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There Is A WRONG Way To Sleep, And Chances Are, You're Not Doing It Correctly

Most of us will end up spending over a third of our lives in bed. And what a lot of people don't know if that injuries to the neck and upper back can be caused by poor sleeping positions It's crazy to think that the environment or our very own comfort can be our demise. Uncomfortable body positioning, poor mattress quality, incorrect pillow height and lack of support are all formulas for aches and pains when you wake up.

Image from BBC

If you've watched some of our sleeping posture videos or read any of our other blogs on sleeping, you know I am a huge proponent of back sleeping. If you don't already sleep on your back, I highly recommend giving it a try. The positions you sleep in may ultimately reduce or even prevent healing and can actually cause injury.

Below I'll be diving in to the three major sleeping positions and how you should set up your body for the healthiest, happiest, pain-free shut eye!

Back Sleepers

Research has shown that sleeping on your back yields the least amount of compressive forces on your spine. If you have difficulty sleeping on your back, try sleeping with your knees slightly bent, with a pillow or two tucked under your knees. It's also important to position the pillow for your neck in the right spot. Most people think it should go right under your head. But your pillow is more meant to support your neck than it is to support your head. So put the bottom of your pillow right between your shoulder blades. This should keep your neck fully supported!

Image from MSN Health

Side Sleepers

Side sleepers should pay special attention to their neck and hip position. I always say the best way to sleep, but especially on your side, is to fill in any gaps between your body and the mattress. Your mattress and pillows should mold to you, not the other way around. In order to maintain a neutral position, you should fill in the space between your neck and shoulder with your pillow. "Neutral" means your neck/head is in the same position it would be in if you were sitting upright or standing. Not cocked one way or the other.

I would also recommend that you tuck a pillow beneath your top arm (the one that faces the ceiling) right underneath your armpit. This decreases the chances of the arm's blood supply being pinched or cut off. We call it the "critical zone" when your arm is less than 15 degrees away from the body. Often, patients with shoulder pain or tendonitis will compromise their healing if their arms are resting at their side, less than 15 degrees away from the body. So sticking a thin pillow under than top arm and across the chest can prevent some of that tension.

The bottom arm can also face blood circulation issues as well, so I suggest punching that arm forward so you are sleeping on your shoulder blade instead of directly on the shoulder.

To help with back pain, put a down feather pillow under your ribcage to keep your spine from collapsing and pressing your trunk flush with your mattress.

And last but certainly not least, to help with how and low back discomfort, you should put a pillow between your legs starting at your inseams down to the knee/ankle (depending on how much you like to bend your legs or your height.

Stomach Sleepers

I generally ask any of my stomach sleeping patients to try to make the transition away from sleeping on their stomachs. Sleeping on your stomach torques your neck and flattens your low back. The curvatures of your spine are all flattened which causes pain and discomfort over time. Sleeping in the semi-frog position (shown below) will help ease aches and pains. So if you're a stomach sleeper, try rotating 25 degrees at a time. Stick a pillow underneath your chest/stomach to bein the repositioning process. Eventually, you'll get comfortable with this change and you can try regular side sleeping. As side sleeping starts feeling like the norm, you can work and making the full transition to your back!

The first step to repositioning is to rely on pillows. Pillows can supplement the feeling of sleeping on your back without actually being on your back. You can also try a weighted blanket if you like the feeling of even more pressure on your legs and chest!

Final Note

When getting in and out of bed, decrease the torque and pressure of your spine by log rolling. If you have neck or low back pain, try this method when getting in and out of bed and I can pretty much guarantee you'll see a huge difference!

Happy sleeping,

Dr. Justin C. Lin


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