How sleep positions can affect your health

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woman-sleepingExperts say there is no one right way to sleep, but for those people with certain types of pain and medical conditions, there are different sleep positions that can help keep problems from getting worse and may even alleviate them

Physical therapist Dawn Cox dropped by the Fox43 morning show to discuss how the you sleep can affect your health.

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The three GENERAL principles of support for sleeping include:

  • Place joints in a loose-packed, neutral position. This is the best way for joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments to fully relax while sleeping. This mid-range position also allows ample blood flow to the area which is important in the promotion of healing. For example, one would want to avoid sleeping with one arm under the pillow. This places that shoulder at full end-range position into flexion and puts significant compression into the shoulder joint structures, neck and neurovascular tissues (nerves and blood vessels).
  • Support the body from proximal to distal. This means that one must begin supporting the structures closest to the center of the body (i.e. the waist)  and then move out towards the ends of the body (i.e. hands and feet). Or, for example, when supporting the head, the supports must first be considered and applied at the shoulders and neck and then finish with the head.
  • Create supports throughout the body part, not pivot points. For instance, many people believe that placing a pillow under their knees is a good support for their legs.  This actually creates tightness behind the knee and perhaps stress to the hip flexors muscles at the front of the hips. It is better to place the pillow from the sit bones down to the ankles.

With regard to specific sleeping positions.  These positions may seem like common sense, but are often better understood and acheived when trained by a licensed physical therapist with the knowledge of these techniques.  Some of Prana’s physical therapists teach these concepts nationally as part of a continuing education class for physical therapists*.

For those that prefer sleeping on the side, it is important to remember:

  • Place a pillow between legs from knees to ankles (keeping the upper hip in neutral so that no twisting occurs throughout the night)
  • Keep knees bent and hips in a relaxed, loose-packed, neutral position (i.e. not too much towards the chest, but not perfectly straight)
  • Support head and neck so that spine is not side bent and from the top of the head to the tailbone is one straight line
  • In order to maintain this “line,” place a small folded towel just above the waist line to support the spine between the pelvis and rib cage
  • Use a third pillow to rest underneath your upper arm to prevent your upper body from rotating forward and keeping the should blade in line with the body and not tilted forward

For those who prefer the back-lying position:

  • Support the entire weight of the legs and thighs by wedging a pillow just under “sit bones” and the buttocks.  Over-lay another pillow lower towards the knees to support the lower legs.  Ideally, the pillows should support the “sit bones” to the ankles.
  •  Be sure to place head and neck on pillow in a neutral position so that head and/or neck is not in a flexed or extended position and the weight of the head is off the neck.

There is no good way to support those who sleep on their stomachs without risk of repetitive stress injury to the spine.  Therefore, we do not recommend stomach sleeping.   At Prana, we offer ways to train the body to avoid stomach-sleeping.

Remember, these are guidelines.  It is sometimes difficult to self-assess your own sleeping position. As aforementioned, if you are having a difficult time finding a proper, comfortable sleeping position it may require training by a qualified physical therapist. Specific instructions on applying these techniques may significantly help you and a loved one discover a position that maximizes your sleep to result in healing, wellness and a feeling of rejuvenation.

*Most sleeping position concepts developed by Gregg and Vicky Saliba Johnson of the Institute of Physical Art, a premier continuing education organization for physical therapists.