Sleeping Positions: the Good, the Bad & the Ugly!

Posted on 25th June, 2016

Lifestyle

How did you sleep last night? Did you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to go or did you feel uncomfortable and sore? We might know, deep down, that assessing our night time posture could have a life changing effect, but so few of us take the time to learn the essentials. For something as simple as sleeping (something we can all say we have a lifetime of experience doing) it can be a rather difficult thing to master. Too much or too little? In the right position? Take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to sleeping positions.Sleep posture blog

Sleeping on your back

Sleeping on your back ensures that your spine, neck and head are all in alignment to maintain a natural position. Sadly, it’s fairly common for sleeping on your back to make you more prone to snoring, but it is the ideal position for your back health, because of the neutral position that you’re maintaining. Additionally, you can also place a small pillow underneath your knees if you find this more comfortable. This will also make sure that your core position is held.

Whilst sleeping on your back, your spine is prompted to be straight and not forced into any contortions. Back sleeping also helps the mattress to do its most important job of supporting you and your spine. We know most people prefer to have a couple of pillows (at least), but using only one pillow is great as it allows for optimum breathing. Any more than one pillow and you’re narrowing the oesophagus, which then leads to a reduced amount of oxygen.

Finally, as an added perk on top of improving posture, sleeping on your back also helps you have fewer wrinkles – because by default you won’t have your face scrunched up against a pillow all night!

Sleeping on your side
The majority of us adopt a side sleeping position, so it is quite encouraging news to hear that, overall, it is a relatively healthy sleeping position. It is the happy medium for those that find it difficult to sleep on their back, but try to avoid the faux pas of sleeping on their front. When you sleep on your side, your spine will be elongated and it is a good position to sport if you suffer from conditions such as sleep apnoea which makes you snore heavily.

However, it’s important to know that it will never be the most ideal position, because your body will often naturally want to twist and this can, in turn, lead to straining your pelvis and lower back; resulting in lumbar pain. By placing a pillow between your legs you will be able to reduce the threat of this leg twisting from happening. Shoulder pain can also incur from sleeping on your side. You don’t need to worry too much about it though as this will be a more obvious pain and unconsciously you will most likely change position to your other side.

Doctors and Midwives actually encourage sleeping on your left side in pregnancy to improve circulation to the heart; benefiting both mum and baby. However, if you don’t have a “bun in the oven” then sleeping on the left side can put unnecessary pressure on internal organs such as the liver, lungs and stomach. Similarly, sleeping on your right can increase your chance of acid reflux and worsen the effects of heartburn.

Sleeping on your stomach

This position is the real “no-no” – as, by sleeping on your stomach, it is almost impossible to keep your spine in a neutral position. This often results in pain in the back, neck, joints and muscles. You should always try your best to sleep on your back or your side, but if you find this impossible, then try placing a pillow under your pelvis and lower abdomen if you’ve resorted to sleeping on your front. Do always remember, this position is a worst case scenario and it is important to adapt quickly to a back or side sleeping if you can.

Another unpleasant by-product of sleeping on your front is that it forces your neck to adopt a rotated, closed pack and tight position which also comprises your breathing and circulation. This position could also mean that the neck is out of alignment from the rest of the body which could, again, cause further aches and pains.

Ways to promote good sleeping posture
Work on posture during the day

It seems quite straightforward to think that just as your sleeping position affects your day time posture, your day time posture will affect the quality of your sleep. To achieve good posture when sitting, it is important to follow good seating habits, as illustrated by our 7-Point Seating Assessment™ shown below:

Hip Position
Bottom fits into the back of the seat.
Height
If the seat height is correct, the feet will be flat on the floor. The entire upper leg should also be fully supported so that the knee almost forms a right angle.
Seat Depth
If the depth of the seat is correct, the calf should gently kiss the leg rest or allow for a flat hand to be placed between the calf and leg rest.
Width
The correct width is vital to help spread the weight across the seat. It provides pelvic stability and prevents leaning to one side.
Lower Back
The lumbar area; the natural curve in the back, is supported by the chair.
Neck and Head
When the neck is supported correctly the head is not forced forward or too high above the back of the chair.
Arm Position
Elbows to fingers must be in contact with the arm of the chair. The forearm should be supported with the shoulders in their natural resting position.

If you find it particularly hard to maintain good posture in the day, then you could consider investing in a Fireside Chair or a Comfort Chair which shapes around the natural contours of your back. These types of chairs will ensure you have the necessary support to achieve good posture and can actually help to alleviate conditions such as arthritis and muscle pain.

Upgrade your mattress

It doesn’t matter if you’re achieving the greatest night-time posture going, this will only take you so far. The truth is that you could still be damaging your back if you don’t have the support of a good quality mattress.

By investing in either a memory foam, pocket sprung or NHS graded mattress, you will improve the support that you are receiving and increase your chances of the maximum possible comfort. An electrically Adjustable Bed is also a great way for improving your night time posture. This is because you’re able to adjust the position of the mattress to accommodate a position that is favourable to you.

Use the correct pillow

I’m sure it’s not surprising that one of the best things you can do for night time comfort and a good sleeping posture is to invest in a great pillow. For example, the human neck bends ever so slightly forward in order to maintain the weight of the head when upright and it is very important to keep this slight curve when in a sleeping position. As such, if your pillow is placed either too high or too low, this means that the natural curve of the neck will be out of position causing neck and muscle strain. This can even lead to awakening with headaches.

Loosen muscles

It may sound very simple but try to walk around the house gently before you go to sleep. More than likely, you will have been sat for a prolonged period of time during the day which means that your pelvis will be pressed forward. Unfortunately, this makes it difficult to achieve the best posture when falling asleep. Similarly, in the morning try and do some light stretching of the back and rotation of the shoulders. This will help to maintain proper posture during the day.

Having discussed the best sleeping positions and tips to try to achieve good night time posture, it is important to remember that we will most likely sleep in the position that we find comfiest. Placing a pillow below the knees and only having one cushion under your neck are great ways to try to keep a good sleeping position, but this will inevitably change during the night. In fact, most people tend to wake up in the position that their bodies find natural. So, whilst night time posture is incredibly important, it is better to get some sleep that none at all, so continue to do what feels right to you.