When people think posture, they think of how they walk and sit on their desk. Your sitting and walking postures are important. But the importance they are accorded often comes from the fair share that should have belonged to sleeping posture.
Posture when you’re sleeping? I’m kidding, right? Nope. I’m dead serious. How you sleep is a crucial component not just to the quality of rest you get at night, but also your health in everyday life. Sleeping positions are dynamic. We course through several every night, and our preferences change over the year as well. Sadly, not all positions are good for the body and its health.
Why are some sleeping positions bad for the body?
Not everyone asks this, but it is a pertinent issue. Why are some sleeping positions bad for the body and it’s health? How do we decide if a position is unhealthy before we go on to correct it?
Sleep is meant to get you to rest and rejuvenate your body and its systems. To do that, your body requires unhindered blood circulation, uninterrupted supply of oxygen and proper temperature. As it happens, all three of them, among other things, depend upon the posture you keep at night while you are asleep.
If you sleep on your stomach, you probably have to bend your neck to be able to breathe, which doesn’t allow optimum air supply to the respiratory system. If you sleep with your butt raised into the air, you’re probably preventing blood from flowing freely to the legs. Similarly, burying your face in pillows while sleeping will also cause you a lot of grief because of lack of air as well as the slow dissipation of body heat.
What are the signs of a good sleeping posture?
I sleep like a log on most nights to notice whether or not I’m lying in a proper posture. Plus, ain’t nobody got time for that! A good sleeping posture, thankfully, has several benefits that you can easily spot in your everyday routine. I’ve listed a few below.
- A good sleeping posture allows you proper rest, which makes you wake up feel refreshed.
- When you go from a bad to a good posture habit while sleeping, you immediately feel increased energy levels and better concentration.
- You are less likely to wake up for no reason at night when you are habituated to proper sleeping posture.
- Bad sleep postures often give you aches in the back, neck and spine the next morning. That doesn’t happen with proper posture.
There are so many more. But you get the point.
What makes a good sleeping posture?
A good sleeping posture is not that hard to figure out. The most important factor that decides a good sleeping posture is the comfort you feel in the position. But if it is taking a toll on your health, then short term comfort is better sacrificed for long term well being. Confused? Don’t be.
A good posture has several markers. Usually, fitting these makes your sleep a lot more peaceful and rejuvenating. Here are a few of them that are easy to spot.
Low Center of Gravity
Ever balanced a pencil on your finger? You were actually locating the centre of gravity. The body too has one, and it is usually located in the region of your abs while you’re standing. When you go into the fetal position, the centre moves upwards to your chest region. And when you bend, it may go in and out of the body according to your position and movement. The point is not to keep a track of this centre, but to make sure you keep as much of your weight close to the mattress as you can.
When it comes to pregnant women or those with a belly, sleeping on the back might not fit their needs. This is due to centre of gravity again. Pregnant women face a lot of problems finding good postures to sleep, and the solutions can range from sleeping on a chair to whatever their doctor tells them. Keeping the center of gravity close to the supporting surface helps sleep a lot better.
Most people associate posture to be related to the spine. To a large extent, the spine is vital to your posture. While resting, it is desirable that your spine be straight. To be fair, it is not going to be with your vertebrae stacked one over another in perfect symmetry like a high-rise building. Your spine has three curves at the neck, the middle and the base, and they are perfectly healthy and desirable. Keeping your spine in a straight line means your back shouldn’t be bent to a side when you sleep, which is what happens in say a loose hammock or a mattress lacking in tautness. Nor should it be too raised, like lying on the floor or without a proper pillow. A straight spine allows proper air supply, blood circulation as well as space for the internal organs to be relaxed.
This one is by far the easiest to identify. When you’re trying to sleep, having any muscle sit tight is really counter-intuitive. If you cannot sleep in a relaxed position, chances are you’re going to have a troubled sleep anyway. Enquire what is causing your muscles to be tense. Is it because the bed or mattress is not built properly? Is it because you’re sleeping in a posture that ordinarily would be uncomfortable? Or maybe your posture is ok but your mind is tense.
A lot of times, muscles are easy to relax since so many of them are under voluntary control. Take a deep breath and let them loosen up. If you’re forced to keep them tense, it might not be healthy after the first handful of nights.
This one’s a no brainer too. You wear loose clothing while sleeping because it makes it easier to regulate your body temperature and thus makes things comfortable. But all of that goes down the drain if you bury yourself in blankets, or cover your face with pillows or otherwise hamper your body’s access to the heat sink in the environment. Your body temperature usually falls when you go to sleep. And if areas remain warm (or for that matter, get too cold), your body is going to be up all night maintaining the temperature, either by sweating, shivering or making you get up for a drink of water.
Keep yourself properly protected from the weather, whatever that may entail. Switch on fans if it’s hot and loose the tight clothing. If it’s cold, wear something warm to bed, have a good blanket over yourself. The thermostat is your friend. This is an important part of your sleeping position as well.
The relationship between sleeping position and general posture
Before we take the leap to telling you how to better your posture by sleeping right, let us try to illuminate the connection between the two.
You spend anywhere between 6 to 9 hours sleeping. For the average human being, no other single activity occupies this long a time slot in the 24 hour day. So naturally, the positions one keeps one’s body in during this time gains a lot of salience with regard to the posture and health in general as well.
So now that there’s a clear connection between sleep position and posture, let’s see how you can improve your posture by sleeping properly.
How to improve posture with your sleeping positions?
Posture is influenced by a variety of factors. Sleeping positions are not just one of them, but making a conscious effort to sleep in a proper position can actually influence other factors, beginning a cascading effect that boosts your health.
Here are proper positions to sleep in:
The log position
Simply put, you sleep like a log. You lie on your back, have a proper support under your head and rest yourself as usual. Some might have too much bending in their middle back, a solution for which is to keep a pillow under the knees. The log position is the easiest to keep the spine in a straight line. But opposed to common perception, the log position is not all that common.
Benefits of the log position include having a wide space for the chest to expand while breathing, allowing more air inside. It is easy to detect problems in posture in this position. The body is also more accustomed to keeping the core straight this way.
The side position
Sleeping on the side can help a lot of people, like those with a big belly. Many old and obese people are also known to benefit from the position since the weight of the chest shifts, allowing more expansion in the lungs and better breath-ability. However, the side sleeper faces some trouble with regards to spinal alignment. If your mattress is too loose, your spine bends low and that can cause you aches. If it is too taut, there is a different sort of bend produced, which isn’t desirable either. Modern mattresses like memory foam are designed to give you a proper hug that keeps your weight equally distributed giving you a proper spinal alignment, which can help you alleviate a lot of posture related trouble.
Sprawling is a good position to sleep in. You expose more area to the air allowing better heat exchange, which can be a boon in the hot months. Your centre of gravity is also pretty low in this condition, which makes it very stable to lie in.
Of course, the sprawl is not without its share of problems either. Your middle spine can bend too low in this position, and the discomfort naturally prompts many people to stuff a pillow close to the chest or stomach for added comfort.
Regarding posture, sprawl helps many in back pain caused by bad posture during waking hours. It also helps many sleep better due to more cooling, which can help your body focus on repairing wear and tear of the body.
The Fetal position
Contrary to what many believe, the fetal position can actually be helpful to sleep in. Since you’re curled up when you sleep, you can keep your core warm, which is a blessing if you sleep in a cold room. The spine remains curled, which means it doesn’t need a lot of support to stay properly aligned. A lot of people can only sleep comfortably in the fetal position. The only disadvantage with this is that if you are too curled up, your chest might not have enough space to expand enough to facilitate proper breathing. If you face this problem, you should rectify your posture by making conscious effort at nights to sleep in a more open position. Adjust yourself whenever you wake up, that’s all it takes.
Positions to avoid while sleeping are next:
Sleeping on your back
Sleeping on your back is very, very unhealthy. Not only does it not allow you proper liberty to breathe deeply, but the bent neck also makes the air passage constricted, further reducing oxygen intake. That’s not all either. Your spine is also likely to have an unhealthy bent since a flat stomach doesn’t really provide a lot of resistance to weight, while big stomachs leave no scope of a properly bent middle spine.
Sleeping on the edge of the bed
No matter how much your mattress salesman sang about the superior edge design of your mattress, it is never a good idea to sleep on the very edge. Not only do you run the obvious risk of falling down, but protruding an arm or a leg outside the supported surface produces a bend in your body’s core which makes for a very unhealthy posture.
Sleeping with a bad pillow
An ideal pillow lies in the Goldilocks zone of thickness. If it is too thin, your head will be bent backwards, making breathing difficult, and also making you more likely to snore. Similarly, thick pillows or pillows that are too fluffy make your cervical area bend too much, once again constricting the air passage while also making you more likely to develop chronic neck pain.
Correct your position while you sleep, and you might get a lot of benefit in your posture while you wake. I hope this helps.