Written by Dr. Kelly Schoonderwoerd, DC
At Miranda Naturopathic Clinic, we are often told by our patients that symptoms may be worse in the morning, or that finding a comfortable position in which to sleep due to complaint X is challenging or difficult. Many conditions can potentially be aggravated by improper positioning during sleep; for example, neck pain and headaches, shoulder pain, or lower back/pelvic pain. Yet, a good night’s sleep is essential in order to allow healing and recovery to occur!
In order to support and facilitate a good night’s rest, these are some general guidelines that we often suggest with our patients:
1) Use a medium-firm mattress. Unfortunately, there’s no standard for what “medium” means; it’s a very personal feeling. Choose a mattress that does not sink or cave in to your body weight when you lie on it; at the same time, you want a bit of give, so that you have some cushioning. Your goal is to find the right balance between support and softness.
2) Don’t lay on your front. When we lay face down, our lower backs tend to arch as the abdomen drops forward into the mattress. This results in compression of the joints between the vertebrae (spinal bones) in the lower portion of our back, leading to a very sore and compressed back 8 hours later! Furthermore, when we lay on our bellies, we have to rotate our neck off to the side in order to breathe; this frequently results in people waking up with a sore neck that may be stuck in one direction of rotation, and a decreased ability to turn the neck to the opposite side. This makes checking blind spots during driving very challenging, increases risk of headache, and makes for a very sore and uncomfortable neck in general!
3) Do lay on your side. The “fetal” position is considered to be the ideal sleeping position; on your side, with your hips and knees partially bent.
4) Use a pillow. Again, finding the right pillow is a very individual choice. Your aim is to find a pillow approximately equal in thickness to the distance between the side of your neck, and your shoulder, so that your neck is adequately supported when you lie on it. Don’t just perch your head on the pillow; instead, pull the pillow right down to the tip of your shoulder to ensure that your whole neck benefits from the support of the pillow.
5) Use another pillow. Our pelvis is wider apart than our knees; when you’re lying on your side, place a pillow between the knees so that hips and knees maintain proper alignment. This will also help prevent you from rolling over on your stomach, which is considered to be the worst sleeping position.
6) Experiment with your pillows! There are many kinds of pillows; feather, foam, fiber fill. Some have pre-formed curves, some don’t. Some are made from memory foam. You can even get a water pillow; it has a soft, cushioned top, and a water bladder on the bottom, so that when the weight of your head goes on the pillow, it will conform to your neck. It may take a bit of trial and error to find the best fit for you, but it’s well worth it in the long run!
7) Keep your shoulders down. Some people have a tendency to stretch their arms overhead when they sleep. This is a compromised position for your shoulders, as it can cause stretching of the nerves that pass through the axilla, resulting in painful numbness and tingling. It can also cause compression of the rotator cuff tendons of your shoulder muscles, resulting in painful tendonitis of the shoulder.
8) Lay on the back of the shoulder. Some people have a tendency to lie on the side of their shoulder, resulting in compression of the shoulder joint. Ideal alignment is achieved when you lie on the rear part of the shoulder, just at the outer portion of the shoulder blade.
9) Prefer laying on your back? We realize that sleeping in the supine position (on one’s back) is the most comfortable for some people. One thing to keep in mind is that if you have a tendency to snore, it’s usually worse when you lay on your back. Also, your lower back tends to arch up when you lay on your back; the curve in the lower back is accentuated. If you do prefer to lie on your back, it is recommended to put a pillow behind the knees in order to minimize this arching of the lower back. Also, use a pillow behind the neck and pull it down to the top of your shoulders to ensure proper and full support of the curve in the back of your neck.
10) Do you wake up with numb, tingling fingers? You may be sleeping with your wrists flexed (curled) in, thus compressing one of the nerves that travels into your hands, and interrupting proper nerve flow. If you have a tendency to do this, the way around it is to sleep with a wrist splint on-no need to buy an expensive orthopedic support; in-line skating wrist guards work just fine!
If you have any other questions or concerns about your sleeping habits or postures, please do discuss them with us here at Miranda Naturopathic Clinic. We are here to help you! Call us at 905-239-3900.