Waking up feeling groggy from a night of tossing and turning when you can’t get comfortable is frustrating! Whether it’s a sore back or discomfort from recent surgery, there are a few helpful tips you can try right away that will make you more comfortable while you sleep.
Sleep Posture For Neck Pain
Using a pillow to support the head and neck is important. While the type of pillow you use is more of a personal choice than anything, the position of the pillow has the most impact. If you sleep on your back, pull the bottom of your pillow up over your shoulders to support the base of your head and back of your neck. Because of the shape of your head, when you lay flat on your back the neck is not well supported by the bed alone, and so the pillow acts to fill this space and allow your spine to remain in a more neutral and comfortable position.
For side sleepers, the same concept applies. You want your pillow to place your head in a neutral position. If a pillow is too fluffy or too flat, your head may angle in one way or the other putting your neck in an uncomfortable position. Another tip is to sleep with a pillow in front of you as if you are hugging it – if you like this, you can even opt for a larger body pillow! It will keep your shoulders from rounding in and your torso from rolling forward while you sleep which can help reduce shoulder and neck pain.
Lastly, if possible, try to avoid sleeping completely on your stomach with your neck turned to one side all night as this can cause stiffness and discomfort in the morning.
How To Sleep With Back Pain
As with neck pain, finding a comfortable position can depend on pillow placement. If you are a back sleeper, placing a pillow under your knees for a slight bend can help take some strain off of your low back and keep you more comfortable during the night.
For side sleepers, follow the same recommendations for pillow use at the neck. Additionally, try sleeping with a pillow between your knees to keep your pelvis and spine in a more neutral alignment.
Sleep Positions After Surgery
The best sleep position after surgery depends on the type of surgery! After a total hip replacement, you do not want to lay directly on the operative side for some time to allow the body to heal. It’s also really important to use an abduction pillow between the legs to prevent your operative leg from crossing midline or over the opposite leg while you sleep to maintain your hip precautions.
After a total knee replacement, while it may feel more comfortable in the short term, sleeping with a pillow under your knee is not recommended. Why? Unfortunately, the pillow below the knee keeps the joint in slight flexion for a prolonged period of time while you sleep – which can make it harder to gain back knee extension during recovery.
In general, after surgery, you want to make sure to adhere to all your surgical precautions and protect the surgical site for optimal healing and comfort. For more surgery-specific tips, check out our other blog, Sleeping After Surgery.
Sleep Hygiene Matters!
Why is sleep important?
When you sleep, your body cycles through different phases of sleep, with REM sleep being among the most important phases. REM sleep has been shown to play a role in brain development, emotional processing, dreaming, and even how restful you feel when you wake up. When you don’t get enough quality sleep this can result in poor concentration, feelings of grogginess, poor memory, changes in mood, and even heightened sensations of pain.
Habits for great sleep hygiene
Believe it or not, developing great sleep hygiene can take some practice. Like building any habit, your daily actions add up over time and pave the way for a consistently healthy lifestyle. We’ve put together a list of tips to help you create the best sleep habits for your needs!
• Have a nightly routine to wind down and prepare your body and mind for rest.
• Maintain a sleep schedule that works for you and stick to it as best you can.
• Avoid bright screens in bed or close to bedtime.
• Create a comfortable sleep environment to your liking (comfortable temperature, mattress, pillows, pajamas, etc.).
• Be mindful of caffeine throughout the day.
• Prioritize sleep like you would any other health habit.
Did you know physical therapists are trained clinicians with doctorate-level degrees who can help you build healthy habits, like proper sleep hygiene, into your lifestyle with a well-rounded wellness and fitness program? Download the OneStep app today to be connected with a licensed physical therapist who can create a customized exercise program for you and guide you in making new habits that support a healthy lifestyle.
Summer J. What is REM Sleep and How Much Do You Need? Sleep Foundation. Updated April 26, 2022. Accessed May 11, 2022.
Herrero Babiloni A, De Koninck BP, Beetz G, et al. Sleep and pain: recent insights, mechanisms, and future directions in the investigation of this relationship. J Neural Transm (Vienna). 2020;127(4):647-660.