Pick a Side for Sleep
Published March 2015
Finding Your Perfect Sleep Position
Many people struggle with sleep positions. While most orthopaedic physicians will ultimately defer to comfort and personal choice, the way you lie can be a significant factor in the quality of your sleep. An uncomfortable position can worsen pre-existing pain, insomnia or other health problems associated with sleepless nights. For the best sleep – and to ease back pain – use pillows and supports to fill open spaces and to ease the tension on your muscle tissue.
Sleeping Well on Your Side
Most people sleep on their side, and it’s a strong choice, with two important caveats. Sleeping with your bottom arm under your pillow or your top leg stretched out can lead straight to shoulder and neck pain. Side sleep can also put pressure on your stomach and lungs, but for the most part it’s a safe and popular choice.
Sleeping on your side is especially good for:
- Heartburn: A semi-fetal position on your left side and your arms resting in front of you will lessen the pressure on the part of the esophagus that causes heartburn.
- Sinus Pain: Add an extra pillow to prop up your head when you sleep and let gravity go to work on your congestion. Hug another pillow to give your arms additional support too.
- Back Pain: Sleep with your legs supported – try a pillow between the entire length of your legs – for the most back pain relief. Awkward as it may feel at first, keeping your spine in a naturally curved position and your arms relaxed in front of you can work wonders.
- Shoulder Pain: A hug pose will be your best friend for shoulder pain. Sleeping on your side is both a cause and cure for shoulder strains. An arm under your head pinches nerves, but hugging a pillow in front of your chest helps support your upper arm.
- Pregnancy: While pregnancy necessarily prohibits sleeping on your stomach – and you want to avoid putting pressure on your back – lying on your left side can improve circulation to the heart for both mom and baby. A support under the belly can also relieve tension pull on a pregnant belly when lying on your side.
Sleep Better on Your Back
A side position might be the most popular, but sleeping on your back is by consensus the most beneficial. Your back remains straight and your pelvis untwisted. Lying with your arms and legs extended out can be good for your spine and neck - some say it could even lead to fewer wrinkles! Remember though, support is essential. Your legs need to be supported by pillows; your head and neck should be supported, but not pushed forward.
Sleeping on your back is particularly suited for:
- Sore Hips: When your hip is injured or inflamed, avoid adding pressure by lying on it. Sleeping on your back takes the pressure off your hips and offers a much-needed break from the daytime stress of walking and sitting.
- Teeth Grinding: If stress, anxiety or genetics is causing you to grind your teeth, lying on your back can relax your jaw and facial muscles. People tend to subconsciously turn toward a bent arm, so keep your arms straight to avoid falling out of position.
- Stiff Neck: Pick a pillow that keeps your head aligned in a straight, neutral position – nothing too flat or puffy – and sleep with your hands at your side to avoid unnecessary neck pain.
Sleeping on your stomach, called prone sleeping, should be avoided. Lying flat on your stomach can harm your spine and neck as well as leave you feeling tight and stiff in the morning. If you struggle to sleep any other way, a physical therapist can help with proper support for the spine and neck.