Tips to Improve Your Sleep

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In my chiropractic clinic, patients are always asking what they can do to improve their sleep. Many people tell me that they wake in the morning and are stiff or even in pain after what should have been a restful recovery period. In every aspect of your life, posture plays a huge role in how your body functions. Even while we are sleeping, it is important to be aware of the posture slip ups that can play a part in decreasing every day function and health. Whether you are a side, back, or stomach sleeper, there are things you can do to ensure proper posture while sleeping, thus improving health.

What Is The Best Sleeping Position?

Sleeping on your back, in my opinion, may be one of the healthiest ways to sleep. Sleeping flat on your back allows you to keep your spine in a neutral alignment, while allowing the mattress to comfort and support your spine. Although back or supine sleeping may be considered the best, there are still some pitfalls you need to be aware of. Supine sleeping is closely linked to sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is difficulty breathing while sleeping. There are multiple sources for this condition; however a common one is mechanical blockage of your airway. People with sleep apnea tend to snore and may not even be aware of their condition. By sleeping on your back you are at increased risk for sleep apnea as the tissues in your mouth and throat can occlude your airway. If you are someone who is suffering from sleep apnea, and you are a stomach or back sleeper, you can try side sleeping as an alternative. Supine sleepers who suffer from headaches or neck pain tend to use several pillows while sleeping. Using several pillows or supports, can put your head into a flexed position (chin tilting toward chest), causing unwanted stress on the joints and surrounding musculature. One thing I recommend for patients is to try and reduce the amount of pillows they use. One way to do this is to roll up a towel or shirt and it place it at the base of the neck, right where your neck and shoulders come together. This not only gives support to the cervical spine while reducing the stress of the surrounding tissues, but also helps with curve correction. If you already only use one pillow you should assess how firm and thick your pillow is. Even just one pillow can add unnecessary stress to your cervical area. This tool (the rolled up towel or shirt) will help retrain musculature to a resting extension (chin away from chest), while improving postural health. Because it can be difficult to change how you sleep, I suggest practicing prior to going to sleep. When you get in bed practice laying on your back either with a relatively flat pillow, or the towel/shirt method and lying there for 10-15 minutes while trying to sleep. The goal is to fall asleep in this position, but this may take practice to work up to being able to relax enough in this new position to go to sleep. Once you are able to fall asleep in this position do not dismay if you wake up in a different position, just continue your practice nightly and eventually this will become muscle memory and your body will be able to stay in this position longer periods. For the back/supine sleepers who suffer from back pain, it is recommended that you place a support, such as a pillow, under your knees. By elevating your knees with a pillow you are also dropping your hips which helps take stress off the spine, and can help improve the natural curve of the spine. Simply placing a pillow under your knees can help unload the lower back, allowing for greater function and less pain throughout the day.

Is Sleeping On My Side OK?

As mentioned above, there are some reasons to sleep on your side. If you have sleep apnea, sleeping on your side can help with those symptoms. Another reason is during pregnancy. It is reported that sleeping on your left side, while pregnant, can increase the circulation to the heart and take pressure off of the lower back. It has also been reported that sleeping on your side can aid in digestion as well. One major issue with side sleeping, is when on their side, most people sleep with an arm tucked underneath them or resting underneath their head. If you sleep like this you may notice that you wake up with a "dead" arm. This happens because while sleeping on your arm you are compressing vital tissues and nerves throughout the neck and upper arm. The constant compression of these tissues can cause serious posture and functional problems down the road. When you wake up with the "dead" arm it is actually that your arm is temporarily paralyzed. For many of us who have experienced this we know that we can shake it out, but the reason for this temporary paralysis is from the compression of both the tissue and the nerves. Nerve compression can cause a tingly sensation. A tip for side sleeping is to place a pillow between the knees. This helps by putting your spine in a more neutral alignment. Also, placing a towel under your neck to give more support, can decrease neck pain and improve function

What If I Like To Sleep On My Stomach?

There are not many benefits of sleeping on your stomach, while it can reduce snoring and side effects of sleep apnea it places all parts of your spine in an unfavorable alignment. If stomach sleeping with your head to one side your neck is not in neutral alignment and many will wake with neck pain. Others who sleep on their stomach tend to sleep with their arms overhead which can cause you to arch your back and puts stress on your shoulders. When sleeping on your stomach, remember to place a thin pillow or blanket under your stomach and pelvis, this will help support your spine, and give your body better positioning. If you are a stomach sleeper and plan to continue to be a stomach sleeper, investing in a firm (or at least firmer) mattress can be beneficial. While stomach sleeping does not provide much spine support it provides even less and places your spine in disadvantageous position when using a soft mattress.

It is important to sleep in a position of comfort. You want to find a comfortable position so that you can enjoy restful and rejuvenating sleep while also keeping your spine in a neutral and aligned position. Keeping your ear, shoulder, and hip in a straight line, can help the body maintain its proper posture, even when sleeping.

Along with body position to maintain proper spine alignment, there are several things you can do to improve your overall sleep. The no electronics in bed rule helps your body naturally shut down and aid you in falling asleep faster. Many people tend to sleep with their pets in their bed; this can cause nocturnal awakenings as your pet may move in bed throughout the night. Additionally having pets in bed can introduce allergens in close proximity decreasing your ability to get a good night sleep. Overall these are general tips that can be used to help improve sleep and decrease neck and back pain.