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Spinal Hygiene for Quality ZZZ’s

Spinal Hygiene for Quality ZZZ's
Toss…Turn…Roll…Shift…Ache…Then wake up.

This is what more than 50 percent of us experience nightly, according the National Sleep Foundation, only to wake in the morning unable to function at peak capacity throughout the day. Chemical stresses to the nervous system—like caffeine and certain medications—often prevent restful sleep. Daily emotional and mental stresses can also be powerful enough to keep a person awake at night.

But one of the most common and overlooked causes of poor quality sleep is our sleeping position. Think about it, for most of our lives, during 7-8 continuous hours nightly, we find ourselves relatively stationary, with minimum muscle activity. The limited movement we experience while sleeping, especially when we do so with poor posture, can contribute to early spine and nerve degeneration.  We can’t live without sleep, but ensuring that the spine is as close to neutral alignment as possible while sleeping can reduce progressive damage. Here’s how to maintain a healthy sleeping position, starting tonight.

Avoid stomach sleeping

Pillow talk

It may be comfortable, but whenever you lie on your stomach, your neck is in extension and rotation, leaving tummy sleepers at risk of losing the natural lordotic curve of the neck. An 8-hour stint in this position can also dehydrate the discs in your neck, accelerate osteoarthritis and literally pinch the nerves in the neck that exit between each individual vertebrae. The chronic neck pain that may result is nothing compared to the possible damage to your body’s autonomic nervous system, which regulates all the body functions.

Change your mattress

Mattresses may come with a 10-year warranty, but their supportive ability breaks down before then. The loss of support happens so gradually, we’re barely aware of it. Our bodies send out an SOS with tossing and turning; a sign that we’re no longer maintaining a healthy sleeping position through the night. While low-grade discomfort initially prevents us achieving restful sleep, it evolves into bigger problems, such as stiffness or aches during the day. Consider these signs an indicator that it’s time to invest in a new mattress.

Pillow talk

  • The best sleep position for your spine is your side with your knees bent and a pillow between your legs. Sleeping on your back is also a good choice but whether you sleep on your back or side, keep your head in a neutral position. It should not be bent to the front (chin to chest) or tilting to the side (ear to shoulder). A supportive pillow makes this easy to do.
  • Use pillows strategically; a pillow between the knees can alleviate back pain and hugging one prevents you from rolling onto your stomach.
  • Big, fluffy, goose-down pillows might offer sufficient neck support for an adult weighing less than 120 pounds, but not for people that are larger with heavier heads.
  • Before purchasing a “memory-foam” pillow, ensure that it is dense enough to support your head and neck in a neutral position after a few hours. 
  • Contoured pillows with a built in cervical support are ideal. 
  • Depending on how broad your shoulders are, you might need to place a second, non-contoured neck pillow beneath a contoured neck-pillow to keep the cervical spine in line with the thoracic spine. 
  • Change your pillows yearly with a new, supportive replacement.


Special thanks to Brent Maxwell, D.C., chiropractic director of Chiro One Wellness Centers of St. Charles for contributing this post.