How Your Sleeping Position Impacts Your Orthopedic Health


Getting eight hours of sleep but still waking up with an aching back? It could be how you are sleeping.

Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep a night and you should wake up feeling refreshed and ready for the day. But, if you’re getting those hours in and still get out of bed with a sore neck or back, the number of hours you rest may not be the problem—it could be your sleeping position that’s harming your orthopedic health.

How you sleep is just as important as the quality and length of your nightly slumber. With some easy adjustments, you can slip out of bed every morning feeling well-rested and have a healthy neck and spine.

What each sleeping position means for your orthopedic health

You probably don’t think too much about your sleeping position. It’s something you’ve been doing for years, right? Well, if you’re waking up every day with a sore neck or back, you should consider making some easy changes to support your body as you sleep. 

Here’s a look at three common sleep positions and what you can do to make each more comfortable.

If you sleep on your side. This is the position most people curl up in at night. When positioned correctly, side sleeping maintains your neck and spine in a neutral, level position, keeping your muscles and joints relaxed and stable. It’s also the preferred posture for those suffering from sleep apnea, excessive snoring, or acid reflux. Pregnant people also benefit from sleeping on their left side, as well.

To make sure your head and back are aligned, rest your head on a pillow that isn’t too low or high. Side sleepers should also straighten their legs instead of pulling them up in a fetal position. Place a pillow between your knees to support your lower back and pelvis.

If you sleep on your back. The second most popular sleep position, back sleeping has the advantage of being the most supportive of your neck and back as it distributes your weight evenly along your spine. Some people find this position uncomfortable or say makes their back ache. If that’s you, place a pillow under your knees to alleviate the stress on the lower back. Or, sleep on a small lumbar pillow to slightly elevate your feet to reduce the strain on your back.

Back sleeping is not recommended for pregnant people since it can block circulation to the heart and the growing baby. People with obstructive sleep apnea or acid reflux should also avoid sleeping on their backs as it exacerbates those conditions.

If you sleep on your stomach. Stomach sleeping is the least favored position among orthopedists and for good reason: it puts the most pressure on your spine, leading to pain upon waking. Lying on your stomach also forces you to turn your head to the side, which can stress the muscles of your neck and upper back. This, too, can result in neck and back pain. While it can help reduce snoring, stomach sleeping is ill-advised for most people, especially for those with a history of spinal problems.

If you must lie on your stomach, support your back by inserting a pillow beneath your belly and hips. This will lessen the stress on your spine. 

Paying attention to your sleep position can increase your chance of enjoying a restful night’s sleep without stiffness and pain upon waking. Your mattress can also play a role in assisting you on your journey for restful sleep. If you sleep on your back, pick a medium-firm mattress. Side sleepers can cushion their shoulders and hips with a softer one. All these adjustments can ensure you get the shut-eye you need every night.

Have an aching back? See the orthopedic experts

An aching back or neck could be the result of how you sleep or another condition. At New York Bone & Joint Specialists, we’ll diagnose and treat your back and neck problems so you can get the rest you need. Contact us today for consultation.

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