Humans spend an awful lot of time sleeping, and the positions we choose to recharge in can have a very negative or positive affect on our bodies. Namely, sleeping with poor spinal alignment (with your spine bent, twisted, or sitting in a compromised position) can cause back pain as well as make it difficult to obtain quality rest.
Learn how to optimize spine alignment while sleeping below, along with some tips and tools you can use to heal your spine while sleeping.
Spinal Alignment and Posture, Explained
The human spine has three curves: the cervical, thoracic, and lumber.
- Cervical spine is the top section, at your neck
- Thoracic spine is the middle section, covering the upper and middle back
- Lumbar spine is the lower section, covering your lower back into your hip
The spine consists of intervertebral discs that can become damaged or worn down when bad postures are adopted and maintained. Of the 23 disks in your spine, the cervical spine is made up of six disks, the thoracic is made up of twelve, and the lumbar spine consists of five.
Injuries and chronic pain can happen or develop when you're awake (sitting at a desk for work, for example) or when you're sleeping in a less-than-optimal position.
Why Sleep Posture Is Important
The average American sleeps around 35.7 years of their life, according to a NYPost article. This accounts for a little less than half the average lifespan!
Put in that perspective, it becomes pretty clear that poor sleep positioning could greatly wear down or affect our spine and posture if we don't take action to fix it. Practicing good posture when you sleep is just as important as sitting up straight and avoiding slouching when you type on a computer.
Most Common Sleep Positions
The three main sleeping positions are on your side, on your back, and on your stomach. Studies show sleeping on your side is the most common sleep position (60 percent of adults sleep in the fetal position). For many, it's simply the most comfortable position to sleep in, and they've come to sleep that way over time.
Only around 20 percent of people say they sleep consistently on their back, while anywhere from 7 to 15 percent report sleep on their stomachs. These numbers are rough estimates; the main takeaway is that side sleeping is most common by a significant margin.
What Is the Best Spine Alignment While Sleeping?
Not coincidentally, the best sleep posture for spine alignment is the most common one—sleeping on your side in the fetal position. On your side, you are least likely to put unnecessary pressure on your spine. It's also a good way to avoid lower and upper back pain, prevent heartburn, and reduce snoring (the latter of which is a popular benefit amongst couples).
How to Improve Spine Alignment When Sleeping (4 Tips)
Side sleeping can be a helpful addition to your sleep routine, especially if you suffer from back or neck pain. But there are other strategies you can adopt to make your spine alignment the best it can be when you sleep.
1. Find the Right pillow
The pillow you select to keep your cervical spine supported and the quality of mattress you sleep on could offer benefits or be preventing you from restful sleep.
2. Upgrade Your Mattress
Mattress firmness is an individual thing, so it might take some experimenting to find the right one. Fortunately, many mattress companies now offer a try-before-you-buy model when you shop, and they'll come pick up the mattress if you don't like it.
3. Place a Towel or Pillow Between Your Legs
This helps keep your legs separated from each other, relaxing the hips and avoiding putting any undue rotating pressure on your spine. You might also fold up the ends of your blanket to provide an inch or two of soft relief.
4. Bend Your Knees Slightly When You Sleep
Straight knees put unnecessary force on the lumbar spine. The lumbar and cervical spine (top and bottom, basically) are the most prone to injury due to slow wear and tear. By bending your knees you alleviate pressure and allow the muscles in your hips and lower back to relax when you sleep
Learn more about how the Neck Nest can help heal your spine while you sleep.