July 21, 2017


Perfect Posture…While You Sleep!

by Dr. Shaila Goldsman

Does posture matter when you are lying down and sleeping? Let’s all hear a resounding YES! In fact, most patients make their way into a chiropractor’s office with back or neck pain after a bad night of sleeping: “I don’t know what happened; I just woke up with it!” If this sounds familiar to you, read on!

The most common sleeping positions are:

1.    On your back
2.    On your stomach
3.    On your side/fetal position

Let’s start with the worst of the three: Sleeping on your stomach.

Sure, if you are a snorer, this position may help with that, but as far as your back and your neck is concerned, this is not a good way to get your Z’s! Sleeping on your stomach forces your back into extension, which acts to jam your spinal joints and shorten your back muscles. It also puts unnecessary strain on your neck, as pillows tend to be quite a bit higher than the mattress. When lying on your stomach, you have no choice but to turn your head and neck to one side or the other in order to breathe. Try this now: Turn your head to one side and keep it there for 15 minutes…tough, eh? Now try it for 7 hours – this is what is happening to your body when you sleep on your stomach. No wonder your neck hurts when you wake up in the morning! As humans, we are creatures of habit and sometimes this position is a hard one to break.

TIP: If you are a stomach sleeper, break the habit by wedging a body pillow next to your body. When you instinctively try to roll over on to your stomach, the pillow will prevent you from rolling all the way over.

Next, let’s talk about the best sleeping posture: Sleeping on your back.

Sleeping on your back makes it easier for your neck and spine to maintain a neutral position throughout the night. You are not twisting or forcing any unnatural curves on your back and it is also the best position for balancing your body weight and keeping your internal organs aligned. This position is also great to control acid reflux, and can minimize the risk for wrinkles as your face is not rubbing against your pillow! All good reasons to sleep this way!

Now, let me make something clear – sleeping flat on your back is NOT a good position! This forces your spine to be “straight” and our spines are not meant to be straight! Our natural spinal curves must be supported for a proper sleeping posture while on your back.

TIP: Place a pillow under your knees to keep your back in proper alignment throughout the night. This will also prevent you from rolling over while you are asleep. Do not use a pillow that is too thick! You want to just fill the space between your neck curve and the mattress. Thicker pillows are better for side-sleepers – read on to find out why…

Lastly, and still a great sleeping position: Sleeping on your side.

This position is also a good one, but there are things to look out for! Sleeping on your side, do you ever notice how your knees turn down and tug on your hips? How about your shoulders? Ever wake up with shoulder pain, or tingling in the arms and fingers? Sleeping on your side improperly can cause these early morning symptoms!

TIP: Sleep with a pillow between your knees while on your side. This will prop up your top hip and keep your spine and lower extremities in a much more comfortable and anatomical position. Also, use a thicker pillow! This is a common mistake – you want to fill the space between your head/neck and the mattress. If you are sleeping on a thin pillow, your neck will tilt down and can cause the nerves and blood vessels that go from your neck to your downside arm to become squished. This can lead to the “why is my arm still asleep!?” feeling when you wake up!

Until next time, sleep well and live happy!

Ask Dr. Shaila Goldsman a question - email here

Dr. Shaila Goldsman

Toronto Health and Physical Rehabilitation Clinic

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