Is sleep causing you pain?

parkbenchEverybody has their favourite sleeping posture. However some are better for you than others. The average person spends around one third of their life in bed sleeping. The position you sleep in can have a direct effect on your health. There are proven ways to get a better night’s sleep by choosing the right pillow and the right sleeping position for you. Whichever position you prefer keeping the body in the midline by maintaining the neutral curves of the spine will minimise stresses and strains.

Initially it may seem impossible to change the position you are currently sleeping in, since you aren’t fully aware of your position while sleeping. To become aware of poor postural habits and to develop conscious control to replace old habits may help prevent unnecessary aches and pains. When going to sleep, or if you wake up in the night, make a conscious effort to correct your alignment until it becomes a habit. Even small improvements in your sleeping posture can make a considerable difference in the amount and quality of sleep you get.

Choosing the right sleeping posture for you:

Each position has its pros and cons. Here are some facts to consider:

Sleeping on your back:


  • Most preferable sleeping position as it is easy for your head, neck and spine to maintain a neutral position
  • Ensure to have enough pillows to support the neck and head in the midline position, thereby preventing the head and neck from tilting forward and back
  • Try adding a pillow under your knees to off-load the lower back


  • This position may worsen snoring

Sleeping on your side:


  • Most common sleeping position
  • Lying on either side can help the structures of the back, for example discs, muscles and ligaments, to relax
  • To achieve the midline position and avoid rotation of the spine, place a pillow between your legs to support the hips
  • Ensure to have enough pillows to support the neck and head in the midline position, thereby preventing the head and neck from tilting up or down
  • If you have a very soft bed, or an hourglass figure, pillows can be placed under the waist/side of the body to support your midriff and back


  • While side sleeping, most people will slide their knees and thighs forward, which causes the low back to rotate. This rotation can cause an increase in pressure on the low back
  • This position may cause shoulder or hip pain

Sleeping on your stomach:


  • Least favourable sleeping position
  • If you do sleep on your stomach try placing a pillow under the pelvis, this will reduce the amount the spine curves, and alleviate some of the pressure off the low back muscles
  • You will want to have less fill in your pillow than someone who sleeps on their side or back to avoid bending the neck too far forward, backward or twisted to one side.


  • When lying on the stomach, the body has a tendency to arch backwards, causing an increase in the curve of the low back. This in turn can increase the strain in the low back muscles
  • Wrenching your head and neck this way for even just a few minutes while sleeping can significantly strain the muscles and ligaments of the spine. Repeatedly doing so every night for years slowly adds pressure to the joints and nerves, contributing to spinal degeneration and allowing for the development of a variety of health problems
  • Position may cause neck or back pain

Getting out of bed:
People are at their most vulnerable after a night’s sleep. As you sleep, the discs in your back hydrate and increase in size, which makes the disc fibres more susceptible to injury.

When getting out of bed, roll on to the side, bend the knees, swing your legs over the side of the bed and at the same time sit up by pushing yourself up with your hands. This will minimise too much strain on the back.

In summary:

The main thing to keep in mind in regards to your sleeping position and pillow is the proper support of your neck and spine. You want a pillow that conforms to and supports the curve of your neck with enough firmness to support your head without collapsing. It is fine to sleep on your back or your side (or both) as long as your spine is kept in a neutral position and not bent out of alignment.

If you have any questions or would like individualised advice and recommendations, please don’t hesitate to contact Physionorth to make an appointment with one of our qualified Physiotherapists.