Why your night-time habits might be working against your posture
Updated: Nov 14, 2019
What's the best position to sleep in?
I get asked a lot of questions about 'the best sleeping position' and the (boring/unhelpful) answer is that I don't think there IS 'the best sleeping position'.
The best sleeping position is the one you feel most comfortable in and the one you sleep the best in.
There's no point trying to sleep in a so-called perfect posture if it means you don't get any sleep.
The way that I see it is that, if we do all we can to have a strong, functional body when we aren't sleeping, then we will have a body that holds itself comfortably for 8 hours with very few problems.
The problem is that most people are very sedentary during the day (so they become weak), and then they take these bodies to a soft bed where their muscles are becoming even more atrophied (weaker).
People who suffer pain whilst sleeping haven't trained correctly for the 'sport' of sleeping. The body that they are taking to sleep is not equipped to handle the load and demand they are asking of it.
There's training that needs to happen outside of the bedroom, in order for the time IN the bedroom to be more comfortable.
Many of my clients struggle with sleeping through the night due to their pain, but very quickly make rapid gains with this when they learn how to wake up the right muscles to hold their joints in a more comfortable position.
As they gain strength during the day, the gain strength to have a body that can hold itself comfortably during the night.
The 'Princess and the Pea' effect My job is basically one that involves telling people things they don't want to hear in order to help them out.
One of the things people don't want to hear is that we have evolved to sleep on the hard floor.
A bit like this.
Just like any other primate, that is what our body is programmed to do.
When we sleep on the hard ground (or at least a hard surface) our body will be wrestling between gravity and the hard surface during this time and this will be strengthening our muscles during the night.
Yes, sleeping is supposed to be a subtle workout for your body to keep you strong at all times.
Not only that, but when you are on more rigid surfaces you're more likely to fidget and this is also going to keep your muscles working during the night.
By cushioning ourselves in a soft, marshmallow paradise (a bit like the soft, marshmallow shoes we wear) our muscles don't have to fight gravity and we aren't motivated to fidget.
This causes muscular atrophy which will contribute towards your pain.
The weaker you get, the more uncomfortable it becomes to sleep on hard surfaces, so the softer and softer you go, and the weaker and weaker you get ... get the picture?
Pillows = Stiff Neck and Shoulders
Westerners spend most of their time cranked forward in a locked position of spinal flexion. It's this locked position of spinal flexion which, over time, is a contributor (if not cause) of many different types of chronic pain symptoms.
The general rule of thumb that I follow is that, the longer you spend in 'x' position, you should spend as long in 'y' position to neutralise out the demand on your body.
So, for every hour you spend in thoracic flexion (aka hunchback), you should spend an hour in thoracic extension (aka a back bend).
Luckily for us, we have an amazing, easy and in-built way of doing this.
We can sleep on a hard surface with no support, which allows our spine (including our neck) to settle back into neutral during the night ...
Oh wait, no we don't ...
We put fluffy props under our neck, shoulders and thoracic spine to keep us locked in spinal flexion during the night so our spine can't re-set itself.
Our arms are the perfect pillow for us to sleep on. Not only do they help us keep a more neutral spine and neck, but sleeping on your arms will, in certain positions, help stretch out your shoulders too.
Why do you think babies and young children can sleep so happily on hard surfaces and without pillows? They haven't been conditioned to need them and are much more in touch with what their primate body needs.
So there you have it. My opinions on sleeping in a nutshell.
1. Go for as hard a bed as you possibly can. Sleeping on the floor should be comfortable.
2. Lose the pillows (gently - if you're super stiff in your neck it may take some time to limber up enough for this to be ok).
3. Train your body outside of the bedroom to be ready for the sport of sleeping so that it can hold itself comfortably each night.
If you'd like more information on how Postural Alignment Therapy (in-person or via FaceTime) can help you sleep better, drop me an email today on firstname.lastname@example.org