It is estimated that the average American sleeps 1/3 of their total lifetime. For someone who is 75 years of age, this is a total of 25 years spent sleeping! Considering this huge percentage of our lives spent sleeping, it is crucial to understand why the way in which we sleep is so important.
Many people are concerned with their posture while they are awake and living their lives, but have no idea that the way they sleep can be having negative effects on their posture and overall health as well. The following are the proper sleeping positions for the stomach, side and back sleeper.
First, we’ll take a look at stomach sleepers. I will go ahead and say that if you are a stomach sleeper, I would strongly recommend you try to train yourself to sleep in a different way as sleeping on your stomach puts an enormous amount of negative pressure on your cervical spine (your neck). Think about having your neck turned one way or the other for 8 hours at a time, this is essentially what is happening when you sleep in this position. However, if this is the only way you can sleep, I recommend a pillow that does not have a lot of resistance or density to it, for example a buckwheat pillow.
Next, let’s move on to side sleepers. If you are a side sleeper, there are two key things that you should consider. The first being support for your neck and head and the other being support for your pelvis. Let’s start with the neck and head support. The ideal side sleeper pillow accomplishes two things: 1) it supports the cervical spine in a neutral position; and 2) it supports the musculature between the neck and shoulder on the side you are laying. There are some companies that make pillows specifically for side sleepers, however it is important to have a qualified retailer or healthcare professional assess which size is right for you. The second thing to be aware of if you are a side sleeper is that you need some sort of support between your legs to keep your pelvis in neutral as well. Because of the biomechanics of our pelvis and lower extremities, when we lay on our sides without a support between our legs our pelvis becomes torqued due to the gap and gravity. This torsion can lead to severe back pain and unfortunately most people would never look to their sleeping posture as the culprit!
Lastly, let’s talk about back sleepers. This is by far the best way to sleep for a number of reasons, but perhaps the most important is that if you have the right pillow, it can actually be therapeutic for your cervical spine. Your cervical spine is designed to have an anterior curve, or lordosis, in it. Because of the way we sit at desks, in front of the TV and our posture in general, a large percentage of the population develops what is called anterior head carriage. Anterior head carriage is a result of a straightening of the cervical spine due to the repetitive load placed on it. This in turn, causes stress to be placed on your spinal cord and allows the degenerative process to begin. Many problems besides just general neck pain can be attributed to this straightening of the cervical spine. Luckily, there are ways to prevent this and sleeping on a good cervical pillow on your back is one of them. Cervical pillows are designed to gently reinforce the proper curve in your cervical spine while you are sleeping. Much like the side sleeping pillow I referred to earlier, it is a good idea to have someone qualified in sleeping posture assessment to evaluate and fit you with the proper sized cervical pillow.
In closing, I would like to reiterate the importance of taking steps (if you haven’t already) to improve the way in which you sleep. A number of problems can be prevented, alleviate or at the very least greatly reduced simply by making sure your body is supported correctly while you are sleeping.
Kayla Smiley, D.C.
Performance Life Chiropractic & Wellness
Oklahoma City, OK 73118