Pillow Talk: 6 Tips for Improving Sleeping Posture

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Many of us probably remember being nagged about our posture when we were kids, and for those of us who brushed off posture critiques as children, there’s a good chance the problem carried over into adulthood, as poor posture tends to stick with us as we age. Even now, I slump my shoulders a bit and shift my weight onto one foot or the other. When I sit at a computer, my posture is even worse, leaving me with aches and pains––and many of you probably experience this, as well. However, the importance of good posture isn’t limited to how we stand or sit. Many health issues can arise from improper posture during sleep, including fatigue, sleep apnea, headaches, heartburn, and neck and back pain.

Because everyone sleeps differently, there isn’t one all-encompassing quick fix, but here are six simple tips for improving sleep posture, broken down by sleeping position.

Side Sleepers

The most popular position, side-sleeping with a slight bend of the knees supports and elongates the spine, which makes it conducive to maintaining proper sleep posture. But without proper support, side-sleeping can be harmful to your body. To get the best sleep possible in this position, use these three tricks:

  • Use a pillow that fills the space between your ear and the outer edge of your shoulder to prevent your neck and shoulder muscles from constricting.
  • Put a pillow between your knees to reduce stress on your hips and prevent pelvic rotation and lower spine contortion.
  • Use a full-length body pillow for more support, especially if you are pregnant.

Back Sleepers

Generally considered the ideal way to sleep, sleeping on your back keeps your spine in optimal alignment with your head and neck. However, it can put stress on your lumbar spine. These two remedies should help:

  • Place a pillow under your knees to help prevent your back from arching.
  • Don’t use a pillow––or at least choose a very thin pillow. One that’s too thick will push your head forward, against the natural curve of the spine, which also impedes air flow.

Stomach Sleepers

Doctors do not recommend this sleeping position, as it flattens the spine and twists the neck, causing neck and back pain. But if you do sleep this way, try this:

  • Place pillows––or a body pillow––under your chest, shoulder, hip, and thigh on the side you sleep (e.g., if you sleep on the right side, put the pillows under your right chest, shoulder, hip, and thigh). This will reduce some of the strain on your neck, spine, and lower back.

Sleep is restorative––but not if you experience pain and discomfort due to improper sleep posture. You may have noticed that all of these tips featured pillows in some capacity, regardless of sleeping position. That’s because the support they offer plays a key role in maintaining proper sleep posture (they can affect other aspects of your health, too), so choosing the right one for your sleeping position––and putting it in the right place––can make or break the quality of sleep you get each night.

If you try these tips, let us know! Use the comments section below to share your thoughts. And if you still experience pain after trying these tips, try stretching immediately after you wake up—or, even better, consult a physical therapist for a posture assessment.

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