Have you ever taken one of the “what does your sleep position say about you” quizzes? What did you learn? Generally researchers find that there are four common sleep postures, and in the quizzes each type is ascribed to particular personality traits. Whether you love those type of quizzes or hate them, what I am always most concerned about is how your sleep posture is affecting your health.
Sleep Posture and Your Body
Have you ever woken up with a terrible crick in your neck? Something is just completely out of whack, and every time you try to move your head you get sparks of pain shooting up into your head and down into your shoulder, arm, or all the way down your back. By 10 am, you’ve got a big headache and by 2 pm you are feeling extremely cranky. If you’re nodding along with me, you know that how you sleep can affect how you feel and almost everything about your day.
As a chiropractor, I know that this pain caused by your sleep position doesn’t affect you only on the one day that feels so bad. It affects you every day. Our nervous system is the information superhighway of our body. Everything that we do runs through it. Because the nervous system runs through the spinal column, it is important to keep our spine aligned and healthy to keep our central nervous system working the best it can. Our sleep postures can have a big affect on that.
The Worst Sleep Positions
One of the worst sleep postures is sleeping on your stomach. Most people who sleep on their stomachs, sleep with one knee bent up high and their arms over their head or one arm tucked under their head.
Some research suggests that people choose this posture because it is an innate move to protect our bellies, one of our most vulnerable spots. The problem is that you cannot keep your neck aligned if you sleep on your stomach. Your head has to be turned to the side for you to breathe, which causes a misalignment in your neck, and can lead to that horrible morning of pain.
The second worst sleep posture is sleeping in the fetal position. In the fetal position, your back is curved, your knees are bent up to your chest, and your arms are tucked in under your head.
It takes effort from our muscles to stay this tightly curled all night long. Think about how soon your muscles would be tired if you tried to stay in this position while you are awake. The same happens even while we are sleeping. If our muscles are being pulled and tested by our sleep position, they can pull some of our joints out of line, causing that misalignment that can disrupt our nervous system.
The Best Sleep Positions
Our best sleep posture is our ultimate goal for everyone. It is sleeping on your back. I recommend putting a small pillow underneath your knees to support your lower back, having a pillow that supports your neck, and keeping your arms down at your side. This is the best sleep posture for spinal health.
Our second best sleep posture is to sleep on your side. If you sleep on your side, I recommend sleeping with your knees slightly bent (not up to your chest), and with a small pillow between them. I also recommend hugging a pillow to keep your arms in a good position and keep your chest open. Like with sleeping on your back, you will also want a pillow with good neck support to keep your head and neck aligned.
These sleep postures are the best for spinal health. They do not cause any misalignments and they allow your muscles to be relaxed.
Small Changes Big Shifts
Whichever sleep posture is your normal, you’ve probably been sleeping in it for most of your life, and it is something that you are really accustomed to. If you are in one of the worst sleep postures, I encourage you to try to make changes, but be patient with yourself as you do. Be gentle and patient as you work on making this a new habit so that you don’t feel frustrated and overwhelmed.
There are a few small changes that you can make to help your new sleep posture stick. First, treat yourself to a new pillow that has good neck support. This can help by making your neck and head feel really supported when you are using it properly, and it can also make it noticeably uncomfortable to be out of alignment.
Second, use other pillows as blocks to help prevent you from rolling onto your stomach while you are asleep. If they make it even a little more difficult, you will not stay soundly asleep while you roll.
These small changes can lead to big shifts in your sleep posture and can improve your sleep and spinal health.