Sleep and pain

Waking up with a sore neck is not normal! The same goes for waking up with numb hands and the feeling of your arms falling asleep. I often hear from my patients that they experience low back pain at night or neck and shoulder pain from sleeping wrong (yes, you can sleep wrong!). Then, of course, they ask, “ How should I sleep?”. Well, there are some sleeping positions that are more ideal and some that can result in neck pain from sleeping, all you stomach sleepers know exactly what I’m talking about! If you want to sleep better read on for the best sleeping position and how to prevent neck and back pains while you sleep. 

Different Sleeping Positions and What to Watch Out For 

Some of us toss and turn all night, waking up on the complete opposite side of the bed. Other people wake up exactly in the same position they fell asleep in. This all plays a role in the aches/pains we feel and how our bodies function. Generally speaking, there are three sleeping positions: side sleeping, sleeping on your back and sleeping on your stomach (just DON’T do it). 

  • Sleeping on your stomach: If you haven’t gathered by now, sleeping on your stomach is the absolute best way to jack up your neck and back. It’s very tempting and feels good for a little, but my advice is to avoid it at all costs. Sure laying on your stomach for a few minutes of the day wouldn’t do any damage, but 8 hours straight? In this position, your spine is misaligned and cannot be properly supported. 
  • Side lying: Sleeping on your side is okay, but only if you use your pillows appropriately. The inappropriate or lack of pillow use can result in neck and low back pain. Keep reading for tips on pillow use. 
  • Sleeping on your back: For an ideal sleeping position, you want to be sleeping on your back! This is the best way to sleep, but it’s not exactly everyone’s cup of tea. In this position, it is still important to strategically use your pillows. Here is my sleeping do’s and don’ts list that I recommend to all of my patients.

How to Prevent Neck/Back Pain While Sleeping

We are all different, not just in the way we sleep but in our physical structure. I am specifically referring to the curvature of the spine. I see some patients with a decreased cervical spinal curvature (neck curve) and others with an excess curve in their cervical spine and then the ones whose neck curve is the opposite of what it needs to be!!  The last scenario is the reason why every child should visit a chiropractor after the mildest sports injury and all auto accident persons should see a chiropractor regardless of the amount of damage to the car or how much or little pain they are in.

When you’re sleeping it is absolutely necessary that your natural cervical curvature is supported and the lumbar spine is supported in a neutral position. How do you do this? Well, I’m glad you asked. The answer is by not sleeping on your stomach and using your pillows wisely! 

Now, I’m not telling you to go buy the most expensive trendy pillow you can find. It’s not about the type of pillow, but how you use it. Of course, you have to take into consideration that the way you should use your pillows is not necessarily the way every else should. 

Pillow Talk 

So many people think they need to have fancy memory foam or contoured pillows. I’m completely against it! Contoured pillows can sometimes be appropriate but again this depends on my assessment of the individual, how they sleep and their natural curvature. Your pillow should be of medium thickness, just enough that it allows the neck to be aligned with the rest of the body. If it’s too soft your head will drop too low. Too thick and the head will be propped up. Which reminds me, do not use two pillows for head support!

For the side sleeper, it is important to use a pillow between your knees. Pay attention to make sure that not only the knee is supported but from the knee down to the ankle. There are three points to watch for: hip, knee, and ankle. All three points should be lined up on the same level or with the knee to be higher than the hip. Your neck pillow should be positioned to fill in the gap between your neck and the bed so there is no space there. 

As for those of you that sleep on your back, the same goes for filling in the gap of the neck curvature. Now obviously no pillow is needed between the knees, but there should be one placed under your knees so that they are slightly higher than the hip to place the lower back in a neutral position. 

I have every one of my patients bring in their assortment of pillows that they use to sleep and have them demonstrate how they use them and if necessary, I make adjustments where they are needed. All that’s left is to apply it at home!

Is your soft mattress causing your low back pain?

My patients often ask for advice on what kind of mattress they should buy and my answer is always the same. Medium consistency is always the way to go. I’m not a fan of pillow top or memory foam mattresses.

What NOT to do

Just because we can toss and turn throughout the night does not mean we can disregard the position we fall asleep in. In addition to the information above, there are a few things you should actively avoid when falling asleep. Do not fall asleep twisted like a pretzel. It can seem appealing to lay with one leg rolled over the other, but this results in a twisted spine which is a big no-no! 

Another thing to be mindful of is your arm placement including the shoulder and elbow. It’s a good idea to practice sleeping with your elbows close to your body instead of having your arm under your head! It’s not a pillow after all. This will prevent unwanted tightness and pain. As for the shoulder, you should also make sure your shoulder is never on top of a pillow. 

Be sure to take all of the above into consideration the next time you’re going to sleep because no one likes waking up with aches and pains. If you’re ever unsure if you are using your pillow correctly, call the office and we can discuss it further.

Remember, you are in charge of all your decisions and how you live starts with making a decision!

Dr. Shakib