Updated: Apr 28, 2021
Sleep is an area that is already quite complex for us adults- so many of us have troubled sleep, stemming from different sources.
This month, I have been doing a wonderful 6 week sleep education program from the Cleveland Clinic, and learning about enhancing sleep efficiency.
There are a lot of ways to practice health around sleep (these practices have the unsavory title “sleep hygiene”). Sleep hygiene concepts are important to know about and please look this up if you are unfamiliar (e.g. tasks like getting to bed around the same time each night, avoiding back lit screens an hour or two before bed, stopping consumption of caffeine and fluids at a certain time of night and getting up around the same time each day are all sleep hygiene).
For this our final week in April, I would like to explore some common questions I get around biomechanics relating to sleep. Biomechanical suggestions are not prescriptive- there are so many challenges people have when they sleep (from sacral instability to neck pain). In order to best know what you need, please talk with your provider directly.
Here are some frequently asked questions that might serve as helpful guidelines:
1. What sleep position is the best:
People often ask this question, and the answer is – it really depends! The position you sleep best in is the best for you. That being said, stomach sleeping is generally havoc for the neck. There is a modified belly sleep position that I will demo if folks are interested (just ask!). I most prefer when clients are back or side sleepers (or a combination thereof).
2. What type of pillow is the best:
A pillow that you can modify with your provider to accommodate your neck/ shoulder is the best. Especially for women, so many pillows are too big. You should be able to put material in, or take it out to fit your body. I try to only use sustainable and natural products (no memory foam etc.), and my personal favorite pillow is the Rejuvenation pillow made by Sachi Organics.
3. Do I need to sleep with a pillow under my knees?
Sleeping with a pillow under your knees can be helpful if you need opening at your knee joint, relief of tension at your sciatic nerve, or release of tension on your hamstring. It places your back in a position of slight flexion through the night- which creates openness in the back of the spine. It can reduce pain if you have stenosis and also may make it more difficult to stand up straight when you arise in the morning.
If you are working to create more hip extension, using pillows under the knees at night can work against your goals.
4. I have sacroiliac joint pain. What is the best way for me to sleep?
The sacroiliac joint can come to rest in multiple positions, making it difficult to give a blanket (pun intended!) suggestion about sleep. You may want to lie on your side and use a pillow lengthwise between the length of your shins to help keep your legs from falling into adduction (which can further compress portions of the sacroiliac joint).
5. Do I want a soft or firm mattress/ pillow top?
In general, as we age, we have less fat to provide cushioning over the bony prominences in our bodies. As such, we generally need softer pillow tops/ mattresses as we age. Your mattress should last a good long time, but consider replacing your pillow top more frequently.
6. Non-biomechanical- I couldn't help myself! Unwind both during the day and before bed
Whether you have a meditation or prayer practice, it is helpful to take time to unwind both during the day and also at the end of your day to meditate (body scan meditations can be great at night), pray or to journal a bit.
The Cleveland Clinic program recommends at least 4 meditation experiences (from guided body scans, through guided breath work) each week, in order to help facilitate sleep and promote relaxation of body and mind.
Allow yourself to watch your thought content, and allow yourself to put the day behind you (to the degree that you can). As my mom would always say- tomorrow is a new day, and the morning will come quickly.
You should be all set up for a quiet night’s rest.
Have a restful eve, and move safely through the rest of your month!
Chana, the sleep master!