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Can The Way You Sleep Cause Pain?

April 27, 2010 by  

Can The Way You Sleep Cause Pain?

How To Position Your Body During Sleep for Less Pain

We all know why sleep is good for you. It relaxes the body, calms the nervous system, regulates breathing and induces the relaxation response. It allows the body some down time to repair itself.

The power of restorative rest and sleep is strong and wide reaching. In fact, symptoms of diseases like fibromyalgia, migraine headaches, chronic fatigue and the flu are decreased while we sleep. But did you know that improper sleep can be a cause of pain and suffering? Poor sleeping posture is the reason for this.

While there are many ways to sleep and many products that allow us to sleep in those ways, there are actually only two healthy positions for engaging in sound slumber. Before we look at those let’s review some of the more common sleeping positions and why they are harmful to the body.

Stomach Sleeping
Stomach sleepers, well… sleep on their stomachs. Usually they have one or both arms extended over their heads, their face turned either to the left or right side, and one leg is generally bent.

There are so many problems with this posture. First, sleeping with the arms extended over the head raises the shoulders into the neck, causing cramping, poor circulation and pain. It also skews the trapezius muscles and skeletal system, compressing the thoracic outlet where the brachial plexus of nerves from the neck travel down the arms to the hands.

Secondly, when the arms are raised the nerves are irritated and nerve function is either inhibited or excited. It’s a neurological and vascular response that affects the brachial plexus of nerves that travels from the neck and down the arms. The effect is tingling and/or numbness in the arms or hands. Ever make up with pins and needles in the hands or a “dead” arm? This may be why.

Third, sleeping with the neck turned to one side creates unbalanced muscles, wherein one side is hypertonic (contracted) and the other is hypotonic (extended). This leads to neck strain, cramping, pain and often headaches.

Fourth, the bent leg stretches one leg and hip all night, while the other remains prone. Again, we have imbalance that can lead to hip pain and leg pain.

And last, but certainly not least, stomach sleeping offers too little support for the abdomen, allowing the stomach to fall forward and the lumbar region of the back to sag. This can make your gut seem bigger than it is, simply because of poor sleeping posture. It also created spinal compression and lower back pain.

Comfortable or not; this position has got to go.

Back Sleeping
Back sleepers are onto something. The back is one of the two best ways to sleep because it can offer solid support for your entire musculoskeletal system.

Problems arise for back sleepers, however, when they do not place pillows under their knees. If you are lying on your back and your legs are straight, there is insufficient support for the lower back allowing it to arch too high.

If you sleep on your back with one leg bent, you probably experience the same hip, lower back and/or knee strain and pain as do the stomach sleepers who sleep in this way.

You should always place two pillows under your knees for support and one pillow under your head. Keep in mind, too, that pillows are for sleeping support, and not just for comfort. Your head should be placed squarely on your pillow, and the pillow should be pulled down enough so that it touches your shoulders. If your pillow is not touching your shoulders you run the risk of not supporting the cervical vertebrae and neck muscles and pain can result from spasm or nerve impingement.

Side Sleeping
Side sleeping gets my vote for best sleeping position… if done correctly. To begin, side posture should mimic the fetal position. That is, both knees bent and with hands held close to the body. This is a normal and inherent sleeping posture.

Errors in side sleeping occur when one leg overlaps the other. This causes an imbalance in the hips that can lead to tightness and pain in the hip flexors, IT band, low back and knees.

Another common error is sleeping with hands under or over the head and scrunching the pillow so your head is elevated. Symptoms from this can include neck and shoulder pain, stiffness, headaches, tingly or numbness in the arms or hands.

Side sleeping is the best because it allows the body to maintain a proper and corrective posture for several hours. What you should do is place a pillow between your knees to create proper distance between them, thus keeping the hips in proper balance. The legs must be parallel, so the hips remain square and there is no strain on the low back. A pillow should be placed under the head and pulled to the shoulder for optimal neck support. The hands should be parallel and below the eyes.

