Can't Sleep

With the days getting shorter and the nights getting colder, #Notime2sleep may work well for Russell Wilson (the Seahawks’ record will ultimately prove or dispatch that theory), but for the rest of us, especially for those experiencing neck and back pain, a good nights’ sleep is a cherished commodity.

A lot is being CBS News Story lately about how much sleep you need to stay healthy, but are you making the most of the time you have under the covers?  I’m often asked, what is the best position for sleeping? For years the studies have bounced around on the topic. Finally, there is some steady research that suggests that there is a “right way” to sleep!

Today’s science says…

Many people think the best sleeping position is to be on your back with your body in a straight line. But, as early as 1983, one fascinating study suggested that consistently poor sleepers spend more time on their backs with their heads straight.

Jumping ahead nearly 20 years, a German study found that a change for the supine (on your back) to the lateral (on your side) position increased the stability of the upper airways considerably.  More oxygen = better sleep.

Just this summer, a Stony Brook University study attempted to determine optimal sleeping positions by measuring brain fluid (known as cerebral spinal fluid) exchange in rats, thereby potentially reducing neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons.  This study found that the flow was most efficient in the side position compared with the back or on the stomach.

But, what about my aching back?

Increased oxygen and brain fluid is all fine and good, but what about vertebral pain? Australian study looked at overall health with respect to sleep positions and found when the majority of subjects slept in the side-lying position, they were significantly protected against waking up due to neck, shoulder and arm pain.  Eureka! As you can imagine, this significantly promoted higher sleep quality ratings.

So, surprisingly, to patients and doctors alike, while sleeping on the back has long been recommended for the prevention of neck symptoms this study couldn’t find any advantage to sleeping on your back.

It’s even reported that the most common sleeping position for cave men in the wild was on their side without a pillow.  Would you believe that these forest dwelling people and tribal nomads actually suffered fewer musculoskeletal lesions than us ‘civilized’ people?

Woman sleeping on side

The ‘sides’ have it…

Apologies to all you back sleepers, but science is clearly suggesting side sleeping offers benefits of improved slumber, clearer airways, and increased brain fluid exchange (at least for our pet rats), as well as possibly reducing the incidence of neck, shoulder and arm pain.

That said, even though sleeping on your back with a pillow under your neck may not be optimal, for patients with head, neck or low-back pain, I recommend you sleep in whatever position is the most comfortable for you.  Pain is personal.  And, if you are under a specific treatment plan for curvature reductions, such as scoliosis treatment, sleep according to your treatment recommendations.

So, have a good night and don’t let the bed bugs bite!