What is the best position for sleeping? That question has been asked to me by hundreds of patients over the years. My understanding of spinal mechanics and my research into this area has led me to pass on the following knowledge:
Best position to sleep: On your back or on your side. Here there are a few caveats. If you are sleeping on your back:
This is a great way to enhance the natural curves of your spine. With a pillow under your head, you protect the natural inward curve of your neck. If you have a reduced neck curve or a straightened or reversed curve in your neck, you will find that you will not be able to use a standard cushioned pillow as someone who has more of a natural curve to their neck. If you do have a reduced or reversed curve in your neck, it is important to still use a pillow to provide cushioning to the back of your neck. Remember gravity? Gravity always pushes down with the same force. Imagine sleeping on your back for eight hours every day of your life. Gravity is constantly pushing down with a force, trying to straighten the natural inward curve in your neck. A supportive pillow will help offset the stress of gravity pushing down, helping maintain the curve that you do have. Of course, with your regular chiropractic visits, a healthier functioning Nervous System will help you improve the natural curve in your neck so you will be able to graduate to more supportive pillows over time.
THE most important consideration when sleeping on your back is to put a pillow under your knees. Remember what I said about maintaining the natural curve in your neck? The same applies to your lower back! Think about gravity now pushing down on the inward curve of your lower back. Do you want to maintain the nice, supportive inward curve of your lower back, or do you want the curve in your lower back to straighten, inviting more stress and tension on your muscles, joints, and discs? Millions of Americans suffer from lower back pain. Just think of how beneficial it can be to spend eight hours a night promoting proper spinal assignment.
A few considerations about sleeping on your back. If you suffer from snoring or sleep apnea, you may want to try sleeping on your side. Studies have shown that sleeping on your back promotes snoring and sleep apnea.
Sleeping on your side:
This is the most common position that people sleep, and the most supportive. A few side sleeping considerations:
Sleep with a pillow between your knees. Just like back sleepers, sleeping on your side causes gravity to push down with a constant force on your hips. Would it make sense that gravity can cause less stress on your hips if your knees were separated by a pillow? YES! Place about a 6 inch thick pillow between your knees to reduce the stress of gravity on your hips and lower back. Sure the pillow may come out during the night, but this practice will be the necessary support for quality sleep on your side.
When sleeping on your side, do not curl up in a fetal position. It restricts diaphragmatic breathing. Your legs should be somewhere between straight and fetal, a gentle bend to your legs. Support your head with a comfortable pillow, which keeps your head level with your shoulders.
Worst position to sleep: Your stomach
So many patients have told me over the years that they sleep on their stomachs. It’s possible that this is a contributing factor to chronic neck and lower back pain. There are two reasons sleeping on your stomach is the worst position:
1 When you sleep on your stomach, unless you are sleeping on one of my tables, your head is turned to the side for eight hours. Imagine going through your work day with your head turned to the side the entire day. Could that create any subluxations? What would be the end result for your neck and shoulders? To me, it sounds like an invitation to chronic neck and shoulder pain.
2 Sleeping on your stomach puts more stress on all the curves of your spine. Stomach sleeping makes it difficult to maintain a neutral position with your spine. What’s more, the pose puts pressure on joints and muscles, which can irritate nerves and lead to pain, numbness, and tingling.
I hope your learned a few things about how to maximize your comfort and health for a very important period of your day, since you spend about one third of your life sleeping.