Who knew there was so much to sleeping posture? I’ll bet if you give these corrections a try then after a while your daily neck strain, shoulder pain, headaches, hip and low back pain and arm tingling may just start to correct itself.

Sweet dreams!

— Dr. Mark Wiley

Jeffrey R. Matthews

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  • http://donthaveone Beberoni

    Im glad Im not a lawyer. I dont know how most of them sleep at night.

    • DeJay

      Monied people don’t have a conscience so they probably sleep well. They could care less about what you think.

  • patricia

    it might be too late for me (since i am set in my ways) but i am forwarding this to all the young people in my life so that they learn early the proper ways

    thank you
    patricia

  • coal miner

    Sleep,

    what goes on during the day,can determine how you sleep.

  • Richard Pawley

    A few things come to mind if you want a sound sleep. Drink nothing with caffeine in it (coffee, tea, or cola) for at least three hours before you go to sleep, and sleep in as dark a room as possible. Lights can affect the production of melatonin and that can affect your sleep. Avoiding action movies or even the late news before you go to bed can help. No need to stimulate your brain when you are preparing to rest. I find that prayer for whomever seems to have a calming effect as well. Some people watch horror movie and then wonder why they have nightmares. Being greatly overweight can affect one’s sleep. It is also helpful to sleep at the same time as much as possible. If not you upset your circadian rhythm or sleep pattern and that decreases the quality of your sleep. It takes a full week for your body to adjust to a new time zone so do all you can to avoid a job where you switch hours every week, such as 1st Shift the first week, 2nd Shift the 2nd week and then the night shift the third week. People who have those hours have the highest rate of cancer and heart disease because of the great stress that regimen put on the body. When the first memory foam pads or covers came out (covers the whole bed and cheaper than a whole mattress, I purchased one for myself and my wife and one for my mom. I have found they are a definite plus if at least two inches thick although my next one will be three inches thick.

  • TIME

    If you walk 3-5 miles per day, don’t eat at least four hours prior to sleeping.
    Strech when you wake up and don’t over eat. Stop drinking soda all together, no coffee at night.
    It could also be your bed.

    Good artical.. Thanks.

  • Bob Wire

    Exactly ~! “Coal Miner” ~ what you do or don’t do during your waking hours has more to do with sleep then beds or fancy pillow.

    During my military service and the muddy berms and rice fields of the Mekong, you give a good soldier 10 minutes and he will sleep 8 of them. You get bone tied, you will sleep. It’s that simple. You can sleep standing on your head if you have to.

    At 61 my old body is talking to me from un-assing aircraft that had yet to land with arms loaded too many times as a young stupid boy. Old man bursitis is settling into my hips, lower back , knees and hands. There is no comfortable bed for me. Just know you are not alone and Deal with it, it gets worse. ~ It makes death something to look forward too. Plus I won’t have to listen to all this whiny right-wing crap anymore from pansies, limp wrist and over-feed people.

    • American Citizen

      I find it’s the left wingers who do the whiny, bleeding heart, do-gooder crap that penalizes all of us.

    • Mike In MI

      American Citizen – Got that one pegged right.

      He talks as if he’s someone who welcomes the “fundamental transformation of America”. Talk about a pain in the hip region. Maybe HIS chickens are “coming home to roost”. I could tell him how to get rid of his acheyness. (I’m older than him and seldom have an ache or pain that can’t be over come when they come upon me.) But, there’s one thing experience leads me to comprehend about people like him. When told what they can do to get rid of simple, common stuff like he’s got their basic philosophy of life takes over. They want immediate, total relief of difficulty and some outside agency should be expected to deliver it. They want to have nothing to do to or with dis

    • Mike In MI

      American Citizen – Got that one pegged right.

