The Three Most Important Questions for a Good Night’s Sleep
What’s the Best Sleeping Position?
Finding the best sleeping position is more straight forwards than the best pillow or best mattress. However, there are more variables in the mix that you need to work through to find the best sleeping position for you. The best sleeping position?
This certainly ain't it! First, let me address the worst sleeping position, which is on your stomach with your head turned sideways. Assuming that you have never suffered a head or neck injury that has caused your spine to misalign and assuming that you have not to curve abnormalities, degeneration of anything else of the sort only then is it okay to sleep on your stomach.
For the other 99.9% of the population who have had these types of injuries in varying degrees, it is not advised. The reason is that when you turn your head to the side and keep it there for hours on end, it can produce a pulling force on your spinal cord, muscles, and ligaments that ultimately is going to cause you serious pain.
So that leaves us with sleeping on your side and your back. With the exception of those people with sleep apnoea or reflux, the preferred position is one your back (with minimal support beneath your head, and with a firm of a mattress as you can handle comfortably).
Here we come back to the idea of forwarding head carriage that we discussed when looking for the perfect pillow. Sleeping on your back is ideal, but only with your pillow is relatively thin. If your pillow is too thick, it will push your head forward all night.
Ironically, this can lead to sleep apnoea or similar issues. However, the most common problem is that the forward pressure brings your muscles and ligaments to full tension. Then, when you start to stir in the mornings, all it takes is one weird little movement for your ligaments to go “ping” … and then suddenly you find that you can’t move your neck because your muscles are grabbing sharp and hard!
Even if you haven’t suffered this type of pain before, you’ve likely experienced some type of discomfort when waking as the result of getting your head in a weird position when you were sleeping. One of the first and easiest ways to prevents this is by lying on your back, but making sure that you have a relatively thin pillow under your head.
The Forward Head Posture Also Happens to Side Sleepers!!
However, there is more to the story. It also matters to side-sleepers! Assuming that you were standing or sitting upright, normal posture is when your ear sits in the same vertical plane as the tip of your shoulder and your hips. Alas, for so many people - even teenagers these days - their heads are sticking way too far forwards.
For every 2.5cm that your head sticks forwards, it effectively doubles the amount of strain on the muscles on the back of your neck. Not only are their pillows way too thick (!), but see how both of their ears stick too far forwards from the tips of their shoulders.
That's what I mean about "forward head posture" when you sleep and how it can strain your neck. So here’s what can happen when you sleep on your side. Your body may be straight in bed, but if you cuddle your pillow, you may actually be jutting your head forwards!
You probably don’t even realize that you’re doing this because you can’t feel the full effect because you’re lying down. Unfortunately - for the exact same reason that sleeping on your back with too thick of pillows brings your neck muscles and ligaments to full tension - keeping your head in this position all night can cause things to go “ping” in the morning, creating great pain and distress.
Even until just a couple of months ago I didn’t realize that I was doing the exact same thing. The solution is relatively simple but will feel odd the first time you do it. It is to pull your chin back so that when you are lying on your pillow your ear is properly aligned with the tip of your shoulder and also with your hips.
I discussed previously why the Killapilla is my choice when it comes to pillow designs. Even though the hollow in the middle is designed for people to sleep on their back, I found that by shifting my head back into the groove that it essentially held my head in place all night.
Yes, it did feel a little strange the first time I did it - especially considering that I was lying on my side with my head tilting just slightly to the side. However, I have to admit that it felt remarkably natural to come morning. In fact, I could tell quite quickly that there was less strain through my shoulders simply by lying in that position.
A Few More Notes on the Best Sleeping Position
Just a few additional comments about the best sleeping position. If you are a stomach sleeper, I realize that it is one of the hardest habits I could ever advise you to change. Why? Because you’re asleep! I fully expect that you will wake on your stomach at times … but it's about what you do when you find yourself in that position that matters.
Move into a better position! If you have ever taken a first aid course, you’ve learned the “recovery position” which is only 3/4 on your stomach. I have no issues with this position and find it is the easiest modification that stomach sleepers can make to break the habit. Shoulder and head position also make a big difference with people ... but are way harder to predict.
One important observation I have made over the years is that the way that you roll your shoulder or head can cause cramping, twitching, or numbness in your arms or legs. If you notice this is true, make an effort to turn your shoulders/head in a different direction for a few weeks to see if there is any difference.
This twitching may also be an indication that your spine is misaligned and is creating tension that is affecting your muscles. This is definitely an individual trial-and-error process, but one that can have very positive health effects if you are able to identify patterns.
So there you have it! The long answers to three simple questions:
- What is the Best Pillow for You? … There isn’t one, but the Killapilla is my choice.
- What is the Best Mattress for You? … There isn’t one, but firmer is better.
- What is the Best Sleeping Position? … Back is best, but it's your posture that matters most.
Indeed, there are so many more variables that affect your sleep, but I do hope that these principles will guide you to make the best choices so that you can experience the highest quality of sleep for years to come. Sweet dreams!