How to Sleep on Your Side
You may be wondering why your chiropractor or massage therapist is often interested in finding out what position you sleep in (whether that be on your back, side or stomach). Since we spend about ⅓ of our day asleep, the position your spine holds during this critical period of the day is very relevant to your spinal health. This information can explain why you repeatedly experience discomfort in certain areas.
Of the three positions, side and back sleeping are the preferred options. Back sleeping, however, is not recommended for those with sleep apnea, or are in later stages of pregnancy. Stomach sleeping puts the most stress on your spine: you neck rotates to one side, hips settle into the mattress leading to hyperextension in the low back. With time, this alters the natural curves of your spine and can lead to pain. Stomach sleeping is often a hard habit to break!
You can train yourself to sleep on your side as a way to transition out of stomach sleeping. When done properly, side sleeping keeps the pressure off of your discs, joints, and nerves and keeps your spine in neutral alignment. Here are 4 tips to apply to correctly sleep on your side:
Place a pillow or blanket between your knees.
This will help keep your low back and pelvis in alignment preventing your hip from rotating forward causing muscle tightness in your lower back.
Position your shoulder directly underneath you.
To avoid waking up with pain in the upper back from having your shoulder too far forward or behind you, check to ensure that your shoulder is in a natural position. This will also prevent your arm from falling asleep. Avoid the temptation to curl up into a “fetal position”!
Use a pillow that is appropriate for side sleepers.
You want to get a pillow that your head can rest on comfortably, without your head bending towards or away from your top shoulder. One way you can tell if a pillow is right for you is to test it out in the store by taking it to the wall and see if it fills up the space between your shoulder and the wall. If it keeps your head in a neutral position, it will likely support your head properly when you’re sleeping and will help avoid waking with a headache at the base of your skull. Often, side sleepers need a thicker, firmer pillow than back or stomach sleepers would use. To learn more about selecting the right pillow, read our blog post on the subject.
Make stomach sleeping uncomfortable
If you find that you fall asleep on your side but always wake up on your stomach, try placing a tennis ball in your pant pocket so that when you rotate, it feels uncomfortable and you roll back onto your side. Some people even choose to sew tennis balls to their pajama shirt!
If despite these tips, you’re feeling an uncomfortable pressure in the hips and shoulders, this may mean that the mattress you have is too firm for side sleeping. Wondering whether it’s time to replace your mattress? We wrote a blog post on that!
Talk to your chiropractor or massage therapist if you have trouble sleeping due to back and/or joint pain. Many patients find that chiropractic care and massage therapy help promote relaxation in achy muscles and joints that disrupt their sleep.