Updated: Jan 24
I've advocated for years that it's not so much the health of the bed on which you sleep, so much as it is the health of your body sleeping upon that bed. If you've been around young kids you may have noticed how they can sleep in all sorts of contorted positions - on the couch, in the car or half-in and half-out of their bed - and yet somehow still wake up feeling refreshed and revitalized!
How do they do that?! Today I wish to share my philosophy on sleep posture and what you can do to help align your body for optimal health, happiness and vitality.
Sleep Like A Baby
Ever since we were a fetus in our mother's womb we have adopted the traditional sleeping posture known as the fetal position. As we curl inward we feel more relaxed and soothed before our mind drifts off into dreamland. The beauty of being inside the womb as a baby, is that we were essentially in an anti-gravity environment. It is my firm belief that if we were able to sleep in an anti-gravity chamber (perhaps I should be chatting with Elon Musk), we'd likely sleep like a baby once again - literally! Without the influence of rolling around to try and get comfortable or rearrange pillows and sheets, we'd be able to slip into a deep sleep and our physical body, symptoms and apparent misalignments would be a non-issue!
Common Symptoms of Poor Sleep
Headaches & migraines
Aching joints and muscles Reduced athletic performance Reduced work performance Anxiety, agitation and irritability
Easier to get frustrated and angry Insomnia
Optimal Sleep Hygiene
I believe it's time to start considering the many facets to optimal nutrition. When we talk nutrition we typically think exclusively of our diet. I'd argue that even more important to our nutrition would be what we feed our mind and how we feed sleep to our body to facilitate optimal recovery.
Professor Sapolsky in his great research and his book Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers highlights that as humans we are commonly in a heightened sense of a stress-response unnecessarily for most of our day. Our early ancestors, until our brains truly evolved to endure more memory and thought processing, would have had high stress but it would have been brief, and likely infrequent. Now in the 21st century, a typical scenario in daily life is that we haven't overcome an immediate stress (kids are late for school), and we are already contemplating several others about to hit us (we are now late for work, heavy highway traffic, heavy snow, angry driver behind us), plus the ones we are still trying to resolve from last year (we relocated to a different part of the world).
To help manage our stress-response I highly recommend good sleep hygiene. Here are some of the elements:
Consistent time - your body operates on a delicate circadian rhythm and the more you can program your self on a regular routine of getting to bed, falling asleep and waking up - more stability and consistency you bring to this rhythm. Sleep duration - by falling asleep and waking up at similar times each day, it will help you to consistently achieve a suitable duration of sleep. Everyone is fingerprint specific, and this can change monthly and seasonally depending upon the Earth's cycle. Take note of the times of year you need more or less sleep. Reduce electromagnetic exposure - Ideally 30-minutes prior to sleeping I recommend to separate yourself from anything electromagnetic, particularly smartphones, computers and TV's. Then when ready to go to sleep, it would be ideal to turn off all electronic sources.
Heat & stretch your body - Taking a warm shower or a hot soak prior to bed can be relaxing and soothing to help you ease into a deep sleep. Follow this with a short program of stretches to help pay off some of your daily postural debt and you'll lengthen your muscles that get tight from your daily postures.
Read relaxing material - Book choices can be influential upon your energy flow and mindset before sleeping. Consider something inspiring, educational, romantic or comical to stimulate the parasympathetic branch of your nervous system to help induce a relaxation response.
Meditate to calm your mind - My personal favorite and #1 health tool is meditation. For me, nothing is more important than learning to control our uncontrolled mind. By learning to meditate effectively, we can let go of any mental stress, ease our physical stress and deepen our feelings of peace and contentment. Great sleep guaranteed!
Belly, Back or Side
These are three common ways to sleep. Let's take a brief look at the benefits and downfalls of each.
THE BELLY SLEEPER Benefits: On a firm bed the spine between hips and middle back is in good alignment.
Shoulders can remain reasonably square to the thorax and pelvis which helps minimize a local pressure point on the shoulder as can happen with a side sleeper.
Downfalls: The head has to turn left or right in order to breathe which in turn causes the neck muscles to shorten and tighten. Try to rotate days - day 1 rotate the head left, day 2 rotate the head right.
Over an extended period of time this can overload the vertebrae and create pinching of the nerves and disc bulges within cervical spinal discs.
Unless your feet are hanging off the edge of the bed, your toes will be pointed down for most several hours which consequently shortens and tightens your calf muscles. Be sure to stretch these each morning and before bed.
THE BACK SLEEPER Benefits: With good support from the bed mattress, this is perhaps the most optimal to align the head, spine, pelvis and legs. I recommend a single, thin pillow to sustain the alignment of the neck and minimize neck flexion, along with a pillow under the knees to bend the knees slightly and mitigate the pull of the hip flexors upon the lumbar spine. Downfalls: For some (my hand is up!) sleeping on their back equals snoring. Your bed partner may be the only one to have a downfall to you adopting this sleeping posture!
THE SIDE SLEEPER
Benefits: Perhaps the most common sleeping position, this would be my second choice for sleeping position, and again this is where a suitable mattress becomes imperative as we age. If you follow my guidelines in my video below, you can optimize your side sleeping even more and gain similar benefits to sleeping on your back.
Downfalls: Pressure points to the shoulder and hip. To avoid these, ensure your mattress is flipped/rotated each month, and when it ages out, purchase a new mattress.
Without suitable pillow support for the neck, shoulders and knees - you are creating unnecessary rotational forces to these areas which will predispose the joints and muscles to shortening, tightening and immobility.
A very important question to ask is - what do you suggest for someone who moves a lot during the sleep and rolls into all three positions?
Well, I have this new design called an anti-gravity sleep chamber, and you'd be a perfect candidate ;)
Seriously though, using pillows may actually help create a framework from which you can potentially minimize your rolling and moving. From my experience also, you may be a good candidate to have a sleep apnea test. I would often move in my sleep and awaken, as I learned, because my respiratory system was being occluded enough and therefore my body would jerk and move to stimulate my breathing response once again.
Beyond these measures, I highly recommend that you follow one of my programs to stretch and self-massage your muscles to prepare your body for sleep and, to awaken and rejuvenate your muscles for your new day. To learn more click here.
One final resource - I discovered the concept of modular beds, which are apparently quite popular in Europe. These beds are made of modules, a series of six to eight pieces that form a complete bed mattress when encompassed within a zippable mattress cover. The advantages include - different modules have a different composition to accommodate your body weight and sleeping style, the modules can be rotated and flipped which adds more longevity to your bed and, ultimately, your three or four modules on your side may be different to your partners and so you are always sleeping on a customized bed.
If you are in Alberta, Canada I highly recommend Halstead Beds for a custom handmade mattress. Any questions, you can reach me at my clinic by phone: 403 589 4645 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please help me on my mission to relieve stress, tension and pain.
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Yours In Muscle Health, Jason Barlow, RMT