      He talks as if he’s someone who welcomes the “fundamental transformation of America”. Talk about a pain in the hip region. Maybe HIS chickens are “coming home to roost”. I could tell him how to get rid of his acheyness. (I’m older than him and seldom have an ache or pain that can’t be overcome quickly when I get one.)
      But, there’s one thing experience leads me to comprehend about people like him. When told what they can do to get rid of simple, common stuff like he’s got their basic philosophy of life takes over. They want immediate, total relief of difficulty and some outside agency should be expected to deliver it. They want to have nothing to do in or with disspelling the problem:…”Gimme something to take the pain away, quick” (but they leave the CAUSE of the problem untouched). They fill their own lives with poison. Then, they blame God or some vague entity with visiting such pain or trouble on them.
      He wants us to pity him when he says, “It makes death something to look forward to.” He should do us all a favor.

    • Fed Up Gal in NM

      Bob Wire,

      Hmmmmmmmmm…interesting comment; although you failed to mention the potential “dual” benefit to your death analogy….we would not have to listen to your self-inflicted liberal loose lips. Ahhhhhhhhhhh……now that’s a stress reliever; I should sleep well tonight :-).

    • coal miner
  • http://www.balticbeast.com/ Tony

    If you walk 3-5 miles per day, don’t eat at least four hours prior to sleeping.
    Strech when you wake up and don’t over eat. Stop drinking soda all together, no coffee at night.
    It could also be your bed.

    Good artical.. Thanks.

  • http://none WearyBones

    Two months ago, my Pulmonary Doctor ordered a Sleep Study on me. I do not think I slept a half-hour all night. I have not heard a word from him and don’t see him again until May 19. At my age, I have learned what to do if I have one of those sleepless nights occasionally. The following night, 1/2 of a 1 mg sleeping pill gives me a great night’s sleep and I’m fine then for awhile. My PCD gives me a Rx for 90 at a time. They last me a little over a year. I only use them when I really need to and never abuse them. I have GERD so doctor ordered me to sleep with head of bed raised 6 inches. That helps. Learn what works and then don’t be afraid to use it when necessary. I also have other health issues so have to careful. You learn quickly.

    • Mike In MI

      Weary Bones,
      If you have been on any sort of NSAID for a long time and especially if you have taken higher than prescribed or normal amounts for your “weary bones” that could be the cause of your lung and sleep problems.

      Get a liver function test done to see if the liver is working. If it isn’t you need to find someone and a source for (information) self-help to slowly clean out your system.

      • Fed Up Gal in NM

        Mike In MI,

        Hey Mike – Just thought I’d take a moment before hitting the sack, to let you know my friend and I started walking at lunch (as I explained in a previous article post). It’s a small start, but a good one…I think (and I think he might actually enjoy it too). Anyway….I just wanted to update you, as you (and many others) were so supportive in your posts! Have a great evening.

        Fed Up Gal

        • Fed Up Gal in NM

          Mike in MI,

          One more thing (that actually relates to “this” article): A few months back when I was having a month-long migraine…I purchased a memory foam pillow and a bottle of Schiff [brand] melatonin. I just figured the melatonin might help me sleep, since I don’t sleep much when in the throws of a migraine.

          Long story short – I have not had a migraine since then (approx 2 – 3 months ago, I think). It’s possible, it was simply a fluke….but I’ll continue with the pillow ($29/pair) and the Schiff Sure Release Melatonin (with Theanine) at least 3-4 times a week as a back-up.

          I’m most comfortable sleeping on my side; however…even if I wanted to switch….I probably wouldn’t wake up in that same position….LoL. Not sure how others do that.

  • Dianne

    I read this article when it first came out and decided to try the side sleeping as recommended. I thought my sleeping posture was good, it needs to be as I have many neck and back issues. My bed is piled with pillows that get repositioned all night long.
    Giving the new sleeping posture a couple of weeks now, I notice my back is not so stiff in the am, and my neck is giving me less grief. I am still adjusting, but I am overall feeling more rested in the am.

  • Terrence Snyder

    My most comfortable position is just as described…but with a pillow for the upper arm to rest upon…so that the arm is even with the shoulder…then the lower arm is under the pillow top… The most comfortable sleeping ever…..

  • http://heniacoreck.tumblr.com/ Lorna Dipaolo

    Pretty great post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and wished to mention that I’ve really enjoyed surfing around your weblog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I’m hoping you write again very soon!

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