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Sleeping Position

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There’s nothing like a good night’s sleep and so many factors weigh in to create a perfect night’s slumber. Your sleeping position is certainly one of them. As a Physical Therapist, naturally I have thoughts about how people should sleep and what sleeping position is best. You’re curious, right? Lucky for you, I’m happy to share!

Here are some tips on sleeping position that I have picked up along the way. These will help to make you more comfortable, sleep better, and reduce your pain while sleeping:

  1. Don’t sleep with pillow(s) under your shoulders. Many people sleep with pillows under their shoulders and leave their necks relatively unsupported. This can be especially true if there is a large amount of rounding in the thoracic spine leaving the neck in an extended position.
  2. Try supporting your arms. In side-lying use a “huggy” in front of your body so you can rest your top arm. This can take some pressure off of the shoulder and decrease shoulder pain. When lying on your back try putting smaller pillows under both arms. Many times people say this feels like they are floating and find it very comfortable. Either of these can be effective in preventing you from rolling over as well as helping you to sleep better. This is especially important in cases where rolling on your shoulders while asleep wakes you up due to pain.
  3. You may need more pillows when lying on your side. In side-lying your head and neck will be higher than when lying on your back, so you may need to add a pillow or fold the current pillow over to support your neck in a neutral position.
  4. Don’t forget the legs. Placing 1-2 pillows under the knees when lying on your back and a pillow between the knees in side-lying can help to take pressure off of the back and help you to sleep. If it is not a back injury I usually leave this up to my patients, but most of them think it is more comfortable to sleep this way.

If sleeping position is causing pain, progress will be much slower in therapy. This is because the 8 hours of stress you are putting on your body at night will be difficult to fight in the short time we have in therapy.

One of the important things to consider other than limiting forces on injured tissues during sleep is the quality of a your sleep. Deep sleep is necessary for growth hormone releases that will help with recovery from an injury. If you are not getting quality sleep you will not be getting as much tissue recovery as you may need. One thing to balance is the quality of your sleep vs. the position you sleep in. It may take some time to adjust to your new sleeping position. If you continuously flop around you will have to reposition the pillows every time. After you get used to the new positions you will be able to fall asleep quickly after repositioning. Don’t be frustrated if it doesn’t seem natural for the first week or two. Generally it seems natural sometime within the first two weeks. Happy sleeping!

If you have other questions on sleeping position please ask.

Jamie Bovay, DPT, CSCS
Atlas Physical Therapy