stomach sleeper

How to Stop Sleeping on Your Stomach

A lot of people are curious about whether or not they should be sleeping on their stomach. My previous article on this topic elicited a variety of responses ranging from complete agreement to utter disbelief.

It’s important for stomach-sleepers to know that this position applies mechanical stress to the cervical spine. Muscles and ligaments are stretched asymmetrically to one side, which physically pulls the upper cervical vertebrae out of proper alignment. Among other things, this can cause chronic neck pain and headaches, and snowball into irreversible arthritic changes 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.

Here are four ways to stop sleeping on your stomach…

Suggestion #1:  Use a Therapeutica 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.

Suggestion #2:  Solo sleepers have some creative ways to police their sleeping position. One method involves tying a ribbon around your wrist and anchoring it to a nightstand or bedpost. The theory is that “rolling over” will create a tugging sensation on the arm, prompting you to change positions. An alternative to this would be velcroing a tennis ball to the front of your pajamas. The idea here is to make lying flat on your stomach unpleasant.

Suggestion #3:  “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 pillow might help as well.

Suggestion #4:  Use a Memory Foam 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.

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 cervical spine. Improving spinal alignment can make the transition process from stomach-to-side/back more comfortable for you.

9 Responses to “How to Stop Sleeping on Your Stomach”

  1. Great information. As a Chiropractor I try to have my patients use pillows on the side they try to turn over on to block their movement. It is like trying to pull teeth with older patients.

    • I am desperate for some help, my chiropractor told me to stay off my stomach, but I can’t sleep any other way, help.

  2. Pregnancy finally stopped me from being a stomach sleeper! Also, sleeping with a pillow between the knees and a pillow by the chest helps me remember not to roll over.

  3. Becky Russell Reply 03/18/2012 at 14:54

    Dr. Tanase, will you please discuss the additional problems that big breasted women have when sleeping on their stomach? This is my problem, and I feel that the fact that my shoulders hunch to the front “even” with my breasts conttributes to my feeling tired every day…. but at the same time I am concerned about the long term effects on my spine. Thanks in advance! Becky

  4. You are right! If you have large breast sleeping on your stomach at some point will create postural problems that can cause back pain. Chiropractic care can help with part of the postural problems, but at some point you not only need to change your positional habit of sleeping on your stomach, but the need for functional exercises are necessary to help withstand the forces imposed on your spine.

  5. I have been a stomach sleeper for so long. I recently broke my left wrist and I have an external fixator on it for 6 weeks (pins and a bar) so I am forced to sleep on my back because its the only way. I have to elevate my arm on a pillow which I keep on my stomach. Anyway, since sleeping on my back I’ve noticed that my skin is clearer (haven’t broke out since) and less dry I don’t wake up with wrinkles under my eyes from smushing my face into a pillow all night. Discovering this is one of the positive things that came out of my broken wrist!! : D

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