What's the Best Sleeping Position?
One of the most important conversations I have with my patients is asking them how they sleep. Sleeping is something we all do and on the face of it, seems pretty simple. But in fact, it’s pretty easy to screw up. The position we spend eight hours in can lead to problems such as neck and back pain, headaches, increased chance of dementia, even wrinkles. Therefore, it’s important to take it seriously and make the changes to sleep in your best position.
Problem Sleeping Positions
Sleeping On Your Stomach
Sleeping on your stomach causes a whole host of problems. In order to breathe, you must rotate your head 90 degrees for hours at a time, creating neck pain and reducing blood flow, therefore, oxygen to the brain. Another issue with stomach sleeping is that you are overextending your low back for hours at a time, compressing your spinal nerves and constricting blood flow. Sleeping on the stomach is best avoided altogether.
Using Fluffy Pillows
While they may be comfortable, fluffy pillows can lead to too much flexion in the neck, causing a forward neck position and shortened anterior neck muscles. Given that we are constantly craning our necks forward when on our phones, we don’t want to do it eight additional hours a day. Tightened neck muscles contribute to forward head posture, which puts sustained pressure on the lower neck vertebrae and discs, leading to disc problems down the line.
Sleeping On Your Side With Your Hand Directly Beneath Your Head
Sleeping on your side with your hand under your head contributes to internal shoulder rotation, which brings your shoulders forward and worsens your posture. To check if you have internal shoulder rotation, let your arms relax by your side. If your thumbs are pointing towards your hips and not forward, you have internal shoulder rotation. If you enjoy sleeping with your hand up by your face you can make a slight modification: put your hand under the pillow instead of under your head. This will rotate your shoulders externally.
Sleeping in the Fetal Position
When you sleep in the fetal position, your head is down and your knees are close to your chest as if you are curled up in a ball. Sleeping this way tightens your hip flexors, and short hip flexors lead to anterior pelvic tilt which creates another set of problems (learn more about anterior pelvic tilt in my blog post here). To make this sleep position better for your posture, straighten your legs out quite a bit and throw a pillow between your knees or use a body pillow so your top hip remains in a neutral position.
Best Positions For Sleeping
Sleeping On Your Back
Sleeping on your back is far and away the best sleeping position for your body. It puts your spine into a neutral position, preventing the aches and pains associated with other sleeping positions. It also prevents wrinkles since nothing is pushing against your face while you sleep. However, if you tend to snore, this position may not be best for you as snoring tends to be most severe when sleeping on the back. One thing to keep in mind about sleeping on the back is not letting tight sheets pull your toes down - this can lead to tight and shortened calf muscles. If you have plantar fasciitis, tight sheets could be one of the causes.
Maintain a neutral neck position by sleeping with one pillow - that pillow can be made of whatever you like so long as it’s comfortable for you and keeps your head in a neutral position.
Side sleeping is the next best sleeping position. Keep the modifications I mentioned earlier in mind: Maintain a neutral position by keeping the knees slightly bent, with your arm underneath your pillow to prevent internal shoulder rotation or straight down by your side. Keep your neck in line with the rest of your spine by investing in a pillow that is as thick as your shoulder so that your head isn’t tilted to one side or another. Finally, put another pillow between your knees so your hips are aligned.
One last thing to note about sleeping - our muscles tend to shorten overnight, so I would recommend adding a static stretching routine before bed to help mitigate that effect. You will wake up feeling less tight and more ready for your day.
Sleeping is something that we all need and it takes up one-third of our day. It’s important to be mindful of how we are sleeping and make good habits around sleep. Small changes will leave you waking up feeling better and less achy.
Are you suffering from sleep related aches and pains? Call our office at 510-922-1579, text us at 510-692-4428, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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