I received one of those fitness trackers for Christmas a few years ago. My husband and I wore them religiously and what started out as some friendly “stats comparison” turned into a fierce throw down. I can remember one evening when we were minutes from retiring to bed I heard him in the hallway. “Watcha doin’, honey?” I asked him. “Oh, nothing.” I threw open the door and there he was, in his boxers, pacing the hallway to get more steps for the day. “I knew it!!” I yelled.
Luckily, the novelty wore off for both of us, and both trackers now are in repose in the junk drawer in the kitchen. There was one thing I found exceptionally helpful on those little units, though – the sleep function.
Now, I am sure any sleep specialist would admonish that these trackers are not all that accurate for sleep analysis, but waking up in the morning and seeing how many “wake ups” and “movements” you had on your little readout, to me, was fascinating.
SLEEP POSITIONING CAN AFFECT YOUR HEALTH!
Many things contribute to the quality of your sleep. Many have been discussed in previous posts on sleep. (See additional posts on sleep below.) But one of the factors that I think universally affects the quality of sleep is your sleep position. Now, as a chiropractor, I may be a little bias as to the importance of the position because sleep “posture” is my wheelhouse. But as I have sleep trained hundreds of patients to adjust their bodies to sleep in a more posturally conducive position they have reported not only sleeping better, but also that their back and neck pain, those headaches and many other complaints have disappeared.
That is all excellent. I am all for pain cessation and good quality sleep, but I am robustly passionate about you, my Poodle, having a vitally healthy spine and nervous system into your nineties. Poor sleep position will definitely foil my plan.
So it is of utmost importance that we cover the basics of proper sleep position. Read carefully. Some of this may surprise you!
We discussed a mattress selection in a previous post so we can move on knowing that you have an excellent mattress. See post here if you don’t.
There are two acceptable sleep positions for a healthy spine. In no particular order, they are one your back, or on your side. No, this post is not over, far from it. Each of these positions has many criteria to adhere to if you are going to do it right.
ON YOUR BACK: When you are on your back, you will want to have a pillow under knees. This keeps the knees from hyperextending and helps the hip flexors and hamstrings remain in a relaxed state. These muscles need to be relaxed because if those muscles stay tight over the course of the night, you may wake up to a lovely bout of back pain. By the way, pain upon rising in the morning is not normal. It is common, but not normal. You should wake rested and pain-free. In this position, your head should be well supported but not flexed up. Think about the curve of your neck getting the support it needs but not so much support that the head is flexed forward. The need for proper neck positioning is why contour pillows are so popular!
ON YOUR SIDE: Lying on your side to sleep is perfectly acceptable. However, there are some serious rules and regulations if this is your position of choice. Let’s start at the top. If you have a proclivity toward side sleeping, then you better have a pillow that supports your head in a side sleeping position. This means your head should remain in neutral not crunched over to the downside shoulder or lifted too high flexing toward the up-side shoulder.
Next, it is best if you hug a pillow to your chest to prevent your shoulders from collapsing inward. At the minimum, inwardly collapsed shoulders are going to exacerbate crappy posture, at worse this position will cause or exacerbate shoulder impingement issues. The other thing that hugging a pillow to your chest does is prevents your elbows and wrists from hyper-flexing (more impingement), and it also inhibits those of you who have a tendency toward shoving one hand up under the pillow. (A sure sign your pillow is not the right level of support, by the way).
Finally, you should have a pillow between your knees that extend to your ankles. Seriously?? Yes, seriously. This recommendation is not just for pregnant women. Here is the why. In many people, particularly women, the hips are wider than the knees. So when you are on your side, that imbalance causes undue rotation in the spine, and wear and tear on the spine and hips. If you separate the knees and ankles to match the width of the hips pressure is relieved from the lower spine, the hips, and the IT Bands thus providing a more physically positive sleep position.
When my husband I got married I taught him how to sleep in the side-lying position. He used to be a stomach sleeper. (More on that in a minute.) Once he got used to it (give it five nights) he could not sleep any other way. He sleeps more deeply and peacefully than before. My mother thinks it’s hysterical we take six pillows to bed with us! But, many of my patients have reported that this pillow placement in the side-lying position has cured years of hip and back problems.
THE DREADED STOMACH SLEEPER: I am not going to sugar coat this. You have to get off your stomach. Why? Here are the three main reasons why it is one of the worst things you can do to your spine. When you sleep on your stomach, you put your lower spine into an arched position, which can cause shearing and irritation to the facet joints of the lower vertebra. I am not even acknowledging that a grand percentage of stomach sleepers jack one knee up into a bent position. Well, now you’ve gone and rotated your hips out of alignment! This “hip twisty” can also add to a back problem.
When you sleep on your stomach, you disallow the main “inspiratory” muscles to function properly. Put more simply it means you can’t breathe. At least not as well as if you allowed the front of your chest, ribs, and associated muscles to move freely.
Finally, you can’t sleep on your stomach because when you do you have to rotate your head one direction or another. This hyper-rotation causes compression of the nerves exiting the neck and can create long-term neck imbalance, dysfunction, and pain. We also tend to rotate our head more comfortably one-way versus the other. So not only are you slowly destroying the nerves of your neck, you are creating a gross cervical imbalance by going to one particular side so dominantly. SO, if a jacked up low back, asphyxiation or cervical nerve severing aren’t enough to convince you to get off your stomach I might be at a loss. I believe so strongly in the detrimental effects of stomach sleeping that I have duct taped tennis balls to patients’ nightshirts to force the issue.
Now you know the sleep positioning that is the most conducive to a peaceful night sleep I will leave you with a challenge. Try sleeping in one of the two positions suggested for five nights. Feel free to move from one to the other but try to stick to those two primary postures. Then, in the morning, see how your body feels. Did you sleep better? Are you in less pain? I would love to hear how it went!
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