The most common (57%) sleeping position is on the side, according to a North-American survey conducted by Tempur-Pedic mattresses. If you snore, or have obstructive sleep apnea, this is the ideal sleeping position for you. Side sleeping prevents the collapse of the tongue and other tissues in the throat, which is what impairs breathing and creates noise. According to Eric Olson, co-director of the Mayo Clinic's Centre for Sleep Medicine, roughly 10% of sleep apnea patients can be cured by changing their sleep position. For those who insist on remaining on their backs, prop the head up to at least 30 degrees. This is also the ideal sleeping position for someone with acid reflux (heartburn) as the height of the pillow adds gravity, which makes it more difficult for the gastric (stomach) contents to flow back up towards the esophagus. Lying on your back without creating this angle can exacerbate other digestive concerns and/or breathing issues as well.
If you experience shoulder pain, side sleeping on the non-injured side is recommended, ideally with another pillow to support your injured arm. With hip or knee issues, place a small pillow between your knees. Side-sleeping also keeps the muscles and ligaments in your feet and ankles relaxed for those afflicted with plantar fasciitis. If, however, you experience back pain, sleeping on your back is ideal. Filling in the small of your back and the space beneath your knees is critical, either with a small pillow or a towel rolled up. Sleeping on your back is also ideal for those who experience neck pain. Ensure the neck is in a neutral position, with the pillow above your shoulders. If the neck isn't adequately supported, we put ourselves at risk for compressing the nerves in the neck which travel down through the arm. This is occurring when we wake up with feelings of numbness or tingling.
Sleeping on your stomach is ill-advised if you experience neck pain because there is no way to sleep without turning your head to one side, therefore compressing the joints in the neck. However, if you must sleep on your stomach, use a soft down pillow that is as thick as the space between your neck and shoulders to avoid hunching, and to allow your neck to stay aligned with the rest of your spine. Sleeping on your stomach is also hard on your low back as it exaggerates your spine's natural lordotic curve into hyperlordosis (or swayback). Placing a small pillow underneath your lower abdomen/pelvis will provide some relief if you continue to find yourself sleeping in this position.
Another factor to consider is your mattress. Just like Goldilocks, you want to strive for a mattress that's not too firm, not too soft, but juust right! Ideally a mattress that does not create pressure points yet conforms to your body. Surrounding yourself with a "pillow fort," as my dear friend Dave Clare calls it, is also a good way to ensure a good night sleep. According to sleep experts, a lack of sleep can lower your pain threshold and cause joint inflammation.
Finally, as my colleagues Dr. Lauren Wedlock, ND and Dr. Lesley Johnston, ND said to me this morning, let's "stop the glorification of waking up early. Getting some zzzz's does not = lazy. A sleep-in may be the most productive thing you do all day!"
So don't be afraid to get a little extra sleep on the weekends - you deserve it. If all you could think while you were reading this was I would care a lot more about sleep technique if only I could fall asleep and/or stay asleep throughout the night, come into Bayview Chiropractic Health Centre today for an appointment with me, Dr. Liz, Naturopathic Doctor.
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The Wall Street Journal, Health & Wellness, "Find the Perfect Sleep Position," January 15, 2013.