I get about 5-10 email, text or Facebook messages a month from family or close friends requesting information or tips about relieving back pain. One recent message inspired this post. People with low back and neck pain often complain that their pain is worse at night robbing them of a restful night sleep or they generally wake up stiff and sore. Today, I’m sharing the three main sleeping positions and tips to help reduce back pain.
1. Align your spine: Of the three positions, side sleeping is the most common, especially with the knees slightly bent. While this position is considered “good” because it compliments the natural posture of the spine, it can also be very uncomfortable if you suffer from low back, hip or knee pain. It may, in addition, contribute to neck and shoulder discomfort, facial wrinkles and sagging breast tissue (who knew ). There are a few adjustments that can be made to help reduce or alleviate pain.
The adjustment: Place a pillow between your knees to reduce stress and pressure on your hips and lower back. Also it’s important to use the correct pillow that properly supports your head and neck, allowing your head to remain in a neutral position (not too high, not too low). Sorry, no adjustments for wrinkles or sagging.
**High blood pressure? Try sleeping on the left side. Prone to kidney stones on one side? side-sleep on the opposite side.
I grew up sleeping on my stomach. It just always felt like a more secure and comfortable position to sleep in. As a child, I remember having terrible nightmares every time I slept on my back. It wasn’t until I was in my mid twenties that I made the switch to back sleeping and it wasn’t an easy task. Today, I am physically unable to sleep on my stomach because it’s so uncomfortable for me.
2. Flat on your back: So like a lot of people, I became a back sleeper. Sleeping flat on your back is also a good position for maintaining spinal alignment. It minimizes the risk of neck and low back pain if properly supported. But if you’re a snorer, this position can make snoring much worse (not good for your partner 😉 ). It may also induce episodes of sleep apnea (a life-threatening sleep disorder that causes brief episodes of breathlessness) and back pain for those who already have those conditions.
The adjustment: Placing a pillow or rolled up towel under your knees may facilitate the natural spinal curvature and alleviate low back pain. To reduce snoring, try to avoid this position.
3. Squeeze and strain: You guessed it! Stomach sleeping is actually not recommended at all. Sorry guys. This position causes the most strain to your back and neck. Your head is turned to one side, most likely propped up on a pillow and in a hyper-flexed position. This puts pressure on the nerves in your neck and arms often causing pins and needles. Your body weight also compresses (squeezes) your breast tissue and increases facial wrinkles.
The adjustment: Find a different position If not, Get rid of the neck pillow all together and exchange it for a body pillow. Try slightly raising the whole side of your body on the pillow for support.
So what’s the best sleep position? Aside from stomach sleeping, it depends on your condition and your goal for preventing or reducing pain. The best sleep position is the one that allows you to have a restful night’s sleep without compromising your health. Of course, your mattress also plays an important role…but that’s another post.
And for good measure, pictured below is my daughter at 6 month old demonstrating the “Combination” position. Please do not try this at home
- In what position do you sleep?
- Do you modify your position using any of the “adjustments”?
- Are you a “combination” sleeper?