Apr 04, 2018 by spinalcare

Many people wake up in the morning with all sorts of aches and pains that can take all day to loosen up, if at all. If you can relate to this, take a second to think of what position you sleep in. Do you curl up in the fetal position in a huge pillow fort? Do you lay on your back with your arms above your head? Or maybe you fall face first onto the sheets and stay that way until your alarm starts blaring in the morning? Unless you sleep like a bat, sleeping position can be summed up in three categories—back, side, or stomach sleeping.

The ideal sleeping position has your spine and joints in a completely neutral position, so that no joints or muscles are being stretched or twisted at weird angles for prolonged periods. So which positions are best for this?

#1. Back Sleeping

The good—Sleeping on your back allows for equal weight to be distributed across your skeletal system, allowing for a full night of uninterrupted sleep. This means you won’t wake up at night with a tingling arm or leg and have a better chance of waking up feeling more refreshed. If you suffer from low back pain, sleeping on your back can help take pressure off the lower back, but only if you have propped your legs up slightly with a pillow or rolled towel under your knees. With your legs slightly bent, the lower back is not over extended, and is in a more neutral, natural position.

The bad—Sleeping on your back is not recommended for people with sleep apnea or snoring issues. This is because it puts more pressure on your airway and respiratory system, making it more difficult to breath.

Side note: be careful of the blanket at your feet. If it is tucked in too tight under the mattress, it can pull your toes down so that your foot is in an over-flexed position all night. This can aggravate foot and lower leg issues such as plantar fasciitis, leg and foot cramping, and Achilles tendon issues.

#2. Side Sleeping

The good—Side sleeping is by far the most popular position to sleep in, and for good reason. It does not aggravate sleep apnea and snoring issues, as with back sleeping. It also provides a neutral position for the entire spine. It is recommended to sleep with a pillow or rolled towel between your knees when sleeping on your side to reduce any twisting or stress on the hip or low back. Sleeping on your left side can reduce the amount of effort your heart uses to pump blood. Blood pumps out the left side of your body, so with the left side down the heart does not have to fight gravity to get things moving. Side sleeping can also be more comfortable for pregnant women, since it relieves some of the pressure of the baby on the mom’s abdomen.

The bad—Have you ever woken up with a numb arm?? When sleeping on your side, the capillaries are compressed, leading to reduced blood flow to certain areas. This can irritate injured shoulders and ribs, and will eventually interrupt sleep, causing you to wake up and change positions. Side sleeping can also irritate people with acid reflux and heartburn, so if you suffer from these, side sleeping may not be for you!

#3. Stomach Sleeping

The good—There isn’t a whole lot of good with stomach sleeping. If you snore and have indigestion, this may be the only way to get comfortable, but it won’t help your musculoskeletal system!

The bad—Stomach sleeping forces you to turn your head all the way to one side and stay that way for an extended period. Many times, stomach sleepers will also raise the leg of the side their head is turned towards, causing extreme rotation and extension of the spine and hip. This can lead to neck, mid, and low back issues.  There is little good to come from sleeping on your stomach.

Pillows and Mattresses

“Hey doc, what pillow do you recommend?” This question is almost impossible to answer, since one size does not fit all. The answer is- whichever puts your body in the most neutral position. If you sleep on your back, you want a lower profile pillow than if you sleep on your side. If you sleep on your stomach, nothing will help you! In general, memory foam pillows and mattresses will contour to your natural shape while being firm enough to prevent you from sinking in too far. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words, so if you are experiencing pain when you wake up, hop in bed, set up a camera on a timer (or have a friend or partner take a picture), and see how you sleep! Many times, incorrect posture will be obvious, even to the untrained eye.

Correcting sleep posture is not easy but it is possible.  Take 5-10 min before falling asleep to focus on the position you want to maintain while sleeping.  This keeps your brain focused on the position subconsciously.  You may think you have little control over your body position while sleeping but if you plant that seed for falling asleep, you will find that you can correct your positioning.

If you find that even with the proper sleep positioning and a quality mattress and pillow that you still feel pain from sleep, give Spinal Care a call.   Remember that pain is not normal and if all else is corrected, there can often be a muscle imbalance or underlying restriction that is causing pain.   We focus on resolving your pain quickly and permanently.