Day 8: What's Your Favorite Position In Bed
How is your body positioned when you first get into bed and trying to fall asleep? Do you find yourself sleeping in different positions throughout the night, trying to get comfortable? What position are you in when you awake?
Believe it or not, the positioning of your body while sleeping can make a huge difference in the comfort and quality of your sleep, as well as create pain and other problems for your waking hours.
As healthcare practitioners we treat many people for pain in their back, neck, shoulders, hips, and knees. Along with the pain they frequently experience numbness in their arms, hands, feet or legs. Most of this pain is caused by subluxations of the vertebrae – in other words, part of their spine is out of alignment and is pressuring or “pinching” their nerves. Set of corrective exercises usually fixes this problem.
However, one of the first questions I ask my clients is, “How are you sleeping? How is your body positioned when you sleep?”
Poor sleep posture can cause chronic pain and numbness. Here’s what NOT to do:
Sleeping on your stomach – It doesn’t support your lower back and forces you to twist your neck
Sleeping with your arms above your head – It can strain your shoulders and cause pain and numbness in your shoulders, arms, hands, and upper back
Sleeping on pillows that push your head forward – It strains the neck
Sleeping on pillows that drop the head too far backward – It strains the neck
Sleeping on pillows that are so flat that your head isn’t supported at all – It strains the neck
Here are a couple examples of poor sleep posture. These postures are going to result in pain – if not tomorrow, then definitely over time.
So what is GOOD sleep posture? Here’s what TO DO:
Sleep on your back or side
Sleep with a pillow under your knees if you sleep on your back (supports lower back); or a pillow between your knees if you sleep on your side (supports hips and knees)
If on your back, sleep with your arms beside you or gently on your stomach
If on your side, sleep with your arms comfortably in front of you, ideally with a small pillow between them to help avoid strain on your shoulder
Sleep with a pillow that gently, but firmly supports your head while keeping your neck neutral (not bent up, down, forward or backward) – HINT: if you’re a side sleeper look for a pillow(s) that fits the depth of your shoulder (from your ear to the outside of your shoulder)
It may take a little time to get used to sleeping in a new position or with new pillows. I know you’ll sleep more soundly and wake up well refreshed and in less pain or discomfort if you adjust your sleep posture. Try it out and let me know what you think.
Day 9 – Make Your Bed Luxurious
Day 9’s topic makes us want to snuggle into bed for a nap right now. I want you to treat yourself to some luxury. Make your bed and bedding dreamy and truly something you look forward to each night.
We're not talking about your duvet cover or bedspread, and two dozen decorative throw pillows. Sure, that may matter when we’re talking about creating an environment you love in your bedroom. But we're talking about the bedding that does the work: the mattress, topper, sheets, pillows, and blankets.
Mattress & Topper
We are often asked what kind of mattress I recommend and if it should be firmer or softer. First, let’s talk firmness. It depends. Your mattress needs to support your body in a way that helps keep the spine neutral while making you comfortable. Which mattress does that for you is an individual preference.
You know how people say don’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry? Well, I’d encourage you to go mattress shopping when you’re tired. You’ll be more relaxed when you lay down to try out mattresses. Zone out for 3 to 5 minutes and really let yourself release the little micro-tensions in your muscles and sink into the bed. Consciously notice how each part of your body feels supported (or not), from head to toe/foot.
As for types of mattress, We have clients who absolutely love their beds and they run the gamut of types and brands. That said, we do think that the following provide great support for various types of people: Tempurpedic, Sleep Number, and Casper. I’ve slept on all of them and like them for different reasons.
Sometimes, if you don’t want to purchase an entirely new mattress, or if you’re looking for a slight change in softness / firmness from what you have, then a topper might be for you. You can buy all kinds of toppers that are usually about 2 inches thick and simply sit on the mattress under your mattress pad and sheets. They come in every style – memory foam, bamboo, futon-esque, fluffy down, etc.
I wrote a little bit about pillows in yesterday’s post about sleeping positions. Pillows, like mattresses can be firm or soft. They can be big and fluffy, flat and dense, made of memory foam, bamboo, or stuffed with down. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that they support your neck in a neutral position.
If you’re a back sleeper: Your pillow should cradle your head so that you’re staring straight up to the ceiling. That means that the pillow is not pushing your chin to your chest, nor forcing you backward toward your shoulders. While either of these positions might seem fine when you first lay down, staying in such positions for prolonged periods may cause pain in the neck and shoulders, and possibly subluxation of vertebra in your neck.
