It’s no secret that drifting off to dreamland (and enjoying the right amount of quality sleep) is essential to overall health. But the position you sleep in, the mattress you sleep on and pillow you sleep with – make a big difference. Whether you’re a back, side or stomach sleeper … how you curl up at night could lead to neck or back pain in the morning.
Get comfortable, and learn how sleep position affects your orthopedic health.
Sleeping on your stomach
This is a comfortable position for many people, but if you’re already prone to lower back problems it’s best to avoid it. Most of your weight is in the middle of your body. So, in some cases, sleeping on your stomach can cause the lower region of your spine (the lumbar area) to extend beyond normal limits. Your neck will also be twisted out of alignment when you turn your head to the side to breathe. When you sleep this way you’re definitely upping your odds of waking up with a sore neck, back or shoulders. Can’t sleep any other way? Put a thin pillow under your head – or better yet, no pillow at all. That will reduce the angle of strain on your neck. For your back, try putting a pillow under your lower back to reduce the strain on lumbar region.
Sleeping on your back
If your spine could talk, it would say “sleep on your back.” Why? Because sleeping this way evenly distributes your weight and avoids unnatural curving of your spine. That said, it can be less comfortable than other sleeping positions. Just remember, with your head, neck and spine in alignment, you can get a better rest and wake up refreshed! If you give it a try, pay attention to your pillows: adding a small pillow under your head and neck (not your shoulders) helps maintain a neutral position to the mattress. Pillow support is essential for avoiding or alleviating back pain and spinal problems. Sleeping on your back can cause snoring. Try elevating your body with a cushioned foam wedge pillow or by using an adjustable bed. It will allow for easier breathing and (hopefully) less snoring.
Sleeping on your side
Odds are you like sleeping on your side—most of us do! This common position is especially good for people with breathing problems. If you are experiencing back or neck pain, try taking the fetal position while sleeping this way. Tuck both your legs (not just one) up toward your chest. This will keep your back naturally arched. Next, put a small pillow between your knees to help take some strain off of your lower back and promote hip alignment. Again, it’s all about pillow placement. Make sure you’re keeping your head, neck and spine as naturally aligned as possible to prevent pain when you wake up.
If you have neck pain…
Your spine needs to be in a neutral position while you sleep. If you’re a stomach or side sleeper, try sleeping on your back. Also, pay attention to your pillows. If the pillow does not allow your head to sink in or if it has too much loft, it could be forcing your neck into sustained forward bending and causing pain. The main function of the pillow is to support the neck and head. Therefore it should fill the natural hollow in the neck between the head for easy adjustments for your sleep style. If you must sleep on your side, consider purchasing a down or artificial down pillow for side sleepers, which contains more fill. You could also combine two pillows to help fill the space between your neck and shoulder.
If you have back pain…
Your mattress or sleep position may be the cause of the pain. First, consider the age of your bed. Sagging mattresses should be replaced to give you the best lumbar support. Your mattress should not be to firm or too soft, a medium-firm good quality mattress usually works best for most people with back pain. Remember, your spine needs to be supported in a neutral position. If lying on your back produces low back pain, and there are no observable sags in your mattress, try placing a pillow placed under your knees when you sleep to achieve the neutral position. If that has no effect, a small pillow or a towel roll that is 1 to 1 ¼ inches compressed can be placed in the small of the back. Are you a side sleeper? Try placing the pillow or towel roll between your knees and a pillow behind your back.
There is not any one sleep position that will work for everyone. If you are experiencing pain without relief, make an appointment for an evaluation with our physical therapy team.