We know we look better when we stand up straight. Shoulders back, chin up, chest out, core tight. This goes the same (if not more importantly) for sitting for long periods of time. It’s easy to slump over, fully hunchbacked, reinforcing our tech-neck lines and increasing muscle tension in our shoulders, neck, and jaw. If only we could glance at ourselves from the side every so often … it might inspire us to transform.
Sleep posture is the same, but different. Our overall well-being is still determined by the way we contort ourselves, waking or sleeping. But we’re asleep! How can we be worried about what we’re doing when in an altered state of consciousness? Dr. Rahul Shah, an orthopedic neck and spine surgeon in southern New Jersey, weighs in.
“Posture is virtually impossible to control while you sleep. Your body will assume whatever position it finds comfortable or familiar based on your prior experience. If you sleep in an unfamiliar environment (for example, a different bed), you may find that you are prone to being more uncomfortable. As such, when selecting a place to sleep, assess if it meets the general requirements that have ensured restful sleep in the past.”
Mimic your best sleeping scenario, wherever you are.
We can’t exactly improve our own posture as we sleep due to obvious reasons, but Dr. Shah has some other solutions. “The main way to improve your posture while you sleep is to make sure that you are sleeping in a familiar environment that has ensured restful sleep in the past. When sleeping, the stiffness of the mattress can be a common reason for folks to have uncomfortable sleep. If one is used to a more firm mattress, but then placed on a softer mattress, some may experience more discomfort. Additionally, the type of pillow may also make up an important part of sleep. As such, some may find a pillow with a cutout for the neck more beneficial whereas others may find a firmer or fuller pillow more comfortable.”
Don’t sweat the spine too much.
“Contrary to the popular notion that the spine must remain aligned while asleep, I have found that many people sleep in ‘non-aligned’ positions for the spine but have very restful sleep. Because there are no significant loads from gravity affecting the spine while someone is lying down (gravity mainly affects the spinal muscles and alignment when one is upright), there is more variability in the types of posture one may assume and still have restful sleep. Because there is such individual variation in the type of posture that one can have for restful sleep, in my view, it’s most important to identify the types of pillows/mattress that provided the best sleep in the past.”
Experiment with your fluff levels.
“If you believe that you have poor sleep posture, my recommendation is to experiment with different types of pillows if the neck and shoulders seem to be the source of the discomfort. If the low back, on the other hand, is the source of discomfort, investigate different mattress types,” i.e. materials, brand, firmness, pillow-top options, and so on. Sweet dreams!
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