Best sleeping position

The purpose of this post is to answer the question of:

“What is the best sleeping position to promote good posture?”

Sleeping position


What to expect in this post:


// The importance of having a good sleeping posture:

Your sleeping posture is more important than you may think…

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Image courtesy of Witthaya Phonsawat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Not only does your posture matter when you’re upright, it is equally as important when you’re lying flat.

Tell me something… Have you ever woken up with a sore neck, shoulder or back?

Yes?… I am willing to bet that it could be due to your sleeping posture!

Guess what?… You lie down for over 2400 hours a year!

Now, let’s say we take the average time someone sleeps for is 7 hrs/day. That’s about 50 hours per week, 200 hours per month or 2400 hours in a year!

THAT IS A LOT OF TIME LYING DOWN!

Don’t let your poor sleeping position be the cause of your bad posture!

 

// What is the best position to sleep for good posture?

The goal is to encourage symmetry and alignment of the body.

Did you know… If you had “perfect posture”, you would have no difficulties lying flat on your back on the ground. No mattress. No pillow.

… But wait a minute… then why is it so uncomfortable for most people?

We are imperfect. Our posture sucks! We have developed poor alignment and as a result, our spines aren’t able to distribute forces as optimally as they were intended to.

63% of Americans sleep on their side. Only 14% sleep on their back and 16% on their stomach.”

… I’m guessing that the remaining 7% have no idea

My recommendation: Sleep on your Back

supine sleep

Pros: Promotes greatest amount of symmetry, equal distribution of stress throughout the body, optimal position for posture, less likely to compress joints/muscles

Cons: Encourages snoring, may place more stress on the lower back, may be uncomfortable for people with bad posture

Points to consider:

a) Place a pillow underneath your knees

knee suport

This will cause a slight bend in your hips and knees and allow your lower back to flatten against the bed. In turn, this position will alleviate any tension throughout the lumbar spine (especially in those with anterior pelvic tilt and/or tight hip flexor muscles).

[For those that are like this, have a look at this post: How to fix an anterior pelvic tilt as this may help you address the factors leading to this issue.]

Note: Depending on your level of comfort, you may require to try different heights of pillow under your knees until you find the most supporting and comfortable position.

b) Support your arms

arm support sleep

Place a pillow by your side to help offload the weight of your arms. This is particularly helpful if you have rounded shoulders which tend stick forward even when you lie down. We need to support your bad posture for now, but also challenge it along the way.

If you have reasonably good posture, you may not require to support your arms.

If you sleep with your arms behind your head (which is not a problem), make sure you do not have any shoulder issues which may be impacted by this outer range position.

c) Use Gokhale’s method of stretch lying

When you sit for long periods of time, there is a large amount of compression going along your spine. I am a huge supporter of the Gokhale’s Method of stretch lying to de-compress the spine whilst down. Think about elongating your spine as you lie down!

Instructions:

  • Lie down on the back.
  • Bend both knees and place feet hip width apart on bed.
  • Prop the upper body onto your elbows.
  • Slowly peel onto the bed one vertebra at a time.
  • Place hands behind the head and slowly elongate the back of the neck.
  • Set shoulder blades down towards the feet.
  • Straighten out and relax the legs to the side.

… Still uncomfortable sleeping on your back? Try sleeping on an incline.

If for whatever reason you can’t lie on your back (breathing difficulties, snoring, back pain etc), you can try sleeping with a bit of a slight incline at the hip. (I tend to adopt this position when I have a flu and can’t lie on my back without my nose blocking up.)

If your bed does not allow you to adjust the bend, then you may need to stack a bunch of pillows until the desired angle is reached.

 

 

The next best option: Sleeping on your side

People with bad posture will generally prefer to sleep on their side.

If you think about it, the position resembles the posture you may have whilst sitting (… I call it horizontal slouching).

If you are used to sleeping on your side, there is no need fret. There is a correct way of doing it.

The main thing to consider is keeping the spine alignment in a straight and neutral position. (see below)

side sleep

Pros: Reduces snoring, more comfortable for people with bad posture, good for pregnancy

Cons: Increases stress on one side, high risk of misalignment (especially if you have big shoulders or hips), alignment is largely dependent on support from mattress

 

The correct way to sleep on your side:

Video from Vice Chiropractic.

Points to consider:

a) Place a pillow between your legs to prevent the upper leg from rotating your body.

b) Support your upper arm with a pillow to off load the stress on the shoulder.

c) Adequate support from your mattress is imperative in maintaining a neutral spine. Click here to determine if a mattress is suitable for you.

d) Do not assume the foetal position to the extent where you are curled up into a ball. This will compress your body and promote bad posture.

e) Remain lengthened and elongated throughout the spine. Imagine someone is pulling your head to make you taller.

Note: If you suffer from any shoulder issues, do NOT sleep on the painful side! Either sleep on the other side or on your back.

 

Don’t do this: Sleeping on your stomach

xsleep

Do NOT sleep like this!… Unless you want some sort of neck injury. In this position, your neck is rotated all the way to one side which places a large amount of pressure through the neck structures. (If you suffer from neck pain, check out this post: Neck exercises – The solution for neck pain.)

