Sleep Posture

Yu Shing Ting
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Friday - January 19, 2007
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Chiropractor Chip Abbadessa demonstrates the proper posture for sleeping on your side and back
Chiropractor Chip Abbadessa demonstrates the proper posture for sleeping on your side and back
Chiropractor Chip Abbadessa demonstrates the
proper posture for sleeping on your side and back

Do you ever wake up in the morning with a stiff neck, back pain and/or a headache? Well, it may be because of your sleeping posture.

I’m a side sleeper with my knees slightly bent and my right hand almost always under my pillow. However, according to chiropractor Chip Abbadessa of Kaneohe Family Chiropractic, the best sleeping position is on your back.

“The correct position to sleep in is on your back, side is your next best, and stomach is the worst,” says Abbadessa. “If you’re a stomach sleeper, it can be damaging your spine and nervous system. It’s the worst position to be in because it turns your head in an extreme rotation and it puts your head back in extension.

“This interferes the blood and oxygen flow to and from your brain.”


When sleeping on your back, Abbadessa recommends a buckwheat or sobakawa roll instead of a standard pillow, which will force your neck in the opposite direction. Also, the roll should be placed under your neck and be about the same thickness as your neck.

“You should sleep on your back because it provides the most neutral position for your spine to be in,” explains Abbadessa. “Back in ancient Japan, they used to sleep on these half-moon wooden blocks that supported the natural curve of the neck. They must’ve known that was the correct anatomical position for the spine to be in.

“And when you’re on your back, not only do you want to have the support under your neck, but you want to have your knees elevated as well (see picture at top), so that’s where your old pillows will come in handy.”

For side sleepers like me, Abbadessa says the standard pillow is fine, however, it is critical to have enough pillow between your ear and the bed so your head isn’t forced in one direction either to the bed or away from the bed. And you should have a pillow between your knees to keep the pelvis from twisting, which can cause a shift in your pelvis bone (see picture above).

“It doesn’t matter if you sleep on your right side or your left, but you should change sides throughout your lifetime,” he says. “When I look at an X-ray I can tell automatically who’s a side sleeper, especially if you have broad shoulders because your chest is going to be pushed to the side and that’s going to cause a shift to the spine.”

As for the bed itself, Abbadessa says a more expensive bed isn’t necessarily better for you, nor will it give you a better night’s sleep.

“When choosing the type of bed, it’s more a matter of personal preference,” he says. “I can’t say that hard is better than soft, or vice versa. Some people like to sleep on the floor. Keeping the proper sleeping position is more important than the actual bed itself.


“And it’s vital to have proper sleeping posture because if you damage your spine you can damage your spinal cord, and your spinal cord is your link between your brain and your body, and unfortunately any sort of cord damage is permanent. Plus the cord doesn’t have any pain nerve endings, so you can’t tell when it’s being damaged. You will see a loss of health over time, but it’s not something that can alert you right away.”

According to Abbadessa, key symptoms of improper sleeping posture include waking up with headaches, neck and shoulder pain, dizziness, numbness and tingling down your arms, hands or fingers, and spinal problems.

So, tonight, give your neck a break and let your body really rest when you sleep. It’ll make waking up that much easier.

Good night, and don’t sleep tight!

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