If you’re a side sleeper: Your pillow should cradle your head so that you’re gaze is parallel to the bed, not angled. That means that the pillow is the right height and density so that your head isn’t dropping to the side towards the bed, nor is pushed up towards the ceiling. Either extreme would cause a crick in your neck, pain and likely a subluxation over time. You’ll need a pillow(s) that fits the height of your outer shoulder to your ear to keep your neck neutral.
If you are a heavier person or are broad shouldered you may need to sleep with thicker/taller pillows. If you are a thinner or more petite person you may need to sleep with flatter pillows. Regardless, if you aren’t already in love with your pillow, or if you’ve had some neck or shoulder pain, consider experimenting with your pillows. This is a great question to post on social media and ask your friends what pillows they use and love.
Sheets and Blankets
There’s something special about slipping into bed with freshly washed sheets, ideally just out of the dryer. They smell and feel so good. I love that! Some people want flannel and others want satin. I most often opt for high quality, high thread count cotton because it is breathable and becomes extra soft over time. Quality sheets can make all the difference. Don’t skimp on these. I know some people have a hard time spending money on “just fabric,” but they last for years and impact your life daily.
Blankets are wonderful, especially in transitions – whether it’s transitioning from one season of the calendar, or a season in your life. You know what we're talking about if you’ve been pregnant or have gone through menopause. Keeping a blanket on the bed or nearby gives you more options (versus just duvet/bedspread on or off) for controlling the temperature without changing the thermostat. Blankets can also be helpful if one person is always cold and the other is always hot. Like sheets, blankets are an investment worthy of buying quality that will last.
Strip down your bed and remake it with freshly a laundered mattress pad, sheets and blanket. See how good that feels. This week take the time to really notice how you feel about your mattress, pillows, sheets and blankets. Experiment with pillows and get new ones if yours are not supporting your neck properly. Consider treating yourself to new, luxurious sheets. I know it is a big expense, but if you find that your mattress is old, broken down, or causes you pain, seriously consider investing in a new one. This is something you use every day and is critical to your health and wellbeing. It is worth the expense to find something that meets your needs.
Day 10 – Stay Cool
Stay cool, man. Whether you have trouble falling asleep, or you can’t seem to stay asleep, your bedroom temperature may be part of the problem. There is extensive research about sleep and temperature. Studies show that keeping the room temperature around a cool 65 - 72 degrees Fahrenheit so that your head is cool while your body is at a comfortable temperature, will help you sleep better. Why?
As your brain starts getting signals that it is time for sleep (remember that is where sunset, dimming lights, and powering off electronics helps) it starts cooling the body and brain to an internal set point, which is different for everyone. Getting to that set point faster helps you fall asleep faster. Therefore having a cooler temp in your bedroom can help you reach the set point and dreamland faster. But you have to find the right temperature for you. If you’re too cold or too hot your brain will have to work hard to maintain the set point; this will either keep you from falling asleep, or will wake you up. You should also know that just as your temperature naturally drops as you prepare for sleep. It also instinctively warms up in the hours before you wake.
OK, so you’ll keep the room cooler, but now you’re concerned about getting too cold. That’s where finding the right sleepwear, sheets, and blankets may come in handy (see previous days’ posts for details). Studies have also shown that feet easily get cold which can contribute to waking you up in the middle of the night. In the winter, if you want to warm up the bed before slipping in, use an old fashioned water bottle, not an electric blanket. You don’t want to be cloaked with the energy from an electric device while trying to sleep.
If your hormones are in flux due to menopause or extreme stress, you may find yourself waking up in the middle of the night uncomfortably hot. This is all the more reason to keep the room cool. You may also want to go to bed with layers of bedding and/or sleepwear that makes it easy to shed one, the other or both to get cool again.
So stay cozy under the covers and cool above them.
Day 11 – Energy and Light
Think of your bedroom as a sanctuary. You should be able to walk into your bedroom and instantly feel more relaxed. There are a lot of factors that contribute to creating that environment and mindset, some of which we’ve talked about (i.e. making your bed luscious, not taking computers or phones to bed, etc.), and some we’ll discuss in the coming days (i.e. temperature and clutter, etc.). Today I want to talk about the impact of energy and light.
