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Sleeping without a pillow is okay for some back sleepers. To see if you are that person, try this test:
Unless your head is very close to the wall, you will need a pillow when you sleep. Your pillow should be just thick enough to fill this gap while you sleep.
Difficulty sleeping is surely frustrating but may lead to much more than that. Problems with comfort during and after sleeping mean you have too much stress and strain on your body while in bed. It means you can’t rest and recover properly and leads to a large list of potential health issues (stress, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, depression are but a few).
So if sleeping comfortably is a problem, can it be solved? Yes! But it may take some money or effort to fix. Even so, it is a good investment.
In theory, you should sleep for 25% to 30% of your daily life. That is a lot of time and if that time is spent in a poor posture, or with poor equipment or environment that is time spent stressing and straining your body.
Imagine this: Would you enjoy sitting on a lumpy chair with no back support in a hot room with truck traffic driving by while watching a movie? Of course not! It would be uncomfortable, annoying and frustrating. So why try to sleep for 8 hours with any one of those issues. Yet, many people try to do just that – sleep on a poor mattress, with their head propped up on a couple of pillows with the T.V. on and a fan blowing on them.
How do you do it right? By first knowing how it is done wrong. Study the Sleep Stress Worksheet and note each specific point that relates to your current sleep habits:
To enjoy better sleep, take your list of issues from the sleep stress worksheet and fix or improve those issues. While you may not be able to fix them all – at least not immediately – you can certainly correct many of them.
Do you find yourself falling asleep on the couch or a recliner? Commit to going to bed a little earlier, or at the first signs of fatigue. Have a consistent bed time and follow it. On those evenings you find yourself drifting off, go to bed early. Falling asleep crunched up in a recliner then waking after a couple of hours to finally go to bed disrupts your sleep and adds stress to your body.
Does your mattress feel squishy? Can you see a “valley” where you sleep on your mattress? Can you feel any springs? Is the mattress more than 10 or 15 years old? It is time to go shopping!
Do you wrestle with your pillow – shape it, scrunch it, punch it – and still your neck is uncomfortable? Does your neck feel unsupported? Is your head out of alignment from your spine? Is your pillow more than a few years old? Retire that pillow from neck duty (you will be able to use it in other ways you will learn later) and get a new pillow. Keep your pillow in good shape by replacing it when it does not feel good or it’s time has expired (see Pillow Talk sidebar).
For environment problems, make some changes to create a darker, quieter bedroom. Darker paint colors and room darkening blinds will help. If your room is too loud, new windows, heavier draperies and carpeting will do the trick. You could also buy “white noise” machines which create background sound that cancels out other noises. Or go low tech and get a set of ear plugs – they really work!
A surprising source of problems is a fan blowing directly on you. The constant stimulation of air moving across the skin chills the area, irritates the underlying muscles and the nerve system leading to spasms and inflammation which causes you to wake with pain and stiffness. You can have a fan or air conditioner in the room, but have the air moving indirectly around you. You will still be cooled down, but will not create irritation. Is there a ceiling fan above your bed? Reverse the fan direction so it pulls the air upward. This pulls cooler air up and circulates it making the room more comfortable.
In what posture should you sleep?
You can use a pillow (or pillows) under your knees or thighs to keep the hips and knees bent. This reduces pressure on the lower spine joints and muscles. People with low back pain often find this to be the most comfortable position to sleep. Using pillows this way also reduces pressure on the knees and hips so if you have problems in those joints give this a try.
On your side:
Side posture generally requires a thicker pillow or more pillow volume under your head to hold your head straight. Too little pillow volume and your head drops down, too much and your head is pushed up; both of which are bad.
To help keep your spine aligned in side posture sleeping try one of the following:
On your stomach:
Many people that use this position feel they can’t sleep in any other posture. The stomach sleeper likes to have pressure on their chest as it feels secure. Sleeping on the back or side leaves them feeling vulnerable. To help be more comfortable they can try to use a body pillow and hug it too them. This gives them the feeling of pressure they desire and if used while side sleeping will prevent them from rolling onto the stomach.
Dr. Barry Wahner
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