There are plenty of factors that impact the quality of your sleep—from your overall health and sleep environment to your evening wind-down routine. What many sleepers completely overlook, however, is the critical role your sleep position plays in how rested (or fatigued) you feel when you wake in the morning.
If you aren’t getting quality sleep on a regular basis it might be time to take a closer look at the underlying cause. With so many variables, though, how do you know when it’s time to adjust your sleep position?
Next time you’re dozing off or waking up, take stock of how you feel — if you struggle with any of these 6 tell-tale symptoms, consider making a few small adjustments.
Your lower back feels stiff and achy in the morning.
Certain sleep positions are more likely to cause lower back pain — it’s worth switching things up if more obvious fixes don’t do the trick.
If you sleep on your side or back you might need to provide additional support for your limbs. Try putting a pillow between or under your knees when you fall asleep to help maintain proper spinal alignment.
If you sleep on your stomach the root cause of your back pain might be how your legs are positioned when you fall asleep. If you pull one leg up toward your body, this can cause the trunk of your body to twist unnaturally. Try either propping a pillow under your tummy to push you into a “side sleeper” position, or simply extend your leg to keep your spine more aligned.
Your neck is sore and stiff.
Neck pain is one of the most common ailments people experience in the morning. Just like morning lower back pain, stiffness in the neck is usually caused by poor spinal alignment. If you have already ruled out your mattress and/or your pillow as the cause, consider these adjustments to your sleep position.
If you sleep on your stomach, you are unknowingly putting extra stress on your neck. Use a pillow to prop the trunk of your body into a side position, which will reduce the strain on your neck and promote better spinal alignment.
If you sleep on your back, your head is likely falling from one side to the other when you sleep. Certain types of pillows, offering cervical support, can keep your head from swiveling side-to-side as will an extra pillow.
Your hands and feet go numb or feel tingly.
Poor circulation during sleep can cause a host of health issues but, sometimes, your sleep position can also cause numbness and tingling in your limbs. Make sure to rule out all health issues like diabetes or low blood pressure first — then consider the following adjustments to your sleep position.
If you sleep on your side and tend to put your arms under your head, you could be cutting off circulation to your hands. Try shifting your arm forward to lie in front of your face.
If you sleep on your stomach, make sure your arms are not directly under your head. Instead, try laying your arms either out to your side or on either side of your head with hands flat on your mattress.
Your jaw hurts or pops in the morning.
Jaw pain and popping is often a symptom of a condition called Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD), which is often brought on by certain times of jaw surgery or trauma, orthodontic work in younger years, or nighttime teeth grinding. Apart from investing in a mouthpiece to help your jaw relax, adjusting your sleep position can help reduce the impact of TMD.
If you sleep on your stomach, you are probably putting too much pressure on your jaw. Try propping your body up with a pillow so that you lie more on your side.
If you sleep on your back, your jaw pain could stem from your jaw muscles not fully relaxing as you sleep. Try propping your head up with a pillow to ease the tension on your neck and jaw — just make sure to pull the pillow under your shoulders as well as your head. This will help maintain proper spinal alignment while providing just enough loft for your head and neck.
You get heartburn when you try to fall asleep.
Heartburn and acid reflux are complicated medical conditions, and can range from issues within your digestive tract to sensitivities in your diet (as well as eating too close to bedtime). While changing up your sleep position alone won’t likely get rid of chronic acid reflux entirely it can drastically reduce the symptoms and make falling asleep a whole lot easier.
If you sleep on your side, make sure you’re doing so on your right side rather than your left. This allows your digestion to work with gravity rather than against it, which can significantly reduce painful burning or chest pain at night.
If you sleep on your back, try elevating your head at least six inches with either a pillow or an adjustable bed frame. This slight elevation of the head helps keep acid from your stomach from escaping into your esophagus.
Your hips and shoulders are sore and stiff.
Soreness around the hips and joints are most often caused by a mattress that is either too firm or too soft, but your sleep position can also cause joint stiffness and pain. If you wake up with soreness around the hips and shoulders, try making a few small adjustments to your sleep position to reduce pressure and increase circulation.
If you sleep on your side and have shoulder pain, make sure you aren’t resting your head on your arm. Instead, reach your arms forward in a “hugging” position around a pillow — this reduces strain on the network of nerves and blood vessels in your shoulders.
If you sleep on your side and have hip pain, your best bet is to provide a little extra support that promotes spinal alignment. Try propping a pillow in-between your knees rather than throwing one leg forward, which can cause harmful twisting and pinching.
It should be duly noted that 74 percent of sleepers claim to slumber on their sides. Our top recommendation for any side sleeper having difficulty finding the right fit is to choose a zoned mattress. Zoned mattresses are created specifically for side sleepers, delivering exactly the right amount of support where you need it most: the center of your bed. Because the majority of your body weight is shifted to the lumbar and hip regions when you sleep on your side, a firmer middle provides much needed spinal support. Meanwhile, more contouring zones at the head, shoulders, knees and feet deliver the targeted pressure point relief that comes with a softer surface.
While your sleep position plays a significant role in the quality of your sleep, it’s not the end-all-be-all. It’s most often a combination of the right sleep position, lifestyle choices and a quality mattress that add up to superior slumber. If you think your mattress could be the cause of your discomfort, talk to a sleep expert about upgrading your bed.