeping, we tend to gravitate toward the position that feels natural. It's a hard habit to break, so don't be surprised if you wake up in a worse position than the one you drifted off in. Instead of getting disheartened, try lying on your back for a few minutes at the start of the night, and if you're still awake after 15 minutes, return to your default position.

Over time, this new back sleeping position should begin to feel more and more natural. Engage in some calming breathing exercises when lying on your back to help soothe yourself to sleep and distract your mind.

What are the best mattresses for back sleeping?

Even the best back sleeping position can feel uncomfortable if your mattress isn't offering the right kind of support, the best mattresses for back sleepers gently cradle the body, reducing the stress placed on the muscles for more refreshing rest. Below we'll cover what to look for in a mattress for back sleepers, and three of our favorites.

1. It has a medium to medium-firm tension

Mattresses for back sleepers need to offer a blend of comfort and support. We typically recommend a firmness rating of 6 out of 10 or higher. Softer than this and you're likely to find your hips and shoulders will sink into the bed, placing pressure on the spine. 

Firmness is subjective, so take these ratings as guidelines (what feels like a 6 to one person might be an 8 to another). When choosing tension, it's important to factor in your weight and body type. The best mattresses for heavier bodies tend to have a firmer support, to prevent the hips from sinking into the bed – important for back sleepers. 

2. It boasts ample pressure relief

We might typically associate plush beds with side sleepers, but if you're lying on your back, you want to ensure you have enough pressure relief. Cushioned relief prevents pressure from building up where the body pushes against the mattress. For back sleepers, these touch points are typically the lower spine, upper back, and shoulder regions.

A man sits on the edge of the bed holding his neck and back

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3. It provides ample lumbar support 

Lumbar support ensures the spine is held in correct alignment with the rest of the body and that the natural curve of the spine is supported. When back sleepers don't have good lumbar support, the muscles in the lumbar region have to work through the night, when they should be relaxing. The result? An aching back the next morning.

However, the right mattresses for back sleepers are supportive at the lumbar, rather than soft. Some mattresses even use targeted lumbar support zones to ensure your spine doesn't twist into an awkward angle as you sleep. Our guide to the best mattresses for back pain features plenty of beds with exceptional lumbar support.

Top 3 mattresses for back sleepers to shop today

1. Saatva Classic mattress: was from $1,395now $1,195 at Saatva

1. Saatva Classic mattress: was from $1,395 now $1,195 at Saatva
We rate the Saatva Classic as the best mattress in the world right now, and with three firmness levels to choose from and zoned lumbar support, it's a great choice for back sleepers. In our Saatva Classic mattress review we found this bed delivers a luxury, hotel-like feel, and you get premium extras including a lifetime warranty, full year sleep trial, and white glove delivery. The current sale is average from Saatva, saving you up to $300 and reducing a queen to $1,795 (was $2,095). 

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2. Helix Midnight Luxe mattress
The Helix Midnight Luxe has a plush feel that suits lightweight back sleepers and those who prefer a softer finish. But don't let all that cushioning fool you – in our Helix Midnight Luxe mattress review, we found it had ample support for the spine. The current 20% off deal plus free pillows is an evergreen sale at Helix, but it's still a good price. The queen Midnight Luxe is now $1,899 (was $2,373.80), and comes with a 100-night trial and a 15-year warranty.

3. Nectar Memory Foam Mattress: was from $699 now $349 at Nectar

3. Nectar Memory Foam Mattress: was from $699 now $349 at Nectar
Our tester noted the "good balance of softness and support" in our Nectar Memory Foam Mattress review, making this all-foam bed a good choice for back sleepers on a budget. The current up to 40% off deal is an evergreen sale at Nectar, reducing a queen to $649 (was $1,099). It might be the standard saving, but this is an impressive price for a bed of this quality, and you get premium extras such as a 365-night trial and a lifetime warranty. 

Ruth Jones
Sleep staff Writer

Ruth Jones has recently joined the Tom's Guide team as a sleep staff writer, covering all things mattresses and sleep. Ruth previously worked as a sleep and mattress writer for our sister website TechRadar, and has a deep interest in sleep and how it affects our day to day wellbeing. Ruth is a self-confessed stomach sleeper with a penchant for medium-firm mattresses, and also loves a good eye mask for helping her to fall asleep easier at night.