Eight hours of sleep (a third of your day) is what most health-care professionals suggest for their patients. Does it matter what position you sleep in, as long as you sleep? Definitely! After a night of improper sleep posture, spinal bones can become misaligned (subluxated).
Some people sleep on their stomachs, while others sleep on their side or back. The optimum sleep position is back-to-mattress, with the head and neck cradled in a cervical pillow. The goal is to keep the spine as close to its normal alignment as possible, and sleeping on your back keeps your hips aligned evenly. When the curves are over-exaggerated or reversed, you risk structural shifts in your spine (vertebral subluxations) and related disorders such as arthritis.
Sleeping on your stomach is the worst position for your spine because it torques the spine of the neck, reversing the normal curve, and forces rotation. It can also cause arm pain because it’s not unusual for a stomach sleeper to extend one arm over or under a pillow. The pain, not surprisingly, is connected to the over-stretching of the arm throughout the night. This prolonged position restricts the blood supply to the rotator cuff, which is a contributing factor to shoulder impingement.
Curiously though, sleeping on your stomach has been shown to alleviate sleep apnea. So what to do? Best thing is to get onto your side or back. If you are a chronic stomach sleeper (I was for years), wedge a body pillow under your chest and work to be on an angle versus directly on your stomach.
Sleeping on your side can put substantial pressure on the hips. A pillow between the knees,
along the shins down to the ankles, helps to significantly straighten the spine. While some side sleepers keep their legs out straight, others curl up into a ball (fetal style), which is considered optimum because it is the most spine-friendly.
Interestingly, a two-year study at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) has generated some surprising results: men who consistently sleep on one side of their body are much more likely to develop kidney stones. Of the 93 patients with recurring kidney stones, 75% developed kidney stones only on the side they slept on. Sleeping in the same position each night appears to alter blood flow to that kidney, impairing the organ’s ability to clear itself of stone-forming crystals and deposits.
In addition to correct body position, it’s important to ensure proper head position during sleep by using the right pillow. Specialized cervical pillows are most helpful, as they provide optimum support.
The ideal pillow should be soft and not too high, should provide neck support and should be allergy-tested and washable. A neck pillow with good shape and consistency and with form support for cervical lordosis can be recommended as part of a treatment for neck pain.
I like pillows that have a curved support for the cervical (neck) curve and allow the head to drop back slightly when laying on your back. The sides of the pillow show be slightly raised to allow for a transition to side sleeping position.
The ideal bed isn’t necessarily the same for you and your partner. When you buy a traditional firm bed, the entire mattress is firm. But maybe your partner’s needs and requirements are different from yours. What to do?
Look for manufacturers that offer a sleep option that allows you to customize your side and theirs. My wife and I invested in an Obasan bed years ago. Hands down the BEST investment we ever made. Truly customized sleep. Best bed I’ve ever owned. My side is a completely different arrangement of support than hers. It is the last bed I’ll ever own and totally worth the investment.
Bottom line: You need proper support. Must be comfortable. And you must be able to sleep. If any one of these is not happening then look at changing your bed and pillow today.
If you wake up stiff and sore in the morning, ask us about ways to modify your sleep behavior and prevent sleep-related pain.