Getting a good night’s rest eludes a great many Canadians, and even those who sleep through the night may still wake-up with aches and pains. Getting up several times for the needs of our infants and kids does not make it any easier. We spend about one-third of our lives sleeping, so getting the most out of it is important. Having the right mattress and pillow is essential, and your sleeping position makes a big difference in the quality of your rest.
Your nerve system is a critical part of health and healing, therefore having the least amount of pressure on your spinal cord and nerves while you sleep is optimal. Consulting a health care professional who specializes in posture, spinal alignment and nerve function is recommended.
Try these tips to wake-up feeling rested and refreshed.
Your sleeping position is also an important factor in how you will feel when you wake-up in the morning. It’s best to sleep on your back or side, never on your stomach. When one lies on their stomach to sleep, their neck is invariably turned for minutes to hours.
For example, if you try to keep your head maximally rotated for even a few minutes, you will have some degree of discomfort. This results in unnecessary strain on your neck muscles, nerves and joints. Lying on your back or side allows your head, neck and spine to relax into their natural alignment. This reduces interference on the nerves and helps your body rejuvenate itself.
In my office, I take our patients through a Spinal Correction Class reviewing sleep positions, pillow and mattress selection, review other products that support proper alignment of the body and review ‘pre-hab’ in-office exercises.
When you are sleeping on your back, it is important to support the curve in your neck (cervical lordosis). You should also place a pillow under your knee to take some pressure off your lumbar spine.
When you are sleeping on your side we want to make sure your spine maintains its straight alignment, as when you are standing. Too much or too little support will be negative for your spine. On your side you should place a pillow between your knees to avoid rotating your pelvis and crossing the top leg over the lower leg. This is very similar to sleeping on your stomach with your lower body.
Getting fitted for a pillow that is custom fit to your needs is key to avoiding neck pain. With my patients I measure the distance from your neck to the tip of your shoulder so that you may have a pillow that is customized to your size. I also recommend ‘sleep aids’, which are special foam rolls used to place your spine in an optimal position while you are sleeping.
If you are unable to be fitted for a pillow, look for a pillow that is firm enough to keep your head and neck level with your mid and lower spine when you’re sleeping on your side. Avoid pillows that are so thick or thin that they angle your head and neck away from your body. Also, avoid pillows that are too thin. The obvious sign of a pillow that is too thin is when you use your arm and/or hand to support your neck.
Maintaining proper alignment and good support prevents damage or irritation to important structures in our neck and arms. I encourage patients to invest on the pillow they use for their head and neck area and not to spend much on the pillow they use for support of their lower body.
If your mattress is getting old, you might consider investing in a new one that is both comfortable and supportive for your back. A mattress should be flexible enough to adapt to your body’s shape, while providing firm support. Pillow tops that are too large can often negate the firmness of the (often expensive) mattress. The comfort of a mattress is very individualized. Make sure you test the mattress or have an option to return it following a trial period.
If you share a bed, choose a mattress that is big enough to easily accommodate both of you. A narrow mattress means awkward sleeping positions that can lead to a sore back and a bad night’s rest. You may try to keep those beloved pets off the bed. Give yourself and your relationship a break. Have plenty of space.
Proper sleep hygiene is essential for getting restful sleep. Some tips for better sleep include:
- Use the bed to sleep. Avoid reading, eating and watching television in bed.
- Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine. Alcohol is a depressant but often causes sleep disturbances.
- Try not to drink fluids too close to bedtime (within 1-2 hours).
- Avoid vigorous physical activities before bedtime.
- Use a routine. Go to bed at a similar time.
- Try useful techniques to relax and quiet your mind before going to bed.
Again, consulting a health care professional who specializes in posture, spinal alignment and nerve function is recommended.