One of the reasons I want you to disconnect from your electronic devices an hour before bed is that the light emanating from them tricks the body into thinking it isn’t yet time for bed. As the sun sets, darkness triggers the body into releasing melatonin, which helps you go to sleep. Any light can interfere with falling asleep and possibly staying asleep. So, we're glad you’ve been shutting down the computer, video games, or tablets, and turning off your phone and TV earlier for the past few days (I trust that you’re doing this). Now I want you to think more about the light you’re letting into your bedroom.
When you go to your bedroom to start getting ready for bed do you flip on a bright overhead light? When you set your alarm clock, does the time glow all night? Is your window dressing opaque enough that moonlight shows through at night and sunrise shines through in the morning? Are other electronics in the room, and even though they’re off, they have a light indicating they’re plugged in?
Whether you’re conscious to it or not, all of this light is distracting. It hinders melatonin, but it also adds energy to the room at a time when you’re trying to relax. Other things that increase energy movement in your bedroom are open doors and mirrors. Mirrors reflect light and therefore bounce energy around the room. Open doors allow a flow of energy in and out of spaces when you want a still and calm environment.
Today’s small changes to create a shift towards rejuvenating sleep are to limit light and energy in your bedroom. Here are ways to do that:
Use table or floor lamps for light instead of the overhead light while you’re getting ready for bed. The slight darkening of the room will help your mind and body prepare for bed.
If possible, remove all electronics from the room. Get rid of the TV (or at least cover it), tablets, and laptop. Charge your cell phone in a different room (unless it is your only phone and you need it near you for emergencies).
For any electronic devices left in your room that have little power lights glowing, use black electrical tape to black them out. A tiny piece of tape and that glow is gone.
If your alarm clock glows, see if you can dim the light. Or consider turning the face of the clock away from the bed. Or purchase a new clock that only lights up if you press a button.
Unless you truly love waking up to a sun drenched bedroom (and many people do, which is OK), consider getting room darkening shades, or thicker fabrics for draperies to lessen the moonlight and sunshine.
Move mirrors out of the bedroom. If you have a full length mirror for dressing, consider putting it on the inside of your closet door so that it can be shut away. If you can’t or don’t want to move a mirror out of your bedroom, consider covering it up at night. Or at the very least rearrange its placement so that it is not directly across from the bed.
Shut your bedroom door. If you like to keep it open, especially if you have kids, just shut it as much as you’re comfortable. Keep your closet doors shut. If you have a master suite with its own bathroom, close that door as well, if there is a door.
I hope you find these small changes easy. You don't have to take on all of them if they don't fit you. Some of them might take a little getting used to. These changes along with everything else you’ve been doing over the previous days and will do in the days to come are building a new internal and external environment that sets you up for the rejuvenating sleep your mind, body and spirit need.
Day 12 – Let’s talk about noise
Let’s talk about noise.
Some people can fall asleep next door to a dance party and not be bothered by the noise. Others can wake up to the sound of a dog barking three blocks away. They have a difficult time falling asleep or staying asleep if they hear the slightest sound. These “light sleepers” tend to fall into two camps: 1) they need total silence (which is difficult to achieve in today’s world), or 2) they need soothing white noise in the background.
If you’re a “heavy sleeper” and sounds from the kids down the hall, or your neighbor’s dog don’t bother you, then you can stop reading if you like as this lessen may not apply to you. For the rest of you…read on.
Let’s say you are a light sleeper. What can you do about it? You can use white noise to mask the surrounding sounds and let your brain tune out the nuisance sounds. Technically, white noise is sound that carries amplitude that is constant throughout the audible frequency range. You’ve heard it before. It sounds like radio static.
True white noise can only be created electronically. Earlier we suggested that you power off electronic devices and remove them from your bedroom. That is certainly something I promote. However, if your nature is to be disturbed by the slightest sound you need to do what is necessary to create the best environment that will support your healthy sleep. If that means you need to engage electronics, so be it.
While there is pure white noise that you can access, it isn’t very pleasant. However, the term itself has become a catch-all for any type of unchanging, soothing sound that masks the sounds that would otherwise disturb you. These sounds might include:
Ambient – campfire, noise from a busy coffee shop, the inside of an airplane, etc.
Nature – rainforest, thunderstorms, waves/water, crickets, birds
Machines – hum of a washing machine or air conditioner, anything consistent
You can generate white noise by:
Purchasing a white noise or sound machine that is preloaded with tested recordings
Purchase or get free mp3 downloads of the recordings; you’ll have to play them on a radio or from your phone or tablet
Run a fan in your bedroom – be sure to not have the air blowing directly on your face
Tune a radio to in-between an AM or FM station (not as pleasant)
If you or your bedmate is a light sleeper I hope you’ll try this small change and incorporate white noise into your sleeping environment. Try different sounds and approaches until you find one that works best for you.
Day 13 – With Whom Are You Sleeping?
With whom are you sleeping? If you’re sharing a room with someone whose sleeping habits disturb your sleep (i.e. temperature preferences, snoring, etc.) then you may need to discuss it with them and make changes. If the issue is temperature, then maybe you change the thermostat, use a fan, change the bedding, or what you or they are wearing to bed. If the issue is their snoring, first consider that they may have sleep apnea. NOT everyone who snores has sleep apnea, BUT everyone that has sleep apnea snores. This is something to explore with a physician.
If the issue disrupting your sleep is that you just don’t feel like you have comfortable space, then consider your sleeping positions and/or size of your bed. This should be a conversation and mutual decisions to experiment with things that make sleep better for both of you.
If you have pets that share your bed and that’s disruptive for you then you may need to train them to stay either at the foot of the bed, or off the bed entirely. We know that isn’t easy, but remember, taking care of your health greatly benefits the whole family, including your pets!
Just as important as who is in your bed is what is in your head when you go to bed. Did you just watch the news or a rerun of Criminal Minds, either of which can leave you with sad, negative, gruesome or scary thoughts? Did you have a stressful or frustrating day? Are you running through a to-do list in your mind and feeling behind as you’re trying to fall asleep? All of this is causing a flurry of activity in your mind and can keep you from falling asleep, and also keep you from being able to truly rest.
All of the things we’ve talked about so far:
Preparing for the AM in the PM – can help by getting some things done, out of your head, and prepared for the next day.
Disconnecting from electronic devices – can help make sure that the buzz of whatever you were watching or playing isn’t still at the forefront of your mind when you get in bed.
Bedtime Rituals – can put you in wind down mode.
Gratitude – One of the best ways to release any worry is to remember what you’re grateful for. Whether it is by prayer or keeping a gratitude journal, end your day by giving thanks.
In addition to these, if you have chatter in your head that is going to bed with you and keeping you awake, consider journaling. Allow yourself to be free with what you write. Just get it out of your head and on paper and let it go.
Day 14 – What To Wear To Bed
Today I want to talk about what you’re wearing to bed…or not wearing. What you wear to bed can affect your sleep in three ways – temperature, comfort, and emotion/mindset.
If you are hot or cold you won’t sleep well. Eventually you’ll wake up to change clothing, adjust your covers, or change the thermostat. When selecting your sleepwear consider breathable fabric, ideally natural fabric like cotton or silk. Know that your body temperature will change throughout the night and be at its lowest a few hours before you wake. Also keep in mind how the bedding will affect your temperature as well. If you are using flannel sheets and a huge, fluffy comforter, you may not need the flannel PJs… but then again, maybe you do. Feeling hot or cold is different for everyone. Just know what works for you and select your sleepwear (or no sleepwear) so that if you awaken in the middle of the night it isn’t because you were blazing hot or freezing cold.
Do you need to sleep free as a bird, totally naked, to feel comfortable? Great, do that! Do you like to wear your fave pair of sweats and that old college t-shirt that has holes in three places, but has been washed so many times it is the softest thing imaginable? Awesome, wear it! Do you like slipping into a nightgown? Perfect! If it makes you comfortable, wear it. I just encourage you to really pay attention to whether it’s comfortable, or if you’ve just gotten so used to wearing it that you don’t really notice the discomfort. But you do notice it, subconsciously, and it affects your sleep. So start paying attention and notice if the waistband on those sweats kind of pinches, or the skinny straps on that nightgown twist and pull throughout the night. Just notice… and then make adjustments. Wear something different. Or treat yourself to something new.
Emotion and Mindset
You should always feel good, or at least not intentionally do things that make you feel bad. Believe it or not, people have a mindset about what they wear to bed, particularly if they have a partner. Here’s the thing, whatever you choose to wear, or not wear, has to feel right to you. It has to make you feel good – both in the garment itself, and about the fact that you’re wearing it. This notion applies to both the idea of wearing some sexy lingerie to wearing your old sweats. It has to feel good to you. Whether you’re sleeping alone or sharing your bed, wear what makes you feel what you want to feel.
Part #3 of our Good Night's Rest series coming soon!
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