The Best Sleeping Position for Your Body According to a Chiropractor

Medical Conditions Pain Treatment Back & Neck Pain / January 3, 2019
Man waking with back pain after sleeping improperly

Do you know what premature wrinkles, heartburn, neck pain, and sleep apnea have in common?

All of the above can potentially be caused by a poor sleeping position. To find the best sleeping position for your body, consider more than just what’s comfortable. Bearing in mind where you’re placing pressure – even while you sleep – can be the difference between a good night’s sleep and an achy morning.

If you’ve been waking with chronic pain, or feeling you aren’t fully rested, check out these tips on the best sleeping positions for your body, according to a chiropractor.

Back Sleeping: Your Body’s Number One Option

Despite the fact that only 8 percent of the population chooses to sleep on their back, back sleeping is actually the best option for your body. Sleeping on your back allows the head, neck, and spine to rest in a neutral position throughout the night. By remaining neutral, you’re not forcing the body to contort out of its natural alignment, and relieving unnecessary stress on the spine.

Additionally, lying flat on your back supports all of the contours of the spine, allowing the muscles of the neck and back to fully rest during sleep.

The only downside of back sleeping? Snoring. As gravity pulls the base of the tongue back into the airway as we sleep, it obstructs breathing and creates that unpleasant snoring sound we’re all too familiar with.

Side Sleeping: Great for Pain

Side sleeping is excellent for pain, so long as you’re keeping the torso and legs relatively straight. This helps to keep the spine in a neutral position, alleviating excess pressure on the body. You’re also less likely to snore in this position, as a side-sleeping posture keeps the airways open.

The cons? Sleeping on your side can increase the likelihood of developing wrinkles and sagging skin. Because we often force the sides of our faces into pillows while sleeping in this position, gravity and repetitive motion can cause the skin to sag and wrinkle in delicate areas such as the face and chest. To help? Use a silk pillowcase that won’t create creases on your skin and prevent the development of “pillow wrinkles.”

Stomach Sleeping: Less Snoring, More Aches

Stomach-sleeping generally wreaks havoc on the spine, especially the neck. Sleeping with your head turned to the side forces the neck to remain in an unnatural position all night, leading to a sore neck in the morning. Plus, lying flat on the stomach causes the spine to straighten, disrupting its natural curve. The result? Persistent lower back pain.

Additionally, stomach sleepers place their body weight pressure on the muscles and joints, possibly leading to numbness, tingling, and irritated nerves over time. However, while stomach sleeping is ultimately terrible for your posture, and will likely result in aches in the morning, it is beneficial for something. Stomach sleeping can reduce snoring, and in some cases help those with sleep apnea.

Recommended Sleeping Positions for Each Type of Pain

Our bodies utilize the hours we sleep to recoup and recover from the stresses of the day. However, placing our bodies in the incorrect position for sleeping can not only lead to more pain in the long run, but can also begin to disrupt our sleep cycles. Losing countless nights of sleep can lead to sleep deprivation over time, which can affect basic motor skills, cognitive function, and energy levels.

For this reason, it is incredibly important that we begin to get in the habit of sleeping in positions that benefit our bodies, especially if you regularly experience pain. The best sleeping position for your body will depend on where you are experiencing pain.

1. General Back Pain

The optimal sleeping position for general back pain is on the side, with a thin pillow placed between the knees. While the side-sleeping position keeps the cervical and thoracic spine aligned, the addition of a pillow between the knees keeps your hips, pelvis, and lumbar spine aligned as well.

If this position seems uncomfortable to you, back sleeping could be a suitable second option. However, instead of lying completely flat, place the thin pillow beneath the knees to help maintain the natural curve of the spine and evenly distribute weight across the hips.

2. Shoulder Pain

For those with shoulder pain, it’s important to avoid side-sleeping, which will increase the pressure on the afflicted area. Instead, sleep on your back with adequate pillow support. In fact, hugging a thick pillow can help support the shoulder, keeping it upright as opposed to slumped or stretched.

3. Neck Pain

Those with neck pain should refrain from stomach-sleeping, as this position forces the neck to remain in an unnatural position throughout the night. If neck pain is keeping you up, try sleeping on your back with a flat pillow under the head. This position and pillow combination will keep the head in a neutral position, eliminating excess pressure on the neck.

Additionally, those with neck pain can sleep on their sides, using a supportive pillow that will keep the neck straight. A fluffy or flat pillow for a side sleeper with neck pain will place the neck at an unnatural angle, furthering pain symptoms. For neck pain, it’s best to keep the neck neutral and supported. For more information on which pillow type would be best for your pain, check out our blog all about pillow preferences.

4. Lower Back Pain

Sleeping with lower back pain can be very uncomfortable when you’re not using the correct posture. For a good night’s sleep and a well-rested morning, try sleeping on your side with support under the knees, hips, and shoulders. Placing thin pillows along your body can help keep the spine in alignment while also reducing the pressure that your hips place on the lumbar spine.

If lower back pain is stemming from damaged discs, sleeping in a fetal position will help to open up the pinched area of the spine, thus relieving pressure and making sleeping comfortable. If stomach sleeping is your preferred position, placing a pillow or rolled-up towel under the hips will add additional support that will relieve pressure on lumbar nerves.

5. Sciatic Pain

Sciatic pain benefits the most from a firm mattress, as support is key. Those with sciatic pain should try sleeping on their back and side only, supporting the spine and hips with pillows. If you choose to sleep on your back, place a pillow under the knees to support the weight of your legs and hips.

If you opt to sleep on your side, be sure to sleep on the side that is not experiencing pain. Then, bend whichever knee is facing the ceiling at a 90-degree angle. Support the bent leg, which should be the leg experiencing the sciatic pain, with enough pillows to keep the hips level.

6. Indigestion and Heartburn

Surprisingly, side sleeping is the best position for those with indigestion or acid reflux. But, not just any side. Due to the unique arrangement of the oblong shape of the stomach, only sleeping on the left side can improve digestion and blood flow.

Heartburn occurs when stomach acids exit the stomach up through the esophagus and throat. Sleeping on the left side helps the esophageal sphincter – the tube which connects the stomach to the throat – to remain closed, keeping stomach acid where it belongs. The sphincter tube is located on the right side of the stomach. Thus, when we lie on our right side, stomach acid travels up the tube and is more likely to irritate the esophagus, causing acid reflux.

Choosing the Best Sleeping Position for You

Have you been suffering sleepless nights or achy mornings? Your sleeping position could be to blame. Whether your issue lies in your neck and back, or even in your esophagus, sleeping in the correct position can make a major difference.

For help deciding which position will be best for you, discuss your current sleeping habits with one of the physicians at ChiroCare of Florida. With over 50 years of combined experience, our dedicated team will help you stop counting sheep and start catching quality zzz’s. Contact us today to schedule your appointment.

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