Our bodies are designed to work hard during the night, restoring and rejuvenating so we can wake up feeling refreshed and ready for the day. Sleep is also paramount to reducing injury and maximizing recovery. When you have back or neck pain, however, your sleep will need a little help from you to ensure spinal alignment, so you don’t wake up in pain or discomfort.
Certain sleeping positions naturally keep the spine in alignment, while others will cause unnatural curving and place pressure on the neck or back. Understanding how your sleeping position impacts how your body feels the next day can help you adjust your sleeping habits or maintain better posture throughout the night.
If you already sleep on your back, you’re on the right track. Sleeping on the back allows you to distribute your weight more evenly and avoids most dramatic and unnecessary curving of the body.
Be sure your body is flat, not twisted with your knees leaning one way or another. Stretching out to your full length will give your spine a break from the twisting and turning it does all day and eliminates any unnatural pressure.
If possible, use a small, rounded pillow just below the neck to keep the spine in ideal alignment all night.
Switching sleeping positions can be difficult, so if sleeping on your back doesn’t come naturally to you, or if it causes snoring, you can still support your spine while laying on your side or in the fetal position.
Sleeping on your side, when done right, can be fairly supportive of the spine, but a few small shifts can lead to poor posture when laying down. When laying on your side, keep your hips and knees stacked, and place a pillow in between your legs to keep the hips in line. Keep your legs as long as you can, only at a slight bend if possible.
You will also need a thick pillow to support your neck so your head is not leaning toward your shoulder.
Keep your chest open and avoid curving it inward. Some people like to hold another pillow to their chest to support it.
Sleeping on your side in the fetal position isn’t as ideal as sleeping on your side with your legs outstretched, but if it’s what’s most comfortable for you, whether you have a herniated disc or simply find other positions uncomfortable, there are a few changes you can make for more support.
Lie on your side and bring your knees up to your chest. Keep your neck long and straight, supported by a thick pillow. Again, keep your chest open to prevent it from rolling your shoulders forward.
There’s one sleeping position you should try to avoid as much as possible, and that’s sleeping on your stomach. When you sleep on your stomach, the neck is twisted to either the left or the right, placing undue pressure on the cervical spine. It can lead to shoulder and neck pain while putting pressure on the lower back.
A stiff neck is the first sign that your stomach sleeping position is a problem. If sleeping on your back doesn’t feel possible, start by slowly moving toward a side sleeping position, using as many pillows as necessary to support yourself.
You may not have realized how much your bedtime routine choices and habits impact your back health, comfort, and mobility. When you think about it, it makes sense. The average person spends eight hours each night in their sleeping position, so it’s going to make an impact one way or another.
Try to lay flat if you can, or make some adjustments to your side sleeping position to keep it comfortable, and always avoid laying on the stomach if possible.