These are the best (and worst) sleeping positions for back pain and posture

Do you ever get out of bed in the morning to find yourself hobbling along the hallway, with unexplained aches and pains, wondering to yourself when exactly this happened?

You’re not alone.

The pandemic has exacerbated the nation’s posture problems as we all spend more time at home, working from makeshift desks and laptops.

And the way you sleep at night could be making this much worse.

In fact, a new study has found that 82% of Brits are sleeping in the ‘wrong’ position, and are likely doing damage to their posture as a result.

However, if you make the effort to get it right, sleeping properly can be your chance to undo the wrongs that you’ve done in the day.

Following extensive work with local authorities and NHS trusts, leading pillow and mattress brand, Levitex has identified the 12 most common sleeping positions, and many of them are not good.

For example, if you’re a ‘hedgehog’, you may be causing yourself hip tightness, while a ‘sunbather’ risks giving themselves shoulder or wrist problems.

So, what’s the best way to sleep?

Overall, side sleeping is best for your posture. However, not just any old side sleeping.

The best position for good nighttime posture was found to be ‘the dreamer’ (semi-foetal, side lying). This is something that has been well evidenced as being the best position for a ‘neutral resting spine’.

Neutral resting spine is a key component of good sleep posture. When your spine is neutral, it’s also straight. That means that the muscles around it don’t have to work, and get a chance to recover and rest.

Think of it as giving your spine a chance to have a good night’s sleep.

If you’re not sure what ‘semi-foetal side lying’ means, it’s shown in the picture below.

However, a a YouGov poll found that only 18% of the country sleep this way, leaving 82% of us with problematic sleeping positions.

Because, despite 33% of Britons saying that they slept on their side, 15% of those sleep with their knees tucked up – this puts a strain on the lower back.

How to change your sleep position

Humans are creatures of habit, as we know. And we’re also creatures of comfort.

However, James Leinhardt, CEO and Sleep Posture Expert at Levitex, has advised against falling into the trap of going to sleep in whatever position feels most comfortable at the time.

We need to make a conscious effort to sleep in a position that will be optimal for our back and spine.

‘Just because it’s comfortable doesn’t mean it’s good for you,’ James said.

‘The way you position your body at night could be doing you no favours – and might well be causing you more long-term impacts than you realise.’

But what if the side lying foetal position just isn’t comfortable for you?

According to Levitex, the key is to pick the right pillow.

They said that, to help with your posture, you need a pillow that perfectly fills the space between your earlobe and the mattress.

This helps to keep your neck neutral, and prevents waking up to any aches.

They also recommend that you sleep with a second pillow positioned between your knees and ankles (as pictured above), as this will ‘help your hips remain neutral by stopping your leg from crossing over’.

One of the main clear pieces of advice from the research is that front sleeping is the worst for your posture – if you sleep this way, you should really try to stop.

The sleep positions and the issues they may be causing

If you’re not one of the 18% of the population sleeping in the ‘dreamer’ position, which one of these are you?

And what potential damage could you be causing to your body?

The applauder: The outstretched arms and twisted leg could cause rotation of the spine and lengthening of the piriformis muscle (located in the buttocks near the top of the hip joint). This could lead to hip arthritis and impingement problems.

The soldier: Lying flat on your back like this is comfortable to 5% of the population. However, there is a possibility it could cause over extension at the lumbar spine and lead to back pain, and stiffness.

The sunbather: This one can lead to shoulder and wrist problems, by over-extending the thoracumbular and spine – particularly if there is any instability at the shoulder.

The squatter: This can lead to over extension of the spine and neck rotation, which can see you plagued with neck and back soreness.

The yogi: It might sound and look serene, but lying like this can cause hip problems, and increase your lumbar extension. Eventually, it could lead to hip arthritis.

The starfish: The research found that front sleeping was not good for back and posture at all. This starfish position could cause you all sorts of problems, including shoulder pain and instability.

The hedgehog: While this is side sleeping, unfortunately, it’s not the right kind of side sleeping. Drawing your knees up like that can cause tightness in your hip flexors and lead to pain, and eventually contribute to arthritis.

The heavy lifter: 20% of us enjoy this position, however, sleeping this way – with your arm under the pillow and leg extended out, will cause all sorts of problems. These include sacroiliac joint pain (the joints that link your pelvis and lower spine), knee issues (for the top leg), and shoulder instability.

The tackler: This one causes over extension of your lumbar spine and neck rotation, which can lead to upper back and neck soreness, and longer term problems.

The wrestler: Although this one makes use of the ‘pillow between the knee’ technique of the ‘dreamer’ position, the twisted body and legs means it’s no good and can lead to spinal rotation and anterior shoulder instability.

The freefaller: There are issues here with the arm being extended above the head, causing over lengthening of the shoulder stabilisers, which can lead to long term shoulder pain. It doesn’t look too good on the knees either.

So, unless you’ve mastered the top tier sleeping position of ‘dreamer’ already, it’s time to rethink how you’re lying in bed at night, if you want to avoid back, neck and shoulder pain.

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