Spinal health depends largely on the habits that you are practicing every single day or in this case every single night. Surprising to some, sleeping habits can be a large contributor for many back problems. There are a few things to consider for healthy sleeping with your mattress being one of them, but today I will focus on sleeping posture.
Poor sleeping posture is a tough habit to break because it's largely an unconscious habit. But with enough effort and intention any bad habit can be broken.
So for starters the worst sleeping position that is most hazardous to your spine is sleeping on your stomach. Why? for starters it places unnecessary stress on your low back leading to low back problems made worse by an unsupportive mattress that dips in the middle and secondly (and more seriously) when you sleep on your stomach your head is forced to be turned left or right in order to breath and remains twisted left or right for the duration of your sleep. These habits are definite contributors to creating spinal misalignments known as subluxations. In my opinion, stomach sleepers need to break this habit. One patient of mine was so dedicated to breaking this habit, that she sowed a pocket onto the front of her pajamas and placed a tennis ball into this pocket. This way whenever she tried to turn onto her stomach the discomfort of laying on a tennis ball forced her to turn back to her side or back.
The next sleeping posture that in my opinion is better than stomach sleeping, but worse than sleeping on your back is side sleeping. My main concerns about side sleeping are hip and head support. If you are a side sleeper it is imperative that you have proper support at your hips by placing a pillow between your knees or better yet use a body pillow. For your head a thick pillow is required to cover the distance between your ears and the mattress. A pillow that is too thin will cause your head to fall and tilt sideways again creating a new spinal misalignment in your neck. Another concern about side sleeping are your shoulders. Whichever side you are sleeping on your shoulder is forced to internally rotate or roll inwards which will eventually lead to shoulder problems.
So what to do in this case? Switch to sleeping on your back.
Back sleeping in my opinion is the best position. Back sleeping without a pillow or with a thin flat pillow is even better because your head is place in neutral position (ears inline with your shoulders). In addition, during back sleeping, your pelvis and spine are centered and your shoulders are flat against the mattress. Adding a pillow behind your knees while on your back is also helpful.
Below is a diagram providing some more information on sleeping positions. Enjoy!
Dr. Tyler Kong.