A question that has been asked a lot recently is- “Can my sleeping position be causing my pain/performance?” Let me start by stating that sleep is an important facet for both, the person in pain and the athlete. There are important biological processes that occur through sleep. For people in pain, sleep may be the time that the body is able to spend resources on driving down the inflammation process and promote the healing process. For athletes, sleep is required for recovery to take place and prepare the body for the next practice or competition. With that said, sleeping positions could potentially affect pain and performance in a number of ways and we will discuss both scenarios.
Here is a glimpse of some different sleeping positions… take some time and mark off which ones you frequently find yourself in.
Facts on ZZZZZ
- The average person sleeps 6-8 hours a night
- Melatonin has been shown to shorten the time it takes to get to sleep, as well as reduce the number of awakenings.
- The average person will spend 1/3 of their lifetime sleeping. That is roughly 25 years or just under 230,000 hours.
- Each person may experience multiple instances of REM (rapid eye movement) throughout the night. Typically each REM stage increases in duration through the night.
Sleeping positions with pain
In any injury an important part of healing is reducing the stress placed on the injured tissue. Your sleeping position could be aggravating your injury by placing undue stress on the area of complaint. Here is a quick example, the picture below shows someone sleeping on their stomach. Many low back injuries occur due to over extending the low back. We would want to avoid anything that created significant extension or increased rounding to the low back. Sleeping belly down may be detrimental to your healing low back, straining the area. It is important to understand if your sleeping position alleviates or aggravates the injury.
Position of sleep can lead to different problems that can affect performance. Posture is the position of which the body is held at any given moment. Sleep happens to be one of the longest sustained postures assumed throughout life. Holding sustained postures for extended periods of time your body will adapt to those positions. The adaptations may be muscle shortening/lengthening, muscle imbalances, or changes in range of motion. Lets look at a popular position…(Picture below)
The thing that sticks out is the position of the left leg, which is in a position of hip flexion. This is going to cause shortening of the left hip flexor muscles. Muscles have certain length and tension relationships, a shortened muscle has more tension. Increased tension leads to the muscles functioning on a sub-optimal level. Runners sometimes state that one hip feels tighter than the other. They may even complain that stretching never helps. After some digging, it becomes evident that they happen to be sleeping in this position or something similar.
Tips for optimizing your positions
- Attempt to maintain a neutral spine. Eliminate exaggerated bends in our neck or low back.
- If you sleep on your side, try to stack a pillow or blanket between your legs. This will support your pelvis and spine.
- Firmer mattresses are typically more supportive for your spine
- Avoid dramatically asymmetrical positions ( i.e. one leg up, always looking to the right, constantly waking up with your left arm under your pillow etc.)