Trouble sleeping is no joke. The next morning is like having a hangover, without getting to have any of the fun that contributed to it. If you have one bad night, a quick nap at work can make up for it (and you should totally take one). But if you’re doing everything right and still constantly waking up exhausted, or you’re starting to notice back and neck pain, the way that you sleep could be the problem.
As it turns out, there’s such a thing as a “correct” sleep posture. We talked to Dr. Jason Loth, a sports chiropractic physician, and he told us that sleeping flat on your back is the best thing you can do for your spine (in bed). “Optimally, you want your head to fall back to the bed with good support under your neck to help support the normal curvature your neck has,” he explains. The next best position is on your side, but Dr. Loth says you’ll need more support from the pillow to keep your spine in alignment, since there’s more space between your head and neck and the surface of the bed.
As for stomach sleepers, bad news: Dr. Loth says you’re basically guaranteed to develop problems because of the stress it puts on your neck from having to turn your head to one side and the extension stress on your lower back. “This is one of the reasons I became a chiropractor,” he says. “I was sleeping on my stomach, on a water bed, and wondering why my back and neck always hurt. Now I know. Habits are hard to break, but this is one you need to stop.” Luckily, if you find you just can’t quit your stomach-side snooze time, he has some tips:
1. Wear a shirt to bed that has a pocket on the front, put a tennis ball in the pocket and sew it shut. When you roll over to your stomach, the uncomfortable ball will wake you up.
2. Get a body pillow. Sleep on your side with the body pillow between your legs and your arms wrapped around it, so that you still get the effect of having something against your stomach. It can also block you from rolling over to your stomach in your sleep.
3. Find the right head pillow. Your regular pillow also really matters in ensuring you maintain proper sleep posture through the night. But it’s not easy to find a good one. “I personally tried just about every different type of pillow, including several different cervical contour pillows, and I couldn’t find anything that worked for me, let alone that I could recommend,” says Dr. Loth. He says most pillows are too over-filled, which pushes your head and neck up even more when you sleep on your side, and strains your neck and shoulders if you sleep on your back.
If you’re a side sleeper, try to find a pillow comprised of one-piece foams. If you sleep on your back, you need a pillow that allows your head to fall back to the bed while supporting your neck, but Dr. Loth cautions that many don’t really do that optimally and aren’t super comfortable. If you tend to alternate between both, he recommends the SpineAlign Pillow, which is an adjustable and customizable cervical contour model that basically conforms to your body. And you should replace your pillow every two years, because no matter how good it is, the support will wear out.
Are you a back, side or stomach sleeper? Let us know by tweeting @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty)