How to sleep for better posture

By: Dr. David Koivuranta, DC, Jan 18, 2017
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posture imprortance, toronto, sleep, night spinal

Preserve the curve!

We spend about a third of our life sleeping. Sleeping is a vital part of our life. We can improve the time we spend sleeping, ending the tossing and turning and improving our posture with changes to how we go to sleep and what we sleep on. How to sleep for better posture is a question many ask, especially after a “rough sleep” when they end up with a kink, a strain, or an actual pain somewhere in the body, quite often the neck.

Sleeping allows our body to heal, repair and prepare for the next day… physically, chemically and emotionally. When done really well, it provides us with what our body needs to have a great experience in life. When done poorly, we may be spending the time sleeping but not fully getting the benefit.

Sometimes when we sleep, unbeknownst to us, we end up in positions we may not otherwise choose. These positions can strain muscles and even sprain joints if maintained for long periods or are awkward enough to really cause stress on the tissues. This is not a fun way to wake up! Chiropractors are adept at correcting problems like this, however preventing them in the first place is certainly of greater concern.

Interestingly enough, with some strategizing, we can actually attempt to improve our sleep habit and optimize the time we spend with our eyes shut oblivious to the outside world. One of the benefits of proper sleep is the recovery it allows our physical body from the hours it spends being actively engaged in our experiences throughout the day. By applying some new tactics to our downtime, we can actually create some positive changes to our physical being, especially our posture.

The neck – the arc of life

Every nerve signal from the brain to the body and back travels through the neck at speeds over 400 km per hour. When viewed from the side or a person’s profile, the neck has an inward bend to it like the arc of a rainbow with the apex or top of the arc facing the front of the person.

This arc is measured at about 60 degrees when we look at someone’s posture or about 40 to 45 degrees when specially marked on an x-ray. If this arc where to flatten, say to a zero degree arc or a straight line, it can slow the signal or flow of energy through the nerves by as much as a third, to about 280 km per hour. This slowing down of the signal could potentially cause problems in the body’s ability to regulate itself.

Preserve the curve

In fact, we want to preserve all the curves in the spine when viewed from the side, including the one in the low back which is shaped in the same direction as the one in the neck. When sleeping, that means having the proper support to both maintain those curves and help encourage them to return if they have changed for the worse.

A good pillow that keeps the head back while supporting the neck forward is vital. A tradition pillow typically pushes the head forward and further flattens a person’s neck when sleeping on the back.

When lying on the side, the goal is to keep the spine and body parts in a straight line because there are no curves in the spine in this direction (when viewed from back to front) and a traditional pillow often doesn’t have the right support and allows the head to fall towards the mattress bending the neck sideways or is of the wrong height (too much or too little) again causing the head to tilt one way or the other.

A good first step then is to ensure the pillow keeps the neck straight when lying on one’s side and supports its forward curve when lying on the back.

There are plenty of non-traditional pillows on the market that can accomplish this and it’s best to engage in some trial and error to find the one that’s perfect for you. From memory foam pillows to water filled pillows, there are many options, all with clinical support for their effectiveness.

If you find that you toss and turn a lot at night, this could be the sign of an incorrectly chosen pillow. If you have to put your hand or arm under the pillow while sleeping, this too shows that your pillow is not doing the right job. Only your neck and head should ever rest on the pillow.

When sleeping on the back, placing a pillow under the knees to create a slight bend will also help to preserve the curves in the spine. The same can be accomplished when lying on the side by putting a pillow between the knees with the knees slightly bent…not quite in a fetal position, but similar.

Sometimes people don’t know where to put their arms while they’re sleeping, but hugging a pillow is a great way to help properly position the shoulders and keep the spine in line throughout the night. Combining these options will help “lock you in” to a great sleeping position and you may find your sleep is more restful than ever.

The right mattress matters

Of course, having a mattress that is too soft can be a big culprit to aches and pains from sleeping, disrupted sleep, and can even lead to complicating posture problems by allowing the body to settle into positions that are problematic.

A firmer mattress that provides good support is a great investment for the amount of time we will spend on it. Almost like a comfy pair of shoes for our feet, but rather nighttime comfort for our spine!

How to sleep for better posture through exercises

Corrective exercises are also indicated when posture has worsened and/or there are structural changes to the spine. Doing these exercises prior to sleepand then sleeping in a proper position can help with the healing process and health recovery steps leading to a healthier spine, better looking posture, and improved nervous system function with less interference.

Working with a qualified healthcare provider in this regard is a wise step as it’s been found that your posture is a window to the health of your spine and your spine is a window to your health through your nervous system.

Sleep can certainly play a valuable role for many reasons when it comes to your health, and learning how to sleep well to support that process will be invaluable. Tonight, before you drift off to better places, review your sleep strategy and take note of where you can improve so that you can get some more quality sleep!

The owner of David Koivuranta Chiropractic in Yorkville (downtown Toronto, ON), Dr. Dave, as he is affectionately known, has created a health and wellness service and information program to fulfill his desire to educate, inform and entertain people as broadly as his clinical and speaking efforts will take him. He has treated patients with chiropractic care, nutritional consulting, weight management programs and technology like non-surgical spinal decompression. His experience in this regard is vast and allows him to meet people and patients where they are at with their health challenges and goals.

Dr. Dave graduated from Northwestern Health Sciences University in Minneapolis, MN with a Bachelors in Human Biology and a Doctor of Chiropractic Degree at the top of his class!…summa cum laude. His mission is to help serve as many people as possible on a path to living healthy lives forever,