Can you treat pain in your sleep? It’s not as farfetched as it sounds once you realize the connection between sleep posture and health. First, sleep posture alone may not be enough to correct a spinal issue. However, it can help to preserve the hard work that you’re doing through things like physical therapy and chiropractic sessions to take care of back, neck and shoulder pain. Take a look at some tips for how to improve your posture in your sleep.

Signs Your Sleep Posture Is All Wrong

No, waking up in pain every morning isn’t normal. Many people have been convinced that waking up with aches, pains and stiffness is simply part of “getting old.” As a result, they assume that the pain they’re experiencing in the morning is perfectly normal. In addition, the concept of saying that you “must have slept wrong” when feeling pain or inflammation in the morning makes it seem like we don’t have any control over the state we wake up in each day. In reality, we can be conscious about our sleeping posture to prevent bad mornings. Here are some signs that your sleep posture is off:

  • Disrupted sleep that’s not triggered by any outside disturbances.
  • Increased tension throughout the body.
  • Poor circulation.
  • Neck pain.
  • Back pain.
  • Shoulder pain.
  • General chronic bodily pain without an underlying reason.

These problems can all be caused by not maintaining proper spinal alignment during sleep. While you may feel “comfortable” while you’re sleeping, you could actually be causing compression and tension that is preventing proper blood flow while you sleep. What’s more, repeatedly sleeping with improper posture night after night can put pressure on your spine that causes inflammation and poor circulation. Researchers also know that poor sleep and pain can create a vicious cycle based on findings that patients with neck pain are less likely to improve if they experience poor sleep quality.

What Are the Worst Sleeping Postures?

It’s good to know which postures are actually harming your well-being. Falling asleep in any position that’s the most comfortable can give you a false sense of comfort. Many people assume that being a “stomach sleeper” is best for your back because you’re not putting pressure on your back. However, this position can actually cause severe pain and tension in the lower back. When you lounge on your stomach, the weight of your body paired with your positioning actually puts strain on your S-curve. Your head on your pillow in the stomach-sleeping position often makes matters worse by increasing pressure on the neck and spine. Many stomach sleepers with neck aches never make the connection that the way they are sleeping is actually putting pressure on the neck area all night long. While the best advice is to learn a better way to sleep, placing a pillow at your waist to counterbalance the pillow under your head can provide additional support for the spine.

The fetal position is also full of problems! Many people go into this position automatically as they prepare to fall asleep without thinking very much about it. The danger here is that the fetal position puts lots of stress on your spine. What’s more, the uneven distribution of weight with this pose can also harm your joints. Many people who sleep in the fetal position experience both spine and hip pain.

What Is the Best Sleep Position?

There’s really only one sleeping position that’s recommended by spine experts. Sleeping on your back is the best way to maintain proper posture without creating injuries or strain in your sleep. However, just being a “back sleeper” isn’t always enough. You can still cause strain in your neck and spine if you’re making some of the same mistakes that “stomach” and “fetal” sleepers make. When sleeping on your back, it’s essential to try to keep your ears, shoulders and hips aligned straight as you sleep. Any twisting or curving of any of these parts of your body can create pressure and strain that essentially recreate may of the same problems as the “bad” sleeping positions.

What if you can’t sleep on your back because you have back pain? This is where it become necessary to bring in an expert to help you figure out a configuration for keeping your spine in the right alignment based on what’s physically viable for you. You may be able to utilize some special pillows, support cushions or positioning tactics to accommodate for your back issues.

Is Sleeping on Your Side Ever Okay?

While it’s not the best sleeping position, sleeping on your side is generally considered okay. The key here is that you’re keeping your spine aligned straight with your ears, shoulders and hips. Unlike the fetal position, the side-sleeping position should cause your body to keep a straight line. If you prefer side sleeping, try to alternate sides to avoid consistently putting weight on just one side of your body.

Additional Tips for Enjoying a Comfortable Night’s Rest With Good Posture

“Relearning” how to sleep can be hard if you’ve always slept in a certain position. However, it’s worth training yourself to sleep another way if your sleep habits are causing pain in your back, neck or shoulders. You can also use some special spine-friendly tactics to stay in alignment all through the night. Here’s a look at some suggestions from Harvard Health:

  • Experiment with a feather pillow for softer support that doesn’t cause your neck to strain.
  • Try a pillow with memory foam that will conform to your head and neck.
  • Avoid overly high, stiff pillows that will cause your neck to stay “flexed” all night. This is one of the most common causes of morning neck pain.
  • If you sleep on your side, keep your spine straight by using a pillow that is higher under your neck than your head.
  • If you nap in places other than your bed, use a horseshoe-shaped pillow for support to prevent your head from dropping to one side.

The key in all sleep situations is to remember the importance of alignment. That means that your ears, shoulders and hips are in alignment regardless of your specific position. This even applies when you get up or roll over.

Tips for How to Stay Aligned When You Move From Your Bed

Don’t ruin an entire night of sleeping perfectly aligned with one fast movement when it’s time to get up! When rolling over, try to tuck your knees up toward your chest with your abdomen contracting. The goal is to try to move your entire trunk in one movement instead of having different parts of your body going at different speeds. You’ll also need less effort to complete the roll if you’re using the power from the center of your body.

When it’s time to get up from your bed, take the time to bend your knees instead of simply rolling out of bed. Next, get your feet flat on your bed to turn your trunk area into a single unit again. This will help you to avoid any harmful twisting that can happen when you simply try to jettison your body toward the edge of the bed. Next, use your hands to push your body up into the seated position. From here, you can bend forward with a straight back to get your feet down to the floor. Be sure to straighten both legs over the side of the bed until they are even before you stand up.

Your Daytime Posture Matters for Good Sleep

Don’t forget that the posture you use during the 16 hours you’re awake is just as important as the posture you use while you’re sleeping! This is why learning proper posture techniques when you’re sitting at a desk, standing, walking or exercising is so important. It’s also important to address any pain, soreness, inflammation or decreased range of motion that you’re experiencing. While improving your posture can be beneficial for your health and comfort, it can’t necessarily undo an underlying injury or misalignment that needs correction. Seeing a chiropractor is a great way to address the “whole picture” when it comes to the state of your spine. Your chiropractor can also evaluate your posture to see where you might be suffering from imbalances.