We have long known that sleep is important for recovery and rehabilitation following surgery or injury. However, as we start to learn more and more, current literature and evidence has shown incredibly strong correlations between sleep disturbances and pain. Evidence indicates that sleep becomes even more important in chronic or persistent pain regardless of the source of pain. This can commonly lead to a vicious cycle where pain can cause lack of sleep and lack of sleep can increase pain.
Whilst there are many factors which improve sleep hygiene, finding an ideal sleeping position can assist to reduce associated musculoskeletal pain or discomfort.
What is the ideal sleeping position?
The ideal sleeping position places your body in a position with minimal stress or strain. This means that our joints and muscles are in a relaxed and neutral state.
Ideally, side lying or back sleeping is the best position to sleep. Whilst many of us may enjoy sleeping on our stomach, this position flattens out of spines natural curves placing increased pressure on the low back and increases strain through the neck as your head is commonly twisted to one side.
What is the best position to sleep in if you experience back pain?
For those who experience low back pain, finding a comfortable position can be difficult. Avoid positions that place rotation or a twist through your spine. For those who prefer to sleep on their side, placing a pillow between your knees can be a good way to maintain your lower back’s natural curves and avoid excessive rotation. If you prefer to sleep on your back, place a small pillow under your knees to ensure you have a slight bend through your knees.
What pillow is best?
Having a supportive pillow is critical to provide appropriate support for your neck and head. The aim of your pillow is to ensure that your head is held in a neutral position in line with your spine. A pillow that is too high will elevate your head excessively whilst a pillow that is too low will have your head fall excessively. A useful tip is that if you regularly place your hand or arm under your pillow for additional support, your pillow if not providing adequate support.
If you are a side sleeper, your pillow should support the gap between your head and your shoulder. As a back sleeper, your pillow is aiming to support the curve just below your skull.
Choosing a firm or soft pillow is based on your personal preference as long as it is supporting your spinal curves.
Making any change to your sleeping position can be incredibly challenging. Start by making small changes. Placing yourself in better positions for even small periods throughout your sleep will be of benefit. If you continue to experience pain or difficulty finding a comfortable position, speak to your health professional.
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Learn more about sleep in Episode 16 of The Better Ageing Podcast:
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