Besides common complaints such as back pain, swollen legs, irritable headaches and mood swings, one of the more prevalent questions I am asked in practice is, “what is the best sleeping position during pregnancy?” It’s no wonder this question is raised by nearly all expecting mothers because it is difficult to find any comfortable position to get quality and adequate rest or due to back pain. We spend on average a third of our life in bed, so it is critical to have the right setup.
To appreciate what happens to our body when we sleep we must be aware of what a ‘normal’ spine looks like. The healthy normal spine has three distinct curves; cervical, thoracic and lumbar. While this is the case, it should also be straight vertically. From worst to best, continue reading to learn what each position does to your body and posture.
Tummy Sleeping – What Is It Really Doing?
Imagine this scenario… you’re asked to stand in the same position for 8 hours with your head turned to one side. After 8 hours has passed you’re free to move around. Consider how stiff, tight and painful your shoulders and neck would be. There’s a fair chance you would also experience some lower back discomfort and perhaps a few headaches from your body compensating due to your bad neck posture. This is the very position you find your body in if you’re a regular tummy sleeper.
For pregnant women, at some point as your belly continues to grow, sleeping on your stomach will become impossible. This is the best chance to break your bad habit! For everyone else reading this article, if you persist that sleeping on your stomach is the most comfortable and your only option I encourage you to purchase a very thin and lightly supported pillow. This will ensure that your neck does not hyper-extend during your sleep which will also contribute to the development of long term chronic pain and musculoskeletal problems of the neck and shoulders.
What Does Sleeping On Your Back Do To Your Spine?
While sleeping on your back is less harmful than stomach sleeping, it is still not without its potential side effects. Back sleeping tends to place stress and strain upon the lower back as well as the neck and shoulders. These changes can be minimized by placing a small roll or pillow under both of your knees (therefore reducing the lordosis or curvature in your lower back) and by using a thinner than usual pillow.
Particular attention for pregnant women: when lying on your back remember to place a small pillow or object under the left hand side of your pelvis. This ensures adequate blood flow to the uterus.
The Best Sleeping Position During Pregnancy
So what is the best sleeping position? Whether you’re pregnant or not, without doubt the best position to sleep in is on your side. Some research even takes it a step further and suggests sleeping on your left hand side is optimal. The reason for this is because we want to ensure our spine remains in the least stressful position as possible (i.e we want our spine to be as close to normal as possible) and sleeping on our side helps us achieve that.
Ideally, our spine should remain straight/horizontal when viewed from behind. This means a pillow should be chosen that fills the space between your shoulder and ear. As well as this, for comfort a pillow a can placed between your knees which are slightly bent and raised at the hip. For pregnant women, this position ensures as little as possible torsion is placed upon the pelvis and lower back. Therefore directly improving uterine position to allow for proper position of your baby.
Choose Wisely: The Negative Effects Of Poor Sleeping Posture & Position
Many musculoskeletal problems that we face are the result or at the very least contributed to by improper sleeping posture and position. Problems such as headaches, neck and back discomfort, fatigue as well as muscle tightness and tension. Chiropractors are a good point of call for problems like these and many others as they’re highly skilled and trained in the assessment of the spine. So when you’re in bed tonight, think wisely about the position you sleep in, because it may well have a big impact upon the health of your body and spine.