While you were sleeping… Did your back muscles relax completely? And while your vertebral column lost the support of those stabilizer muscles that propped it up all through the day, did your bed hold it up just so? Or have you woken with a crick in your neck, a kink in your spine and a dent in your temper? That’s what we really call “getting out of the wrong side of the bed”.
Learning to lie down
Most of us should be sleeping 6-8 hours a night: That’s a quarter to one-third of our lives! Falling asleep is one of the few things human beings are born knowing how to do, and don’t need to learn. So we take it for granted that we know what we are doing when we sleep.
But do we? If we did, why would the very “natural” way we curl up or fall flat on our backs leave us with aches, pains and weariness? Maybe we need to reconsider.
If your sitting or walking posture, the way you pick up things or go through the motions at the gym makes the difference between energy and injury, the way you hold yourself a third of a day must make a bigger difference.
The problem, people often imagine, is that we aren’t conscious enough to correct our posture while asleep. But the human mind is quite suggestible. Surprising as it may sound, you can actually, over a period of time, change your sleep posture just through determination.
A basic requirement for really restful sleep is that we keep our spine in neutral, bearing as little load as possible.
Also Read Treadmill earlier columns
The mattress is your first consideration.Some dos and don’ts
1. Always use a mattress. A hard floor may seem traditional, but it is not a good idea.
2. A good mattress needs to be soft but firm. Sounds like an oxymoron? The bottom part should be firm enough to support you (not let you sink in unduly); the top couple of inches must be yield, so that your hips and shoulders push in just enough to align your spine (see illustration).
3. The moment you notice lumps or hollows that refuse to spring back, it’s time to change your mattress.
Next, the pillows
Your neck is a bridge between your head and the rest of your body. It needs the right structural support to keep it from falling. When you use a pillow only under your head, your neck is trying to hang on between the pillow and your shoulders with no support but its own muscles. With those muscles tensed through the night, how do you expect to feel fresh in the morning? (Plus, most jobs involve sitting at a computer, tensing neck and shoulders all through the day too.)
1. Never sleep without a pillow. It scrunches your neck up, especially if you sleep on your side. It’s like tilting your head to your shoulder for 8 hours! That has to hurt.
2. The pillow is there to support your neck and head, not your shoulders, or you’ll destroy the alignment again.
3. When you sleep on your side, you need more pillow height than if sleeping on your back. The pillow must bring your head and neck in line with the spine. Too high, and your neck folds forward; too low and it flops back. So match your pillow to your posture.
Read more about your sleep posture and how it affects the quality of your sleep.
The author is a practitioner of musculoskeletal medicine and sports and exercise medicine. He is also CEO and medical director of Back 2 Fitness. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org