Proper Sleeping Posture

The spine is a column of 24 individual bones called vertebrae that support the body's weight and protect the spinal cord. Spinal discs, located between the vertebrae act as shock absorbers. The spine has three natural curves if viewed from the side of the body. These are the cervical (neck area) lordosis, the thoracic (upper back) kyphosis and the lumbar (lower back) lordosis. These three curves give the spine an "S" shape when viewed from the side of the body. When viewed from the front to back of the body, a healthy spine forms a straight line from the sacrum to the skull.

Good posture refers to a body position that keeps the spine in the natural shape described above. Good posture reduces strain on the muscles and ligaments of the spine, and prevents muscular pain. Unfortunately, common sleeping positions often lead to poor sleeping posture and neck and back pain when sleeping.

Common Sleeping Postures 

Side Sleeping Posture

The side sleeping position is the most popular. In this sleep position, the spine maintains its natural S shape, which promotes good sleep posture. Normal side sleeping does have some disadvantages though. When the body is lying on its side, gravity pulls the spine from its naturally straight shape (when viewed from the front or back of the body). This can lead the neck and lower back regions of the spine to bend toward the sleep surface and cause neck or back pain when sleeping. Side sleeping may also result in lower back strain due to over-rotation of the pelvis from dropping the top leg over the bottom leg.

The key to proper posture in this position is to keep the spine in a straight line (when viewed from the front or back of the body). Traditional head pillows can raise the head at excessive angles, but sleeping without a pillow typically results in a lack of support. To maintain the spine's straight shape, a neck support pillow should support both the head and neck and position them parallel to the bed. The height of this pillow is different for everyone; it is dependent on the length of your shoulder to neck. We offer a water pillow in the office where you can alter the height of your pillow to make it personalized. To prevent strain in the lower back, a support pillow should be placed between the knees. By positioning the spine in a straight shape and the legs parallel to each other, the body maintains good posture by preventing excessive rotation of the pelvis.

Back Sleeping Posture

This sleep position is the second most popular as it is preferred by approximately 30% of people. The typical back sleeping position places strain on the lower back and neck. Normally, the buttocks and the upper back are in contact with the sleep surface, while the lower back is minimally supported. This posture can strain the lower back and cause pain and discomfort. Traditional pillows often provide minimal neck support or even induce neck strain in this position.

To achieve better sleep posture, research studies and leading medical institutions recommend supporting the neck and knees during back sleep. Placing a support pillow between the neck and sleep surface will maintain the cervical curve of the spine. Be careful that the pillow is not too high for you, pushing your chin to your chest. An easy way to visualize this is to take a photograph from the side at the level of your bed to see if your head is being pushed forward. Placing a support pillow under the knees reduces strain on the lumbar curve of the lower back.

Stomach Sleeping Posture

This sleep position places the greatest degree of stress on the spine. Perhaps for that reason, it is the least common. Stomach sleeping, especially on soft surfaces, forces the lumbar curve of the lower back into an extended posture and places strain on the neck due to the need to rotate to either side. This is known to cause muscle strain and can lead to neck and lower back pain. Medical professionals often encourage stomach sleepers to try to adopt another sleep position for these reasons.

People who prefer this sleep position can prevent muscle strain by making changes to their sleep posture. Placing a back support pillow under the pelvis will raise lower back and help maintain the lumbar curve. Individuals who experience neck discomfort should consider placing a pillow support under the shoulder on the side to which the head is turned - this will reduce some of head and neck rotation.

The Bottom Line

Not all sleeping postions are eqaul and we can see some postures do more harm than others. Depending on which one you prefer you may want to try a different posture to prevent muscle strain and interupted sleep patterns. Nevertheless, if you aren't comofortable in trying a different one there are ways to improve your current posture as described earlier. No matter which one you choose the goal is to keep your spine in that optimal "S" shape while asleep.

This will relieve muscle tension in your neck & back, relax the shoulders, and correctly position you for restful sleep. Another aspect to achieving this is to purchase an orthopedic pillow depending on the position you usually sleep in. 

If you find pain is present from poor sleeping posture it is important to deal with it sooner rather than later. Pain is not a lifestyle. Request a free chiropractic consultaion today by clicking on "Book Online" in the upper right hand corner.

What sleeping positions do you find most restful? Which one works better for you? Tell us in the "Contact Us" section under the "Contact" page. 

Dr. Lori Nuzzi

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