Waking up feeling stiff, achy and aching is incredibly frustrating, especially since we sleep to wake up rested and refreshed. Morning soreness is common and could simply be due to your DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) appearing after working out or because you have been sitting still for hours.
But it can also be because you sleep in the wrong position. Just like the rest of the day, whether we’re working out or sitting at a desk, we need to think about our posture when we sleep. Only our positioning at bedtime is a little trickier – not only because we can’t control how we toss and turn when we’re unconscious, but also because we fall asleep in a position that is not the default position you have come to love. may seem impossible.
Why Your Sleep Position Matters
“Although it is very rare to cause real harm to a healthy body during sleep, it is very likely that adopting the wrong sleeping position over a long period of time can exacerbate underlying problems that you don’t know. ‘maybe you weren’t aware’, says physiotherapist Joy Ogudefounder of the virtual clinic The London Physio.
These can include pain and stiffness in the neck and back, irritation of the nerves in the neck and spine, and even digestive problems (for example, a 2002 study found that sleeping on the right can cause more acid reflux than sleeping on the left).
Ogude views our sleeping positions as a form of preparation – the preparation you do to limit your risk of injury. “The way you sleep, the positions you sleep in, and even the pillows and mattress you use can affect your joints. Even if you only sleep five hours a night, that’s a long time to be in position. And waking up in pain or discomfort has such an impact on your productivity and mental health,” she says.
What are the worst sleeping positions?
This is bad news for stomach sleepers, as dozing on your stomach is considered the least beneficial position for your muscles and joints. “Sleeping on your front with a thick pillow under your head, while turning your head to the side, puts your neck in a very awkward position,” says Ogude.
“This can sometimes lead to inflammation of the small joints in the neck with potential nerve irritation. Sometimes people wake up with tingling or numbness in their arms or hands, as well as back and neck pain,” she explains.
According to virtual physiotherapy clinic PhysioMedAlso, sleeping on your side in a “fetal” position — with your knees tucked into your chest — can also be problematic for people with pre-existing back pain. According to their digital guide to sleeping positions, “This is because most back problems arise in the structures at the back of your back (they are in the posterior structures of the spine).
“Lying in this position opens up these structures, allowing more space for the nerves – which are a big part of the pain in back problems. Although lying in this position feels good because the pain is reduced [in the moment]the actual structures can be aggravated by maintaining this position.
What is the best sleeping position?
“The reality is that there’s actually no evidence to show that any particular sleeping position is better than another – what works for one won’t work for another,” says osteopath Anisha Joshifounder of Osteo Allies.
There are obvious suggestions for people with pre-existing pain, such as avoiding sleeping on irritated or injured sides. Pregnant women and people with sleep apnea can also receive advice on sleeping position from their doctor.
However, Joshi and Ogude recommend these two sleeping positions to limit back, neck and shoulder pain.
1. Sleep on your back with pillows under your knees and a pillow under your neck
2. Sleep on your side with a pillow between your knees and under your neck
“These two positions are the most appreciated by physical therapists and doctors because the spine remains in the most neutral position during the night,” says Ogude. On your back, the pillow below the knees supports the natural curve of your lower back, while on the side, the pillow prevents your upper knee from pulling your spine into hyper-flexion.
Of course, holding these positions is easier said than done when you’re unconscious. If you regularly roll on your stomach or side, you can support your position by placing pillows by your side to limit movement – rolling back really does have an advantage.
You should always support your body with movement during the day to counter the silence at night. “Focus on the good things you can do during your waking hours to keep your joints and muscles healthy. For example, stretchesmobility, flexibility and strengthening exercises,” says Ogude.
Both Joshi and Ogude recommend stretching before getting up to loosen everything up. “Start by gently drawing your knees into your chest and twisting from side to side in bed, the synovial fluid will begin to move to keep you from feeling stiff when you stand up,” recommends Joshi.
Since sleep is so crucial for our bodies to repair muscles, why waste your eight hours making them even more sore?