Sleep is a hot topic in our sleep-deprived culture. There are lots of articles, books and courses that give great advice on sleep routines, what to eat or drink, and when and where to turn off your devices in order to get a better sleep. But what about your sleeping position? How does it affect your health?
Sleeping positions are a personal choice, but they can affect how rested you feel and how stiff you are, when you wake up. Your spine needs to be in a neutral position at night to repair the damage from the stresses and strains you put on it all day. If your sleeping position doesn’t allow for this recovery, you will wake up feeling stiff.
Stomach sleepers: stop!
If you sleep on your stomach, I’m really sorry, but you have to change. In that position, your head is turned fully to one side and your lower back is arched. Ouch!
Please, (and this is your body pleading with you), get over onto your side. Some of my clients have resorted to putting a tennis ball inside one leg of a pair of pantyhose and tying it around their torso so that the ball is at their solar plexus, to keep themselves off their stomach.
Before you go that far, please try starting your night on your side with a pillow between your legs. You will still try to roll onto your stomach, but the pillow will be in the way and you will only get partially over. It’s a step in the right direction and if you keep it up, soon you will wake up on your side.
Side sleepers: use pillows to keep your spine neutral
To keep your spine in a neutral position when you sleep on your side, put a pillow between your knees. You will probably find it on the floor every morning for the first few months, but persevere, because it keeps your legs hip distance apart and minimises rotation in your lower back.
Tuck two, small to medium-sized pillows under your head and neck. Pull them down in front and behind you so that you are supported off the point of your shoulder without too much twist in your spine.
Put your top arm on your body, not over in front of you, so that you don’t collapse your shoulder girdle and rib cage. If you do it for no other reason, keeping your arm up on your body will stop you from getting chest wrinkles!
Back sleepers: support your neck
I have no problem with you sleeping on your back, if that is your preference, but be aware of your neck position. It’s very easy to turn your head and/or lift your chin – and that takes your spine out of the neutral position.
Tuck your pillow in around your neck and head so that you feel supported there. Tuck your chin in a little (good for side sleepers too), as it stretches your neck out a bit.
Pillows are another personal choice. Some people swear by a hard buckwheat pillow, and some do really well on memory foam.
Try a feather pillow first, because it moulds best to your neck and head. If you are allergic to feathers, try encasing the pillow in a cover that protects against allergens such as dust mites.
Still not working for you? Try a silk-filled or foam chip-filled pillow as they have very similar properties to feather ones.
Finding the right pillow for your body is going to involve a bit of trial and error, but if you do find a favourite, please buy several as pillows wear out over time, and then the whole selection process must start again.
Sleeping with shoulder, back or knee pain
What if you are in pain? Your physio has probably given you an idea of how to handle your injury at night, but let’s review.
With a shoulder injury, please try sleeping on your back with two crossed pillows underneath your head and shoulders. Rest your head on the part where they cross, and your shoulders on a single layer of each pillow, with your thoracic spine (upper and middle back) on the bed. If that is still not quite enough, put a pillow under the affected arm.
With knee pain, the rule is don’t twist it.
Back pain usually responds best to you sleeping on your back with two pillows under your knees. Sometimes you will need more height under your knees, but always have your heels on the bed so that the weight of your legs is off your calf muscles.
If you can’t sleep on your back, switch to lying on your side with a pillow between your knees. Make sure that your spine is in as straight a line as possible.
Do you wake up feeling stiff? If the suggestions in this article don’t change things for you, it’s probably time to talk – we can help you get to the source of your problem. Please call our office at 604-228-1474 to arrange an appointment, or use our online request form.