Sleeping Postures Explained

Sleeping posture tips from gentle Chiropractor, Dr Euan McMillan of WellWellWell Sydney. 

Now, let’s begin by agreeing that sleep is one of those vitally important aspects of life. During sleep our body rests, restores and rejuvenates us for the day ahead. 

Many variables affect the quality, duration and our ability to get to sleep. Mood, stress, hormones, medications, traumas, illnesses and even a bad pillow or mattress can interfere with our ability to get good quality rest and sleep.

For the purposes of this blog post we are going to keep it simple and offer some tips on optimum considerations based on your favourite sleeping position.

Back sleeper 

This sleeping position is a great position to sleep in. If you have a good supportive mattress suited to your body shape/size and weight and a good pillow that doesn’t push your head too far forward or let your head fall too far into extension (the position your neck goes into when you look up to the sky), then you’re doing well so far.

Common mistakes of the back sleeper include using a pillow that is too high, sleeping on a mattress that is too soft or unsupportive (which for those with bigger frames can lead to back pain and non-restorative sleep) and sleeping with one or both arms above the head (this can be a habit, but try to break it if you can as this posture while you’re sleeping can restrict blood flow to your arms and cause ongoing neck and shoulder pain and problems).

Side sleeper

Another good posture to be assuming on a regular basis whilst in slumberland is the side-lying posture. 

It’s important (especially for a side sleeper) that the pillow height matches the size of the shoulders so that the neck is in a comfortable neutral position. The neck should not be pushed to the side at all. So not too high and not so low that the head sags down either. For the side sleeper, your head should be in the same posture when lying on your side as when you’re standing up or sitting – directly in line with the spine.

Twisting the spine is also a ‘no-no’.

Try to keep your shoulders in line with your hips and have the knees and ankles either on top of one another or as close to this position as comfortably possible. 

For those with back pain or sciatic nerve issues, a helpful addition is a small pillow or cushion placed between the knees. The extra pillow helps the outer legs to relax and softens any pulling on the lower back nerves.

One last tip for the side sleeper, make sure the shoulder you’re sleeping on isn’t pressurised by having too small a pillow. If you wake up with numb hands, especially on a regular basis, this may be purely positional, but this is a great reason to check in with your Chiropractor to make sure everything is ok. 

Front sleeper

This sleeping position is often shunned as being the very worst position to sleep in. If this is you, then you probably have your very own routine with one leg bent out to the side, a pillow (or several pillows) strewn around the bedroom and you may wake up in a heap, surrounded by pillows, sheets and doona or even finish up in side or back sleeping positions.

Although this sleeping posture is more commonly associated with neck, back and spine pain, try to avoiding twisting, pressure on the limbs and hip joints and making sure the neck isn’t overly stressed by using appropriate pillow placement – this can ease the stress on your body.  

The same rules apply here, twisting is a ‘no-no’. No big pillows unless they support and de-stress your body, and especially important for front sleepers – make sure you have a clear airway. For obvious reasons, this is super important for you!

The ‘toss and turn’ sleeper.

Firstly, good luck! 

In my years as a Chiropractor, it is quite clear that this sleeping style is commonly associated with higher stress levels, very common in those with stressful lifestyles and is almost always associated with underlying physical and/or emotional stress. If the body cannot fully relax and de-stress there is often a reason. If this is you, talk to your Chiropractor or family GP about different options that may be available to help you rest more fully and cope better with whatever it is that you’re dealing with.

If you’re unable to find a comfortable position in bed or if pain is waking you up at night, it’s important that you check in as soon as you can with your family Chiropractor to ensure there aren’t any underlying issues that need correcting or more serious issues that you’ll need to see your GP about. 

Enjoy ‘Slumberland’, with every well wish, Dr Euan.

Dr Euan is owner/director and Chiropractor at WellWellWell Sydney located on Hyde Park in Sydney CBD. For more info take a look at the website.

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