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Do you ever wake up with a sore neck, back pain, or even worse.. a headache? Well, it may have something to do with your sleeping position! Keeping reading this blog for everything you need to know about your sleeping position including:

  • The best sleeping position 
  • How to use your pillows and
  • How your sleeping position can cause pain

If any of these apply to you, then keep reading! 

Why Sleeping Position is Important and What is the Best Position to Sleep In?

If you’re getting a good night’s sleep, you probably sleep between 7 and 8 hours a night. That’s 7-8 hours of dead weight in a single position! That’s a big window to create tension and mess something up. This is why it’s so important that you sleep in such a way that supports your body’s natural design.

The position that you can best do this in is on your back! Laying on your back you can easily support the curvature of your lumbar (lower back) spine and cervical (neck) spine, which I will explain how to do in the section below. There is also the bonus point of minimizing the amount of wrinkles you get from gravitational pull while you sleep.

On the other hand, sleeping on your stomach is the worst thing you can do and I’ll tell you why! I want you to turn your head to one side and lean your face against the wall and see how you feel after about 15 minutes let alone 7-8 hours. Sleeping on your stomach your neck has no choice but to turn one way or the other. This is so far from a neutral position, it hurts my neck just thinking about it!

Now, I understand the back sleeping position is not for everyone and can be a very difficult transition, so if you’re a stomach sleeper and refuse to sleep on your back, let’s meet in the middle and settle for side sleeping! It’s not as ideal as the back position but can still be supportive if you use your pillows correctly so let’s dive into this in the section below.

How To Use Your Pillows for Better Sleep

Pillows are key to a good night’s sleep and having less pain when you wake up in the morning. The issue is, there are so many different kinds of pillows out there targeted for different sleeping positions so which one is best? 

Let me start by saying that I am not a fan of the contoured memory foam pillows! The explanation is very simple, no two people are the same. So how can one pillow be designed to work for everyone? They do work very nicely for some people, but not for everyone. 

The pillows that I like the most are the ones that you can customize by removing or adding the memory foam stuffing. This concept is also very ideal because everyone has different levels of mattress firmness which will play a role in how thick or thin your pillow needs to be. 

Once you’ve acquired a pillow that works for you, you still need to make sure that you are using it correctly! Here are some things to watch out for:

  • You want your head to be on the same level as your body, not tilted up with the chin tucked and not tilted backward with the chin sticking up. 
  • Your shoulders should NEVER be on top of your pillow.
  • Use your pillow to support the curvature of your neck by grabbing both corners and pulling to tuck it under your neck curve.
  • Sleeping on your back, use a pillow under your knees to allow your lower back curve to be in a neutral position
  • If sleeping on your side use a pillow between your knees!

Watch the video below for some more tips!

If you’re trying to kick the bad habit of sleeping on your stomach then its important that you get yourself a body pillow! Find out why in the video below!

Now even will all these adjustments it’s possible that you may wake up with a sore neck or back. Even though this gives you better chances of having no pain, it’s likely that the way you’re sleeping is not the root cause of your issues. 

Let’s discuss this more in the section below.

Can Sleeping Position Cause Back Pain, Neck Pain, or Shoulder Pain? 

Waking up with neck pain, back pain, or shoulder pain does not necessarily mean that the way you were can sleeping cause back painsleeping is causing your pain, but is instead a feeder of the issue. Let me explain. The picture you see to the right is a tree that was cut 2 years ago, but as you can see there is a new shoot. Why? Because even though we cut the tree, we did not get rid of what was feeding the root.

You may have had a previous injury, car accident, chronic injury, ect. that happened recently, years ago, or is a result of chronic overuse and because of failure to address the feeders of the issue such as sleeping position, Desk Ergonomics, and other postural deficiencies something like sleeping in the wrong position can become detrimental.

This is commonly seen with issues of the neck and lower back, but the impact of sleeping position on the shoulder joint is rarely talked about but affects a lot of people. People with shoulder issues often find that they can’t sleep because they roll onto their shoulder causing pain. Well, I have a solution for you! 

Instead of sleeping on your side and compressing your shoulder joint, position yourself in a way that allows you to distract the joint to provide some relief so you can sleep comfortably. Watch the video below to see what I mean.

When it comes to your shoulders and sleeping on your side here are some things to watch out for:

  • Do NOT have your hand stretched above your head.
  • Do NOT sleeping directly on top of your shoulder or on the backside of the shoulder because this will promote the rolled forward shoulder posture that we want to avoid.
  • Keep your elbows by your side.
  • Shoulders should be off the pillow
  • Make sure to fill in your neck curve with a pillow.
  • And do what I show in the video above to distract the joint.

We’ve talked about sleeping and what you need to do for your neck, back, and shoulders. Now, let’s talk about headaches!

Do You Wake Up with Headaches? 

It’s horrible to get headaches and even worse to wake up with one! There are many different causes of headaches, but the most common type of headache I see in my office is referred to as a cervicogenic headache. A cervivogenic headache just means that it is a result of tension in the neck. 

If there is an imbalance in the musculature of your neck this will cause tension headaches, and even though your sleeping position is not what put you in the position to get headaches in the first place, lack of proper support of the neck curve with a pillow can result in unnecessary tension and therefore headaches. 

Unfortunately in many cases of neck pain, back pain, shoulder pain, and headaches changing your sleeping position is not enough to completely rid you of the underlying issue. Often times there are soft tissue imbalances that need to be manually addressed using modalities such Active Release Technique.

Then there is the underlying issue of dysfunctional movement that has resulted and must be addressed which is why we utilize Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization and Postural Neurology to take that much-needed extra step to minimize the occurrence of pain returning or re-injury. 

All of these only work as long as the feeders of the problem are also addressed. So make sure you fix your sleeping position and if you work behind a desk I encourage you to read this blog on Desk Ergonomics to make sure you are doing all that you can because remember, the little things do add up.