How you sleep has an effect on your well being.
As part of your consultation, I always ask how well you sleep, what position you sleep in and whether sleeping aggravates your presenting symptoms. It is very hard to know what the best position should be to help you sleep and I am often asked about mattresses, pillows, linens etc. So here is my advice on sleeping and bedding in a nutshell!
1) On Your Back
If you suffer with back pain, the legs stretched out in this position can aggravate your symptoms. A pillow or 2 under the knees to support the legs will help with this.
For neck pain, a pillow under the head should be supporting the neck so that your head does not drop back to give you neck extension (chin poke) or too thick to flex your head forward too much. The back of your head should be in line with the rest of your spine.
Added bonus: This position minimizes wrinkles, sagging breasts and acid reflux.
Cons: Because of your head position, it tends to increase or worsen snoring. Low back pain can increase without pillow under knees.
2) On Your Side
This is a good position for a lot of patients with back pain. If a thin pillow is added under your side to keep the spine neutral (straight) and/or a pillow is added between the knees, this is often enough for someone to get a good night’s sleep. The pillows under the neck have to be thick enough to fill the shoulder gap and support the head and neck. You want your neck in line with the rest of the spine especially if you suffer with neck pain. Your head dropping to low into the pillow or being pushed up to high will certainly cause discomfort.
Added bonus: Sleeping on your side reduces snoring and can help improve your circulation. Laying on the left is recommended for woman when pregnant.
Cons: The weight that is put on your shoulder and hip (mainly the side that is down) may result in shoulder and hip pain. Also, because your body is being somewhat scrunched it can lead to wrinkling and sagging breasts.
3) Face Down
This is a big NO from me! Unless you are having a treatment in the practice on the couch with your face in the face hole to keep your neck neutral and/or a pillow under your stomach to support your back. Sleeping in this position will definitely increase the likelihood of neck and back pain/stiffness. Pillows under your head do not add support in this position.
Added bonus: As your head and face is turned to one side, it can help reduce snoring. But the negative affects far out way the positives.
Cons: Back pain/stiffness, neck pain/stiffness, shoulder pain/stiffness, ankle and foot pain/stiffness, stomach squashed, wrinkles, sagging breasts.
Pillows, Mattresses and Bedding
A good pillow can be hard to find and everyone has different preferences. Some patients use a folded towel as they find this reduces their symptoms more than a pillow. This is fine as long as your pillow of choice is supportive enough and is placed in a good position under your head and neck so that you can keep in neutral and in line with the rest of your spine.
What type of pillow should you use?
Hypo allergenic pillows are good but it doesn’t mean they are not toxin free. Fungi can build up in pillows so replacement is usually recommended after 2 years old. Foam pillows are often sprayed with a lot of flame retardants (up to 2lbs worth!). Scientists have linked these dangerous chemicals to neurological damage, endocrine disruption and even cancer. If the hypoallergenic pillow is stuffed with synthetic fiber then pillows that are made out of feathers or wool are best. If allergies are a concern, then you can opt for a pillow made out of latex foam. Buck wheat pillows seem to be the healthiest, hypo allergenic pillow that I have not tried yet but anyone who has one or is trying one, do let me know if it is any good.
Organic Mattresses, Bedding and Pillows
Changing your bedding, pillow, sheets and linens is a great way to reduce exposure to toxins. Look at organic mattresses that are made up of natural fire retardant wool or organic cotton and coils that are completely untreated. Avoid mattresses containing PBDE. These can be found in many stores and online shops.
Choose sheets made out of organic and unbleached hemp, cotton or linen. These will cost more but they are safer and will last longer too, especially compared to chlorine treated pillowcase and bed sheets, which is what a majority of people have. Duvets should also be made of natural materials. Opt for those with silk, hemp, feathers or down.
A budget friendly option is IKEA which has been known to sell PBDE free mattresses, pillows and bedroom furniture since 2002.