Sleep Posture & Your Body’s Response

Sleep is one of the most important factors for a healthy life. If you don’t sleep well it can impact you in so many ways. Everyone is different and the amount of sleep that works for your body won’t be the same as someone else. Once you have worked out the optimal amount of sleep for yourself you need to work out how to make it the best quality sleep.


There are a number of variables to consider when it comes to increasing the quality of your sleep. Ensuring we get enough hours of sleep per night is an important first step, and we can work towards this by implementing a regular bed time each night. Establishing regularity around sleep and wake times creates opportunity for your circadian rhythm to regulate. If our 24 hour sleep/wake cycle is regular, release of hormones melatonin (induces drowsiness) and cortisol (promotes alertness) is regulated and sleep quality can improve. Another way to work WITH your circadian rhythm instead of against it is to take time to improve your sleep hygiene. More than just a good night time routine, good sleep hygiene habits span the entire day and are excellent ways to clean up your sleep cycle for a more restful night:


  • Exercise earlier in the day

  • Expose yourself to sunlight in the first half of the day (ideally, watch the sunrise!)

  • Hold off on caffeine in the hours leading up to bed time

  • Eat your heavier meals during sunlit hours and lighter meals at night

  • Limit screen time at night or avoid screens in bed altogether


One element that we have less control over is our sleep posture; our bodies will make way into the most comfortable and convenient position throughout the night without any conscious effort.

Sleep posture has a significant impact on the way our bodies move and function during our waking hours. As is the case for most, if we have been sleeping the same way for a number of years, there is a good chance our body has adapted and changed to account for this. Now there is nothing wrong with asymmetry, however if you are waking with pain, stiffness or discomfort; or you are aware of imbalances that are causing discomfort, it might be time to review your sleep posture and make some positive changes.


Side Sleeper

For most people, this sleep posture is the most advantageous, allowing the spine to settle in its natural alignment. This position is also particularly healthy during pregnancy. We all favour one side so it is possible that the constant gravitational pull in a downwards direction can place stress on the hips, sacrum or pelvis. To avoid this, try placing a pillow between your knees and curling into more of a foetal position, rather than lying in a straight-sideways-log. This way, your hips will be closer to neutral with the pillow creating more space between the knees. If you find that you are someone who curls into a tight ball when lying on your side, try placing a pillow in front of your belly to avoid hunching over and limiting expansion of the lungs and movement of the diaphragm.


The constant gravitational pull in a downwards direction can place stress on the hips, sacrum or pelvis

Belly Sleeper

Also known as the “free fall” position, many find it comfortable to sleep on the stomach with arms tucked beneath the pillow or your head. While it eases anxiety and promotes comfort for many, this position is not ideal for the airways or our cervical spines. Lying on your stomach with your head on a pillow leaves your neck in an extended and rotated position (equivalent to looking up and diagonally backwards for 8 hours of your day) - this is far from neutral and places extreme pressure on our cervical facet joints. If this is your favoured position, avoid any potential implications by steering clear of thick or stiff pillows to decrease the angle of extension in the neck. Try falling asleep in a different position and this will slowly train your body out of belly sleeping.


This position is not ideal for the airways or our cervical spines

Try falling asleep in a different position and this will slowly train your body out of belly sleeping


Back Sleeper

This posture is less common, though still preferred by some. It is a major contributor to lower back pain (LBP), as lying on your back with legs outstretched places your spine into extension, as if you are bending backwards at your lower back. If waking with LBP is something you experience, try placing a pillow or rolled up towel under your knees when falling asleep. This will encourage your spine into a more neutral position.


Place a pillow or rolled up towel under your knees when falling asleep to help avoid lower back pain

So as it seems, every position provides some level of complication, varying your sleep posture would assist with mitigating the development of ongoing issues. Now that is easier said that done, but by falling asleep in a different position each night will help your body become comfortable with options.


Be sure to also assess your mattress and pillows - a mattress should be supportive of your body and ideally changed every 6-8 years. Make changes slowly, and remember, just like any habit, changing sleep posture will not happen overnight.



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