Trouble sleeping? Join the club. Being over-caffeinated, over-stressed, and sleeping with your iPhone next to your pillow doesn’t tend to be a recipe for restful slumber. What you might not know is that your sleep posture may be having an even greater effect when it comes to impeding restful snoozing. Here’s everything you need to know to combat those frustrating sleep issues.
1. Proper sleep positions
Turns out not all sleep positions are created equal. “The neutral and ideal position is on your back,” says Christopher John Anselmi, DC, a chiropractor at Hospital for Special Surgery’s Integrative Care Center. “It places your spine in the best possible position from an ergonomic perspective. It opens the airway for breathing and allows your disc material to re-hydrate effectively.” Anselmi adds that in the event you have a neck or low back issue, increased support can be attained with a rolled up towel under the curvature of either your neck or low back.
Conversely, the position that offers the least support is on your stomach. “This position forces your lumbar spine into an extended arched position and also places the neck in an awkward torqued position,” explains Anselmi. “With a leg up or flexed also puts rotational forces into your low back.” He suggests putting a pillow in between your knees to allow the lumbo-pelvic spine to be neutral. “Sometimes a rolled up towel at the narrowest section of your waist can redistribute the load evenly throughout the shoulders hips and spine.”
Side sleeper? Anselmi says you can lie on your side as long as you’re in the neutral position with slight flexion in the legs and your neck is supported with a proper pillow.
2. Pick your mattress wisely
If you’re waking up tight and stiff every morning, your mattress may be the culprit. Dr. Sinett recommends changing your mattress every eight years as well as rotating and reversing it every six months to even out the wear. “Using a combination of a medium-firm mattress and a correct pillow can make a big difference in maintaining all of the curves of the spine — the neck, the mid-back and the lower back. Medium-firm mattresses give support but also conform to the body, which is less stressful to the spine.”
3. How many pillows and what kind?
“Sleep with one pillow,” says chiropractor and author Dr. Todd Sinett. “When sleeping you want your head to be lower than your neck so that the head and neck can completely relax. Using multiple pillows lifts your neck to a stressful angle, preventing the area from relaxing. Some posture-pedic pillows have dips in the center to allow the neck to be held up in high support. The only problem with these pillows is that as you move around in the night, your neck and head don’t always wind up in the correct position, rendering these pillows ineffective.” Sinett adds that when possible opt for a water pillow as it’s dynamic, so no matter how you move, the supportive aspects of the pillow adjust right with you.
4. Watch your diet
“A frequent cause of tension is teeth clenching, which can trigger muscle tightness in the neck, shoulders and the lower back and cause tension headaches,” explains Dr. Sinett. “Avoid gum chewing, which causes more teeth clenching.” He also suggests not eating late and reducing your caffeine content. “You’ll also want to pay attention to your sleep patterns and quality of sleep based on what you may be eating as you may notice that you are sensitive to certain types of foods such as spices or salt.”
Anselmi adds that pro-inflammatory foods (white sugars, white flour, candy, cakes) increase inflammation in your body. Even certain vegetables like the nightshades (tomato, eggplant, etc.) can have this effect. “These foods are not good choices before bed as they will feed the fire of inflammation and possibly magnify your troubles sleeping.”