Waking up with pain or stiffness more in the morning is usually an indicator that your sleeping posture is not right. The best sleeping posture depends on a number of things. Your own unique standing posture, any medical issues (e.g. sleep apnoea will make it difficult to sleep on the back) and injuries will have an impact on which position to sleep in. However there is one simple rule to follow when sleeping.
No matter how you sleep, on your back or on your side aim to have a neutral alignment of the spine. When our body and the spine is in neutral alignment, that is when there is the least amount of joint and muscle strain acting on it. Neutral alignment during sleep will promote better posture during the day. When our posture is neutral, the body works more efficiently with less strain. As we spend a lot of time sleeping, the position that you sleep in will impact your overall posture and the spine.
What Position is better?
Sleeping on the back and the side is better than sleeping on the stomach. The neck will not be in neutral alignment with stomach sleeping. Furthermore, this will promote an increased curve / lordosis at the low back.
Neutral posture means no curling up to sleep! Staying in a flexed or a curled up position for long periods will promote imbalance within the body as muscles will become shortened, tight and weak.
Pillows can be tricky business. Often, one pillow which is right for someone may not be appropriate for someone else. Hence, I rarely recommend a specific pillow as it is never a one size fits all. As a general rule, you should pick a pillow which allows for a neutral alignment of your cervical spine. This may not necessarily be comfortable to begin with.
What does neutral look like? If you stand against the wall, and aim for neutral standing posture. Then the gap between the wall and the back of your head is the thickness of the pillow should be once you are laying on it. However, you need to ensure that the head posture is neutral to begin with in standing. One of the most common neck posture problems is that the head is too forward and the chin pokes out. If you than sleep on a pillow that supports this posture this will only promote more of that posture during the day. So it is important to get the neutral alignment of the neck first in standing.
Firmness of a pillow can also be personal preference however as long as it allows neutral posture then it is alright. If you are more of a side sleeper than you will need the pillow to be thicker so your neck is kept neutral compared to if you sleep on your back. The firmness of the mattress will also affect the pillow.
The same rule applies to picking mattresses – aim for neutral alignment. The firmer the mattress the more easier you can achieve neutral however it may not necessarily be comfortable as our bodies have adapted to sleeping on softer surfaces. Other factors such as material, thickness, number of springs can all vary depending on personal preference as long as the principle of neutral alignment is followed.
Additional pillows can be used to assist in neutral alignment. You may use a thinner pillow for the head if sleeping on the side, which can be taken away if sleeping on your back.
Women in general have wider hips especially after childbirth. Hence use an additional pillow between the knees to support the hips and low back if you sleep on your side.
Use the additional pillow (keep it thin) to place under the upper thighs especially if you have an increased lumbar lordosis or an excessive curve in your lower back.
Although you cannot control your posture once you are asleep but hopefully the above tips will give a better more restful sleep and a step towards improving your overall posture.