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Getting a Good Nights Sleep
Protecting your spine while you sleep

By Deborah W. Singer, MS, PT, ATC

We know the basics of proper sleep - lights out, no working in bed, no caffeine after 5pm - but proper sleep posture and proper sleep surface can contribute just as much to a good nights sleep.

While you sleep, your body assumes certain postures - many people gravitate towards postures that they've had since they were a child. A fetal position is a common sleep posture that positions your spine in flexion (curled up position) all night. A prolonged flexed sleep posture can force a spinal disc to protrude posteriorly while you sleep.

Poor sleep posture can account for back pain, just like standing posture can. If you are sleeping in a curled position all night, you may find that you need to stand up and lean backwards into extension just to get going comfortably in the morning.

Some people sleep flat out straight on their back placing their spine into extreme extension. This causes stress on your spine and a pulling on the spinal ligaments throughout the night. If you are sleeping straight on your back with your legs out straight in front of you, you may find the need to bend over a few times in the morning to get going comfortably.

If you find that you are sleeping in a poor sleep posture, you can make changes. A body pillow is an excellent tool to use if you find you are sleeping in flexed position.

A body pillow is a long body length pillow designed to "cuddle with" and encourage your spine to assume a proper position while sleeping. To properly sleep with a body pillow, you should lay on your side with one leg draped over the pillow.

If you like to sleep on your back, you can do so without placing pressure on your spine by placing a small pillow under your knees. This causes the spine to assume a more natural position while still allowing you to lie on your back. Make sure the pillow is small so that you do not impede blood flow from returning from your feet while you sleep. If you find that your feet are swollen in the mornings, this might not be a safe sleep posture for you.

Your mattress could be contributing to your back pain or posture problems. Since so much of our lives are spent sleeping, a good mattress and proper sleep position are essential to keep healthy posture and a pain-free back.

When purchasing a mattress, look for a sleep set - complete mattress bought with the box spring. A mattress life can be extended by rotating a flipping the mattress regularly. Many mattress companies recommend rotating and flipping your mattress as often as every 2-3 months. The mattress industry usually recommends a new mattress be purchased every 8-10 years, but this depends on a person(s) weight and the quality of the mattress.

Flipping your mattress will help prevent body impressions or conforming that occurs as the cushioning materials mold to the shape of the sleeper. Unless the body impression is greater than 1 1/2" it is not a structural defect covered by warranty. It is simply an indication that the upholstery layers are settling and contouring to your body as you use your mattress set. Regularly rotating and flipping your mattress will help to minimize the depth of the impression that occurs.

Correct support is an essential ingredient for a healthy body. A good mattress and box spring will gently support your body at all points and keep your spine in the same shape as a person with good standing posture.

When trying out different mattresses, pay special attention to your shoulders, hips, and lower back, which are the heaviest parts of your body. A sturdy bed frame should be used and if your set is a full, queen or king size, make sure your frame has an adequate center support that will prevent bowing.

Protecting your spine while you sleep is one more way to improve your lifestyle - while you are helping your spine stay in better shape, you'll be getting a better nights' sleep!


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