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Sleep Perfect Sleep 1: the ideal sleeping position

Essentially there are only three positions to sleep in; front, back or side. As adults many people assume the position they slept in as children. Most of us born pre 1985 were placed on our tummies as infants. If you ever observe a prone sleeping baby or child you will observe two main postures: either prone curled in a ball, arms and legs drawn in and head turned to one side (to breathe!) or prone flat out, arms and legs akimbo, again with the head turned to the side: the essence of comfort! Though fine for children with their innate flexibility, as we age the body in general starts to lose flexibility as ligaments and joints stiffen. As a general rule the body is at its most comfortable where joints and muscles are in mid range, especially from the age of twenty five onwards. Thus for adults unlike babies, either extreme of over bent or over straight can cause problems.

Now cast your mind from the prone sleeping baby to a very elderly person. The idea of a very old person sleeping on their tummy doesn’t make sense. Tummy sleeping becomes more and more difficult as we age and perhaps even harmful for our body. Why? Well, if you are a tummy sleeper, sit back in a supporting chair. Now turn you head as far over one shoulder as possible. Hold that position for one minute. Comfortable? Definitely not! You will feel the strain around the muscles of the lower neck and upper back, as they are being forced to lengthen to allow you achieve the full head turn.

To further prove the point, go stand up against a wall. Facing the wall, turn your head to the side, press the length of your body to the wall and hold this position for one minute. This time not only do your neck muscles get achy, but you may also begin to notice discomfort in the lower back region. Imagine how uncomfortable it would be to lie rather than stand in this position for a couple of hours while asleep. In this instance the joints of the lower back are being held near full spinal extension, a physically stressful position if these joints have begun to stiffen with age. This is the reason why chartered physiotherapists often suggest that from age twenty five onwards you should make a genuine effort to change over to another sleeping position if you have always slept on your tummy up to now.

So of the other two postures, is either superior? Lying on your back is fine, as long as you have good movement in your neck, to allow your head loll to either side as you sleep. If you suffer from neck stiffness or have had neck injuries in the past, lying on your back may not prove ideal.

This leaves side lying, probably the most common posture for adults. It doesn’t matter if you have a preference for left or right, the most important issue is the position of your neck relative to your spine. Here it is pillows that become a critical issue. A good rule is to stand in front of a mirror. Observe the distance from the point of your shoulder to the root of your neck: you require sufficient pillows to fill this area. Lying on your side, aim to keep your head in alignment with your upper back. So if you have a small bony frame, one pillow is enough: a medium frame, two medium pillows: a large frame and you should use two thick pillows. The point of your shoulder should be flat on the bed. Pull the pillows into the root of your neck and you should find you sleep really well.

Finally, to recoup, two pillows if you are an average build and lie on either side or one pillow to fill the back of your neck when lying on your back. If you are an adult tummy sleeper, start changing over now. Try side lying with two pillows, the high pillows will help alert you not to turn onto your tummy. If you must prone sleep, do not use any pillows at all.
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TherapyXperts: Registered business address: Kandoy House, 2 Fairview Strand, Fairview, Dublin 3, Ireland|Phone: +353 818 333 611|Email: info@therapyxperts.ie
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