Sleep Ergonomics

You want to sleep in the best position so your body can recover, ready for the next day. In this article you will learn about sleep ergonomics. We go through the best position for your body type and for any issues you might have.

You will also learn what to avoid if you are pregnant or injured.

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Why Sleep Ergonomics are Important and Why You Want to Get them Right

Sleep is natural. Therefore you do not want to over analyze it. Like walking, if you try to break down each part of the walking process, you will end up walking awkwardly because it will ruin your natural rhythm.

However, it is useful to know what the best positions to sleep are, and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Bad Sleep Ergonomics and Their Role in Pain

Bad sleep ergonomics can cause pain

As you age many aches and pains are due to bad posture. Your entire body works as a whole, so when one area is out of balance it effects other areas that seem unrelated.

Also, most of us are less active than ever before. We have jobs that require us to sit for long periods of time. We do repetitive tasks, like typing, staring at a computer screen as well as driving and operating machinery.

All these things create injuries by putting our natural alignment out of balance, we call these ergonomic injuries.

So knowing sleep ergonomics will help alleviate and prevent such injuries. At the very least you won’t be making them worse.

We spend a third of our lives sleeping, it’s a good idea to know something about it.

What Makes Sleeping Position Ergonomically Good?

The positions that give you best sleep ergonomics all have the same qualities.

i) They do not interfere with the natural curve of your spine. ii) they will lower the stress placed on it allowing it to decompress as you sleep, ready for the next day.

A bad sleeping posture will not only give you a difficult nights sleep, it can lead to neck, back and shoulder pain.

We Gravitate to One Position

Children are supple and have flexible spines, so they sleep in all kinds of positions at night. If you have children, you know what I mean, As we get older our spines become less flexible and we gravitate to one sleep posture more than others.

Studied have shown most adults spend 60% of their time sleeping on their side , 30% on their back and 10% on their stomach.

My experience…

Recently, I had what is known as a rams horn headache. It’s a headache that goes around one side of the head, from the back of the skull to forehead. In the shape of a rams horn.

I noticed it got worse when I sat at the computer screen. I quickly realised it was due a stiff neck I got from sleeping in an uncomfortable position one night.

So I changed my position, used a slightly thicker pillow and did some neck rehabilitation exercises during the day, it was gone quickly as it came. This bought home the importance of good posture and healthy sleep ergonomics.

The Best Sleeping Positions and their Sleep Ergonomics

The three positions we are going to look at are…

  • Sleeping on the side

  • Sleeping on the back

  • Sleeping on the stomach.

The main takeaway is that sleeping on side and back is better than on your stomach. However if this is your favorite sleeping position I will share some ways to make it better for your spine alignment.

The side and back positions keep the spine balanced and aligned and they relieve pressure from it. They also keep the muscles relaxed and allow them to recover.

A Study  showed adults who were trained to sleep on their back and side improved their back pain in 4 weeks.

Lets look closer at the the different sleeping positions…

Sleeping on the Side

Sleeping on Side Position is the best.

This is the most common position for all adults, although men sleep in this position more than women. It is the healthiest sleeping position for most people.

Sleeping on your side benefits…

  • It Aligns the spine

  • Best for avoiding back pain

  • Can reduce snoring

  • Can reduce heart burn

So this is the best sleeping position for people who have sleep apnoea and snoring issues. Also great for older people and pregnant women. This is the position you want to go for if you have back pain.

Which side should you sleep on?

Sleep on your left side. Sleeping on the right can increase pressure on your organs. It can also increase symptoms of heartburn.

The side position should align your head, spine and hips. You can use a slightly thicker pillow to achieve this. (this is what I did when I had my neck pain). You can also place the duvet or another pillow between your knee’s if you want further relief from back pain.

Pregnant Women

A pregnant women asleep with pillows to support her spine

To relieve the pressure on the belly, pregnant women should sleep on their side with their knee’s bent.

They should sleep on their left side as it is easier for heart to pump blood around the body. Sleeping on the left side also takes pressure off the liver and allows a healthy flow of blood and nutrients to the fetus.

It’s Ok to switch sides occasionally and put a pillow under belly and between the legs and the small of the back to relieve pressure. You can also put pillows on the back and front of your body to keep your self stable.

Negatives of sleeping on the side…

The only real negatives are it can give you wrinkles because your face is rubbing against the pillow, and it is not good if you have shoulder pain.

Sleeping on Your Back

A woman Sleeping on her back

This is the second most popular position.

The benefits of sleeping on your back…

  • Aligned spine.

  • Evenly distributed body weight.

  • No wrinkles as face is not in contact with pillow.

  • Relieves nasal congestion

  • Relieves neck pain

  • Helps with lumbar spinal pain

Negatives of back sleeping…

Sleeping on your back is not good for the following people

  • Overweight adults

  • Pregnant women

  • People with GERD or acid reflux

  • People who snore or have sleep apnoea

  • People with some types of back pain

  • Older adults

When you sleep on your back you are more open to your airway collapsing, this is not good if you have sleep apnoea and snoring issues.

Also as we age or put on excess weight, so it’s harder to breathe while on our backs.

Sleeping on back and back pain

Lying on your back can help some people with their back pain and make others worse. The firmness of the mattress you sleep on will make a difference, as it influences the gap between you lower back and the mattress..

A gap creates pressure on the spine and makes the back pain worse. You can overcome this by placing a thin pillow or a small rolled up towel between your lower back and mattress.

Pregnant Women

Experts recommend pregnant women do not lie on their back. This makes sense when you realize the the baby is putting pressure on your heart and organs as you sleep. This stops blood flow.

Sleeping on Your Stomach

A women Sleeping on her stomach

This is the least common sleep position. That’s a good thing, as the sleep ergonomics are not as good as the other two positions.

The only real positive this position has is, it can relieve snoring. However, the side sleeping position also does this and is a better position.

Stomach sleeping puts pressure on the rib cage, which means you need more energy to breathe, this messes up your sleep.

It also offers the least back support and places pressure on the spine. To sleep in this position you have to turn your head side ways, which takes your spine out of alignment. And because you face is rubbing against the pillow, it gives you wrinkles as well.

What makes it even worse is if you have a soft mattress, you will sink so much and put your spine in a healthy position for hours at a time.

If this is your preferred sleeping position here are some tips to make it  less of an ergonomic sleep hazard…

  • Try it without a pillow, or a flat pillow to keep your spine aligned as much as possible.

  • Use a firm mattress

  • Place a thin pillow under your hips to keep your spine aligned.

Conclusion

Good sleep ergonomics are essential for a healthy nights sleep and to avoid pain caused by misalignment of your body.

The main things to look for in your sleep position is spine alignment and decompression. Does the position you are sleeping in keep your spine in the best position ? Does is relieve spinal and muscle pressure?

If yes, then you have a good sleeping posture.

Both sleeping on your side and laying on your back do both of the above. Lying on your stomach is the least beneficial ergonomic sleeping position.

You can change your positions to accommodate any issues you have, like sleep apnoea, bad back or if you are pregnant. As well as if you are carrying extra weight.

I have shown the benefits and drawbacks of each position, and the best way to use them. Choose the  one that feels right for you and avoid pain and get a good night’s sleep.