Struggling to get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis is a common problem for many people. 1 in 4 people struggle most nights of the week! We all know that sleep is vital to our health and has a myriad of benefits, including improving memory & brain function, decreasing inflammatory response, increasing immune response and repairing / restoring cells and tissues.
There are numerous causes of sleep deprivation but I want to address one specific cause that is less frequently discussed: sleep positioning. Sleeping in weird positions or without proper support causes discomfort that can result in “tossing and turning” and waking with tension or pain in the morning. If you’re uncomfortable when sleeping, it’s likely you’re not getting the restorative rest you need.
What are the best positions for sleeping?
Ideally you should sleep on your back or on your side with support to allow your spine to be neutral.
Sleeping on your belly is a common cause of low back and neck pain and not recommended.
Sleeping on your back. For many people this is uncomfortable and awkward. Try placing a pillow under your knees to relax your lower back. You may need to experiment with pillows of different thicknesses to get the right fit for you. You can also place a rolled up towel or thin pillow under your arms if you feel you need support there. This type of bolstering lets your body feel cradled and is actually quite comfortable. It’s how I broke the belly-sleeping habit that gave me low back pain!
Sleeping on your side. Pillows, pillows, pillows!
Knees: It may be enough to just place one between your knees. If not, stack 2 together next to your straight bottom leg and let your top knee rest at a 45 degree angle on the pillow stack. Your knee should be level with your hip.
Upper body: hug a pillow to keep from collapsing forward which can compress nerves or cause tension in your shoulders and neck. If your shoulders still tend to collapse forward, try placing a pillow next to your back and letting your elbow rest on the pillow with your hand near your hip. This will also prevent twisting in your spine which can cause back pain.
Hips/Belly: If you are curvy, you may feel that your top hip is crunching or pinching into your side body. In this case, place a small folded towel under your bottom side waist just above your hip. You’ll have to try several thicknesses of folds to figure out what is best for you. A large folded towel or small pillow can also provide support under your belly if you are pregnant or have a larger belly that is pulling forward on your spine and causing you to twist. With the right bolstering, you should feel straight and aligned in your spine, instead of being in a side-bend.
Neck: It’s all about the pillow! The pillow should be thick enough so that your head isn’t tilting down or compressing into your bottom shoulder, but not so thick that it’s angling into your upper shoulder. Aim for a neutral and straight spinal alignment, not curved left or right.
Sleeping on your belly. Again, I don’t recommend this position especially if you have low back or neck pain. But if you’re going to sleep on your belly because it’s the only way you can sleep, place a pillow under your belly to prevent your low back from arching and pulling on your spine. Use a think pillow under your head to reduce strain on your neck.
If you’re consistently waking with achy tension, the cause is more likely to be from sleep positioning or a mattress issue than from your daily activities. Perhaps your mattress is old or not the right one for you, but you don’t have to wait until you get a new one to feel better now. Try some of these free bolstering methods for a few nights to see if you sleep better and wake with less pain!
On a final note, let’s talk about pets in bed. Yes, they’re cute, cuddly, furry, sweet and we adore them. I have been guilty of sleeping in an awkward position in order to not disturb the kitty, and I know so many other pet parents have done the same. But they are also far more flexible and get to spend ALL DAY sleeping. Make yourself comfortable and make them move. They’ll adjust, and go right back to sleep.