It will also encourage the rounding your thoracic region (aka slouching) and promote sway back posture.

The only time this position will be safe for you is if your bed has a face hole for you to keep your neck straight. (like the ones in massage parlours)

// How many pillows should I use to support my head?

What is the magical number of pillows? 1, 2, 3 or even 4?

The trick is using the pillow as a means of supporting and promoting neutral alignment of your spine. It really depends on your posture and sleeping position.

 

// Ideal pillow placement to maximise head support

a) If you are on your back:

neck position 2

Place the pillow in the small of the neck. There should be complete contact of your neck. There should be no pillow on the back of your shoulders.

Make sure that the back of your head is in contact with the pillow, and not that top.

If you have a poked neck, you may require a slightly thicker pillow to support your head. Since your head sticks forward, you will need to accommodate this posture whilst you work on your forward head posture.

 

b) If you are on  your side:

neck position

Place the pillow in the small of the neck. There should be complete contact of your neck. There should be no pillow on the back of your shoulders.

 

// When to change your pillow

How old is your pillow? Have you even changed it before? Do you need one new one?

Do the pillow scrunch test: Scrunch up your pillow. Let go. Does it spring back to the original shape immediately? If it doesn’t, consider purchasing a new one.

 

// “But… I move around in my sleep!”

So do I. And that is perfectly normal.

My advice that I would give to you is to start in a good position, support this position with the use of pillows, and hope that you wake up in the same spot.

It is not the end of the world if you move into a “not so good” position, but it is always important starting in the ideal position to set yourself for success (… even when you’re fast asleep).

 

// Exercises to help you relax before you sleep

You may have developed tense muscles throughout the day. Or you may just happen to a tense kind of person.

To help relax the muscles before you sleep, it is ideal to perform some exercises before you lie down.

Duration: 5 minutes

// How to determine if a mattress is suitable for you

matresss

Are you looking for a mattress? Not sure how to test if a mattress is good for you?

The general rule of thumb when buying a new mattress is to aim for as firm as you can comfortably tolerate.

How do I test the amount of firmness? … Do the 2 minute test!

Here is how to do it:

  1. Pick a mattress you are wanting to test.
  2. Lie down on your back.
  3. Maintain this position without moving for 2 minutes.
  4. If you feel you need to fidget or change positions before the 2 minutes is over, the bed is not suitable for you.

TIP: Mattress too expensive? And your current one is too soft? Put a ply wood underneath to give it more support.Not ideal, but I guess it’ll have to do if you have no other choice.

// Other tips:

– You are going to move around: Chances are that you will not be able to stay in the same position throughout the night. That’s fine. You will actually find the more comfortable you are, the less you’ll move around. As your body becomes used to your new sleeping position, it becomes easier to remain in position.

– Get up slowly: When you wake up, make sure that you take your time rising from your bed. If you move too quickly, especially if the body has been in one position for a long period of time, can cause you an injury.

– Someone else in the bed? If you have someone else sleeping next to you, it may be a common practice to snuggle next to them. No problem with showing some love… But, exercise caution when you are about to sleep. If you are entangled with your partner/sleep buddy, this may compromise the ideal sleeping posture.

  • My recommendation:  After you have finished your hugs, separate, and assume your sleeping position. You might need to explain to your partner why you are doing this, otherwise they may think you are brushing them off!

– It takes time. You have been sleeping a certain way for many years now. It is going to take some time to wean into your new ideal sleeping posture.


Now that you have a better idea of the correct sleeping posture, have a look at my morning routine to find out what I do every morning after I wake up to prime my postural muscles.

Please feel free to leave me a comment down below.

I’d love to hear from you!

About

I am a physiotherapist who has personally experienced the pain as a result of bad posture. I would like to offer you some of the solutions that I and my patients have greatly benefited from.

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5 thoughts on “Best sleeping position

  1. Well, I guess I have poor posture. I can’t lie comfortably on the ground without a pillow. Honestly, I am not normally comfortable on the ground at all. I much prefer my bed. Thanks for your tip about how to choose a good mattress by the way. I have to admit that I don’t often lie down for more than thirty seconds when choosing. I’ll have to be more careful next time.

    1. Hi James,

      Thanks for visiting! Most of us have a less than ideal posture… but hey, there’s a multitude of things we can do to try to improve on it. Hope the tips help.

      Mark

  2. Thanks for your pillow tips. I do struggle with some stiffness in my neck in the mornings and I think it is because my pillows are too high. It is a bad habit of mine, but I have a hard time sleeping when my pillows are not high enough. In any case, my pillows do not pass the scrunch test and it is probably time to get new ones. I will just have to make sure these ones support my neck properly.

  3. Hello Mark,
    Thank you so much for all the great advice on your site. I have a question about mattresses. Would you recommend a Tempur mattress (or good quality memory foam one)?
    Many thanks!
    Maggie

    1. Hi Maggie,

      Tempur do have great mattresses..

      But you need to find one that caters for a) your posture, b) sleeping position of choice and c) any aches/pains in your body.

      The general rule – sleep on a mattress that is as firm as you can comfortably lie on.

      I personally sleep on a Sealy Posturepaedic Mattress.

      Mark

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