When you’re asleep, your body is supposed to be busy restoring itself. Many processes are going on at the cellular level both in the main body and in the brain. However, many of us wake up feeling stiff, sore, and groggy instead of refreshed.
One of the reasons for unrefreshing sleep is discomfort while in bed. This keeps people from being able to drop into “deep sleep,” which is the type of sleep that is the most restorative. Discomfort during sleep may also mean that something about your sleep position or your bed is actively causing damage to your body.
The Importance of Proper Spine Alignment During Sleep
When you fall asleep, your muscles relax and your body takes on whatever position is the easiest to maintain. If you don’t have the proper support for your back and neck, this will usually put your spine and cervical vertebrae into sub-optimal alignments. Over time, this can give you backaches or neck pains. It will also prevent you from getting the proper amount of deep sleep, causing you to wake up still feeling tired.
How to Improve Your Spinal Alignment During Sleep
Since you can’t consciously control your back while you’re sleeping, and will keep yourself awake if you try, you must take protective measures before you fall asleep. This includes choosing which posture you'll be in just before you nod off.
Which Sleeping Posture is Best for Your Back?
Sleep on Your Back
In a MasterClass created by Dr. Matthew Walker, a leading sleep expert, the doctor notes that sleeping on your back is best for the spine. In that position, the mattress supports every spinal vertebra.
Do You Sleep on Your Stomach?
Many people can’t sleep on their backs due to it not being comfortable or because they have breathing difficulties in that position. For them, he recommends the strategic use of pillows under or between the legs, and different sizes of pillows for the head. A thin head pillow for stomach-sleepers is specifically recommended for preventing neck pain, however, some stomach sleepers don’t use a head pillow at all.
Sleeping on Your Side
Sleeping on one side is common, and in many ways, is healthy for the body's soft tissues and organ function. Alas, gravity can cause your spine to sag downward even with a good mattress. Put a pillow in the area most prone to this – usually your waist – for extra support.
Sleeping in the Fetal Position
Sleeping on your side with your knees bent qualifies as using the fetal position. This posture can involve anything from a slight knee bend to curling up into a tight little ball. It's the tight form that is the most problematic because it puts the back muscles under intense strain all night. Dr. Walker suggests working on loosening up, aiming for a posture with just a relaxed knee bend. Pillows should also be used as with side sleeping.
Support Your Neck When Sleeping
The vertebrae in your neck, also known as your cervical spine, need support too. These vertebrae should be kept in line with the ones in your back. Proper pillows can do the job.
How to Easily Keep All of Your Body Parts Aligned
Special pillows are typically used for this purpose. Good ones are more than just fabric bags full of stuffing. They have special shapes, sizes, and usage positioning according to where they'll be used and what position you sleep in. Larger pillows provide leg support, while smaller ones support the neck. Some even have notches so that side-sleepers can maintain good airflow.
For some people, a different mattress is also helpful. This is especially true for those whose mattresses offer poor support. Replacing an old, broken down, or cheap mattress is often said to put an end to back pain, assuming nothing is fundamentally wrong with the back.
Even with a good new mattress, pillows are also recommended. They provide contours to match your body's curves, while a mattress is flat. Even back sleepers need support for their necks.
Can You Sleep Well With Extra Pillows?
Pillows in the right places can greatly improve your sleep. As long as they are providing support where it is actually needed, and not piled up under your head, you should not only get better sleep but eliminate waking back fatigue.
Some people do need a few nights to get used to the sensation of added pillows or a new sleeping position, but many feel an instant improvement. Give Dr. Walker's suggestions a try. We're sure that once you have everything positioned properly, your sleep will be more restful and refreshing.