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Understanding the impact of sleep posture on health.

Updated: Mar 3

This question is one of the least considered causes of spinal conditions. However, the impact of sleep posture on your health is profound. Look at it from this perspective, the average person sleeps anywhere from 6 - 8 hours/night. That is roughly 25 - 33% of your day spent in one position.


We are going to discuss the most common positions for sleep which have impact on your sleep posture. The first one is "sleeping on the stomach." As a child you may get away with this because the body is more flexible, and bones have not fully ossified/hardened until approximately age 25. Sleeping on the stomach is particularly bad due to the neck being in a twisted position for an extended period of time. The vertebral arteries are at the top of the neck. There is a total of two (2), one on each side of the upper neck which converge into a single artery called the basilar artery prior to entering the cranium. Sleeping on the stomach can cause torsion of the vertebral arteries which can cause a host of problems such as: vision, hearing, balance, blood pressure, and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).


Another position can be sleeping on the right or left side while elevating one knee to towards the chest. This position although comfortable is also not advised since it alters the position of the sacroiliac joints. As in a previous published article on this site, this can cause a whole host of issues from feet problems such as bunions, hip socket grinding, and knee pain. Further up the spine, you can have a zig-zag of misalignments going all the way up the spine to the neck.


Sleeping on the back is most commonly thought of as the best position to sleep in. However, this may not be the case if the foundation/mattress your sleeping on is sinking and is too old. Another factor to consider when sleeping on your back is the pillow. The neck has a lordotic curve to it when it is in a natural position. If you do not sleep on any pillow at all it's even worse because your flattening the neck. This will cause premature arthritis. Generally, mattresses no longer hold their original supporting position after 1.5 years. When choosing a mattress, you should be adequately fitted for it as with a pair of shoes. Watching the video on this site will demonstrate the proper ways to sleep.


Ideally, sleeping on your back with a support that provides a lordotic curve support for your neck is the best. Do not allow yourself to flip one leg over the other as this will alter the sacroiliac joint positions and cause trouble for the entire spine. If you prefer to sleep on your side, make sure to have a full-length body pillow that goes between your legs from the groin down to the ankle. This will provide support to the sacroiliac joints. Also, try to keep the legs mostly extended to avoid the hamstrings from being contracted overnight. Sleeping with the knee/hips bent too much can lead to a stiff back the following morning because the hip flexor and hamstring muscles shorten while sleeping. The shortened muscles will pull on the back when you awaken the following morning and you will feel very stiff.


We are often asked which is the best pillow. Pillows often change form over time leaving a depression in the center. Your neck will emulate whatever you sleep on so if the pillow flattens, so will your neck causing you to loose the lordotic curve in your neck increasing pressure to the discs in the spine. This will cause pre-mature arthritis. The right pillow is the one that provides support sufficient for your neck to maintain the same level even with the spine when laying on your side and which also provides support for your necks natural curve when laying flat on your back.



Sleeping positions

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