If you’re going to spend 6 – 8 hours every night sleeping (hopefully), do you think it’s in your best interest to find a position that will help and not hurt your spine? What if by changing your poor sleeping posture, you could avoid a lot of the problems you wake up with every day?
When people tell me that they “move around a lot” when they sleep, that usually means to me that they are out of alignment, can’t feel comfortable in an ideal position, and move every time the pain kicks in.
If the patient says that they “always feel more pain in the morning,” that can mean that they need more exercise. When their muscles fully relax during sleep, they don’t have any muscle support to help their spine. Once they get and get moving, their muscles support them better and they can move with less pain.
So what is the best sleeping posture?
On Your Stomach
This is absolutely the worst sleeping posture. “But I love sleeping on my stomach!” the patients say, and as long as you don’t mind neck pain and back pain and more frequent trips to the chiropractor, knock yourself out. As you’ll see in the video below, it’s just not good for you.
Your neck must choose a side, so you’ll sleep with your head turned one way or the other all night. Over time, this causes the neck muscles to shorten and tighten on one side and lengthen and weaken on the other side. During the day, your neck is in a tug-of-war that you can’t even tell is happening.
Your lower back is being jammed up as your thighs hyperextend the lumbar spine, causing the muscles to tighten up there too. Don’t sleep on your stomach.
On Your Side
This is the best option for the converted stomach-sleeper that wants to improve their sleeping posture. You can get a long body pillow, hug it, and put part of it between your knees. This will still give you the “pressure” that you want on your chest, like when you sleep on your stomach, but will allow you to keep your head in a more neutral position.
Be careful not to use too many pillows or too small of a pillow. You want your head neutral, not leaning off to one side and causing a different version of the muscles lengthening and shortening. The pillow between the knees is very helpful in avoiding low back pain.
Just sleeping on your side in a fetal position or with one arm tucked under your pillow can still cause problems. Try to keep your spine and body in as much of a neutral position as possible.
On Your Back
This is the ideal sleeping posture, but it doesn’t seem like many patients can do it. If you’re a stomach sleeper, you probably won’t become a back sleeper. It’s been rare that I’ve ever heard of a patient making that transition. Back sleepers also have to worry about snoring, so there may be spousal ramifications if you try to become a back sleeper.
If you can sleep on your back, you want to make sure you pillow is not too big or too small. A “cervical pillow” that provides neck support is ideal. Relax The Back will measure you and they have many different size options to consider. This is a great place to check for the right pillow if you’re having trouble finding one you like.
A pillow under your knees is also very helpful in taking pressure off your low back. Patients that can elevate their feet also report that to be even more comfortable, and this sleeping posture won’t mess up your spine either.
If you keep wondering “why does this problem keep coming back?” and you keep saying “I didn’t do anything” you have to remember that you’re always “doing” something. You have many daily activities and habits that are repeated over and over again. If these habits help you, great. If these habits are having a negative effect – time to make a change. I’ve seen many people help their re-occurring problems by simply changing their sleeping posture.