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Posted on 05-11-2015

What Position is the Best for Sleeping?

As a Baltimore Chiropractor that spends much of my time treating patients with neck and back pain, I commonly get asked questions regarding sleeping posture. Patients want to know which positions they should be sleeping in for optimal spinal health. This makes sense since we spend nearly one-third of our lives in bed.

Best Position: On Your Back

Research seems to suggest that the best position for your spine is sleeping on your back. This preserves the curves of the neck, mid back, and lower back and does not put extra pressure on your spine. For patients that have acute lower back pain that can not lay on their back comfortably, it has been suggested that using one pillow below the knees can help to lessen back tension, allowing for a smoother transition to sleep. Additionally, only one small pillow should be used to not elevate or stress the neck while in this position. While this is the "ideal" sleeping position, it is not the only one.

Second Best Position: Starfish

This position is similar to the first position, with the addition of your arms being placed above your head. This position can cause snoring so if your sleeping partner notices that you snore in this position, take note and be prepared to transition to the best position, on your back.

Third Best Position: Laying On Your Side

Sleeping on the side is considered to be beneficial as it helps to open up the spine during sleep, by elongating the spine. This position helps to open up the spine and to reduce the probability of snoring. Pregnant women are especially encouraged to sleep on their sides (left side, specifically) to optimize uterine blood flow.  There is a difference in health effects depending on which side you lay on. Research has shown that asymmetrical sleeping can lead to facial wrinkles or sagging breast tissues. So, if you choose to sleep on your side, make sure to alternate each side whenever possible.

The Worst Position: Stomach Sleeping

Sleeping on your stomach is considered to be the worst of all of the sleeping positions. The spinal curves are not naturally supported. This can lead to neck pain, mid back pain, and lower back pain. It is the equivalent of standing for 8 hours in a night- given enough time a joint will be painful since the joints will have been "loaded" throughout a night of sleep. Nor surprisingly, the vast majority of my patients that come in with neck and back pain seeking chiropractic care are usually stomach sleepers. Some common symptoms of stomach sleeping include numbness into the hands or legs when they wake up in the morning. A subset of stomach sleeping (of which I am guilty) is known as the "fetal position." This is someone sleeping on their stomach with one leg flexed up towards their chest to varying degrees of hip flexion. This position should be avoided at all costs, as it can cause hip or knee pain as well.

Sleeping is probably the best way to heal our wounds yet many of us do not get enough sleep, or sleep poorly when we do sleep. Sleeping patterns can be changed over time, but they take time. We should all aim for the optimal sleeping position.

For now, if you develop neck or back pain related to sleeping poorly please contact Mid-Atlantic Spinal Rehab & Chiropractic at (443) 842-5500. We would be happy to help!

Dr. Gulitz

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