4 Sleeping Posture Tips
As a chiropractor, I often discuss with my patients the importance of good sleeping posture. When we think about posture, we usually think of how we hold our bodies while standing, lifting or sitting and not necessarily our posture at rest. After all, it is a body position that occupies the greatest proportion of our time. Normally it should be a time for rest and recuperation. It should be when our body renews energy, replenishes cells, and recovers from the normal stresses and strains of life. Unfortunately, your sleeping position can not only result in sleep deprivation, but it can be a cause for shoulder, neck and back pain . It is well known that when we don’t sleep well, it can contribute to a variety of health conditions, some of which pose significant risk to both quality of life and longevity. In this article, I will discuss some general guidelines. Every individual presents unique challenges with finding the right position, so this discussion will not apply to everyone. The best sleeping position is a balance between the ideal posture and the most comfortable position.
1. Don’t sleep on your stomach.
It is tough to control what your body does when you are sleeping, but avoid sleeping on your front. Sleeping face down always forces your neck into extension with significant rotation. This position places significant loading to your spinal joints. Typically, stomach sleepers don’t alternate which side they rotate their head, so it becomes an asymmetrical strain to their neck, upper back, and even low back. If you find you’ve turned onto your stomach in your sleep, don’t fret too much, we have some great posts about stretching your neck (part 1, 2 and 3) and your low back.
2. If you sleep on your back, don’t use two pillows.
Sleeping on your back can be an excellent way to ensure a neutral posture. When you lay flat without a pillow, on a firm mattress, most people are in an almost perfect posture. This may not be comfortable, however. Regardless of how ideal the posture, your sleeping position must be comfortable or you’ll end up falling asleep in a poor sleeping posture. If you are a back sleeper, try using only one comfortable pillow at the head to reduce the forward head posture and perhaps a pillow or two under the knees to reduce strain to your low back. Contoured pillows may help preserve the normal curve in your neck and keep your head from flexing forward and causing excess strain.
3. Side sleepers need to find neutral.
A common sleeping position is laying on your side. This may be comfortable, but there is plenty of room for error when trying to find a neutral posture. Remember, the goal is a neutral posture that is comfortable for restful sleep. The head should be in between the shoulders and not bent towards or away from the pillow. You should avoid twisting into various body contortions or this will cause rotational strain to the spinal discs. A body pillow, or using multiple pillows, for supporting the body can be a solution to this problem. Placing a pillow between the knees and the elbows is an effective way to find a neutral body position. For the head, there is no rule that is applicable to everyone. Because of varying shoulder width, some will only need one pillow to keep their head level. Others will require two pillows if they have large shoulders. Or, a contoured pillow that has multiple depths can help with finding the right pillow height. Another suggestion, if these are uncomfortable, would be to pull your pillow down towards the shoulder and prop up to support the neck.
4. Choose a mattress that is firm and comfortable
Choosing a mattress can be very difficult. There is so much variety with the materials used and how soft or hard the mattress can be. There are plenty of claims by manufacturers and retailers that may not have any scientific validation. The best recommendation that I can make is to choose a mattress that is firm enough to keep you in a neutral sleeping posture but without compromising on comfort. Sleeping face up on the floor will accomplish neutral, but few will wake up re-energized. Too hard and you will develop pain from the pressure points on your hips or shoulders. Too soft, and your hips will depress further into the bed than your head and will take your body far from neutral. So, choose a mattress that you feel will offer enough support for your body and sleep-position, but is going to be as comfortable as possible.
Remember, these are only general recommendations. Because there are many conditions that require a different set up, please feel free to contact myself or anyone at our office and we’d be happy to help! I’m always open to hearing any other opinions so please leave any comments or suggestions below!
Dr. Chris Enns, B.Sc., D.C. has been a Winnipeg chiropractor since 2005. He is the owner of Balance Chiropractic and Wellness Centre, located at 121 St. Anne’s Rd in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Services include: chiropractic, massage therapy, athletic therapy, orthotics, spinal decompression therapy, laser therapy, x-ray services, and health and fitness consulting.