IIf you get the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night, that adds up to about 50 hours per week of your life snoozing – and that’s quite a substantial amount of time your body can spend in any position. While there isn’t a right sleeping position for everyone, if you have chronic pain it is possible that you are sleeping wrong, so to speak, and making the discomfort you experience during the day worse. To that end, the best sleeping positions for different types of pain typically revolve around aligning your body to remove excessive pressure from all connected nerves and joints, says rheumatologist and internist Jonathan M. Greer, MD.
“Sleeping on your stomach is a major culprit when it comes to exacerbating neck and back pain because it causes unnatural stretching of the spine.” —Jonathan M. Greer, MD
To start off, Dr. Greer’s top recommendation for anyone suffering from back or neck pain is to take abdominal sleep out of the equation. “Sleeping on your stomach is a big culprit when it comes to making neck and back pain worse,” he says, “because it causes unnatural stretching of the spine.” Tingling in the arms can result, says physicist and rehabilitation doctor Jaspal R. Singh, MD.
But before we go into the back and side sleeping positions, which work best for different pain scenarios, a quick word about what exactly you are sleeping on, because this also plays a big role in sleeping comfort: you can let go of the ordinary. that an ultra-firm mattress is best for people with back pain. “In fact, I recommend a medium-soft mattress for anyone with back pain, and for those who already have a firm mattress, adding a pillow or egg carton overlay to remove some of the pressure points that may otherwise arise,” says Dr. Greer. Just be careful not to get too soft as you don’t want to sink deep into the mattress either, adds Dr. Singh added.
A similar Goldilocks situation applies to your pillow (or multiple pillows), which can also affect your overall sleeping position – and whether it works with or against your body. This is especially important for pain in the upper back and neck area, says Dr. Greer: “A neck or contour pillow that adapts to the shape of the neck helps straighten the neck and prevents it from sliding into a compressed position while you sleep.”
In both cases, however, it is important to be guided by comfort, according to Dr. Greer: “I always say if you do any type of exercise or activity that causes or worsens pain, it is a signal that you need to adjust,” he says, “and that goes for your mattress, pillow, and so on Your sleeping position. “
And while we’re at it, don’t forget your posture and alignment during the day, adds Dr. Singh added, which of course, like a bad sleeping position, can trigger or worsen spinal pain. “A good, ergonomic workplace and a highly mobile lifestyle with frequent changes of position are essential, instead of sitting in one place all day in order to supply the spine with blood and supply it with nutrients,” he says.
Scroll down for the best sleeping positions for different aches and pains
For back pain: Lie on your side with a pillow between your knees
Lying flat on your back with your legs outstretched can result in unnatural stretching of the spine, causing pain, says Dr. Greer. Instead, he and Dr. Singh suggests lying on his side with his legs bent (toward the abdomen, toward a fetal position) with a pillow between his knees. “When you support and align your hips in this way, your spine is relieved,” says Dr. Singh.
However, if you strongly prefer to lie on your back, you can do so in a spine supportive way by placing a pillow under your lower legs (as noted below for those with hip pain). Another possibility: Imagine an adjustable bed that bends up slightly so that you are not completely flat, but a little more upright. “Raising your head above your feet, similar to a reclining chair, can take some pressure off the lower part of your back and also help with snoring,” says Dr. Singh.
As a precaution, if your back pain is keeping you awake regularly or if it lasts for more than three weeks, it’s worth getting checked out by a doctor, says Dr. Greer. The same goes if you experience recurring numbness or a tingling sensation radiating into a leg, which could be a sign of a pinched nerve.
For hip pain: Lie on your back with a pillow under your knees or lower legs
Since lying on your side can make hip pain worse, it is best to sleep on your back with your legs lightly supported by a pillow under your knees. “The bony protrusion that protrudes from the hip, called the greater trochanter, has a sac of fluid on top called the bursa,” says Dr. Greer, “who can often get worse lying on one side all night, especially when lying on a hard mattress – and that can cause an infection called bursitis.” Choosing a back sleeping position can help you avoid this.
For neck pain: Lie on your side or back with a contour pillow
You can choose either your back or your side – in this case, it’s a matter of personal preference and comfort – but be sure to choose your pillow carefully, as mentioned above. A pillow that is specially designed to fit the natural shape of the neck is the best choice. “You shouldn’t have multiple pillows under the neck or no pillow at all, as either option can result in unnatural elongation,” says Dr. Singh.
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