Every day in practice, one of the questions we ask our patients is 'how do you sleep?' - We are interested in several things here. How long, how well, and in what position?!
A bad night's sleep leaves us feeling rotten the next day, but the WHO (world health organisation) published a paper last year which also told us that it was a risk factor for heart health, including therefore our risk of stroke and heart attack. It has also been linked to type II diabetes, a weakened immune system and mental health issues.
When we are injured in some way, we need more sleep because tissue healing occurs during our night hours and the position in which we sleep can also play a role in both injury prevention and management.
So what is the best position for sleep? It is important that the curves in our back are supported and that our postural muscles which we use day to day are allowed to rest and recover from our previous day's activity. I always recommend a good pocket sprung orthopaedic mattress which gives different levels of support to your body, depending upon the weight and pressure upon it in different areas. Couple this with a layer of memory foam for pressure relief throughout and add a supportive foam pillow which 'cradles' your neck at night and allows complete rest and healing through the night.
And what should I avoid? Out and out, I would always advise sleeping on your front. It does truly horrible things to your spine and will only exaccerbate any minor niggle you might be suffering in either area. The reason for this sleeping on your front crams the little facet joints in your spine closer together and can create irritation and inflammation within them.
Sleeping on your back with an orthopaedic pillow is ok for your neck, but not great for your airway and so it may exaccerbate snoring and should be avoided by those with apnoea. Lower backs also suffer in this position as again the lumbar spine facets are unsupported and thrown into further extension which can lead to irritation. If you must sleep on your back, use a pillow under your knees to raise your pelvis and therefore your lumbar spine into a more neutral position.
The best position is without question on your side, with a supportive orthopaedic pillow. Using a pillow this time between your knees can be a revelation to those with chronic lower back pain as it maintains a far more neutral position of the lumbar spine and hips, and prevents rotational torsion again allowing tissues to relax and heal from the day's stresses and strains.
The last important point to note is that it is ok to move and change position. Any one position for six or eight hours whether it be sitting, standing or laying down is not good for anyone. You will naturally stir and move subconciously as you sleep. This is your body's own protective mechanism for reducing pain.
If you wake in the morning with aches and pains and reduced mobility that disperses as you get yourself moving, this is what we would term a 'classic inflammatory pattern' and could mean that either your mattress, pillows or how you sleep are aggravating a chronic postural problem.
As ever, if you are unsure of the cause of your pain, see a member of our team who will consult, diagnose and create a program of treatment and management to help you.