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Sleep Positions & Your Body

By Adrian Benne

Whether recovering from an injury, or just resting after a long day on your feet, sleep gives our bodies the proper chance to rest and repair. We spend roughly 40% of our lives sleeping, which means that roughly 40% of the time that your body is repairing itself after an injury is spent in bed. The majority of muscle repair and growth will occur during sleep as certain hormones are released, so you may as well give your body the best chance possible. Things like the amount of hours asleep, back and neck alignment, and body positioning can all have an affect on timelines for recovery, so here is a quick guide that may help get things going in the right direction if you’re not feeling the best after a sleep.


For some conditions, your health professional may advise avoiding certain sleeping positions to prevent you from irritating a healing structure. For example, you may report that you experience shoulder pain during the night, but only after rolling onto it, causing you to wake up. An easy strategy you can use is to position either pillows or a blanket either behind or in front of your body to prevent you from rolling onto the affected shoulder. Avoiding further irritation is a great way to keep pain levels down, stay in deeper stages of sleep, and help progress your rehabilitation. 

You also may have heard it's bad for your neck or back to sleep on your stomach. This is due to the fact that to sleep on your front, you must turn your head to the side to allow breathing, putting the neck in an extreme range position for a prolonged period. If you find yourself waking up on your front, try employ the above strategy of placing some pillows or a blanket behind or in front of your body to stop you from rolling all the way over.


Back Pain

Finding a position of comfort with back pain can be very difficult. To assist recovery, it's best to have the spine in a relatively neutral position while still providing support. This means keeping the natural curves of the spine maintained while still being comfortable. In regards to mattresses, it's important to strike a balance between not so hard that it feels like sleeping on concrete, but not so soft that your spine may move out of natural alignment. 

It can be even more difficult to sleep if your back is already in pain before even getting into bed. If your back pain is flared up or feels stiff prior to sleeping, try and do some very light stretches and exercises, or pain management strategies as directed by your physiotherapist. It is important to not be too aggressive with exercises late at night, as it can make sleep more difficult as the body and brain become stimulated and alert.

Neck Pain

Many people wake up with an incredibly sore neck, unable to rotate or look up and think “I didn’t even do anything to cause this?”. Most of the time it's from joints in the neck being placed in positions of excessive rotation, or forwards, backwards or side bending during the night leading to irritation. Incorrect pillow height can be the main reason you wake up like this. Similar to the back, the natural alignment of the neck needs to be maintained to avoid stressful positions. Your body might often point out signs to you that it doesn’t like your pillow height - for example, if you wake up with your arm under your pillow, this may indicate the pillow is too low and it needs to be higher. This could also contribute to shoulder pain, as it is placed under unnecessary stress for a prolonged period similar to the neck.

Have a chat with your physiotherapist if you are unsure about how to look for a pillow. Just like a mattress, a pillow is something you should spend some time looking into and get the best option that suits your neck and preferred sleeping position.


Hip Pain

You may be surprised to hear a lot of people report their hip pain gets worse after sleeping at night despite not even moving. This is potentially due to the fact many of the sources of hip pain (tendons, muscles, bursa) are located on the side of the hip. If you sleep on the side that’s sore against the mattress, this can compress the structures leading to more pain. Conversely, if you sleep on the other side, the structures can be stretched as the leg naturally bends downwards. While sleeping on your back may be the obvious solution, some people find great difficulty falling asleep in positions they’re not used to. A fantastic strategy to try is to place a pillow between your legs while sleeping on your opposite side of pain. The pillow provides a gentle lift to the leg, meaning the hip structures are not irritated over the night, leading to less pain in the morning.  

If you are experiencing trouble sleeping due to aches and pains and need some strategies to get a better quality sleep, contact us or book online with one of our physiotherapists to have an assessment of your sleeping posture and setup. 

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