Sleep Posture, Beds and Pillows

The average person makes many positional changes at night. We don’t remember many of these positional changes, but the position that you start out is only a starting position. Your body moves while you are asleep for a number of reasons; the most important reason is to prevent excessive pressure on your skin from staying in any one position too long. Positioning yourself with pillows could help your joints, muscles and breathing.

Body pillows for below-the-neck comfort
Body pillows are longer than a king size pillow. King size pillows can move too much at night or end up on the floor, but body pillows are long enough to remain in place all night long. This means you can use them to position yourself in a comfortable and body safe posture and they will stay in place.

It is a good idea to use a pillow case for your body pillow. They are available at bedding stores. During the winter you might try a flannel body pillow cover, as they are warmer and the pillow is even less likely to move. Body pillows do not directly support your neck, so make sure you have a pillow that comfortably supports your neck when you are lying on your side.

Pillows for neck and head comfort
It is important that the pillow you use for your neck and head is thick enough to keep your neck straight while you are lying on your side. Many pillows are too thin, and although adequate for sleeping on your back, will not support your neck properly when you sleep on your side. Have someone look at your neck and head position when you are using your pillow. Your neck should be straight and level. Your head should be level and not bent to one side or the other.

In choosing a pillow there are a few other things to remember. Avoid down-filled pillows if you are allergic to down or if you need a lot of side-sleeping support—in that case a polyester fiberfill pillow is best. Make sure your pillow can be folded and molded to different heights so you can adjust it. Pillows made from memory foam cannot be adjusted so they are only reasonable for you if they are the correct height when you are on your side or if you build them up with towels underneath them. If you tend to be sensitive to chemicals stay away from memory foam pillows and stick with fiberfill filling and 100% cotton covers and pillow cases.

Your shoulders and hips
If you have painful shoulder tendonitis, lying on the side of the problem could cause the problem to flare up. Allowing the painful side to lift higher than 90 degrees could also make it more sensitive and painful, especially if it is overhead while you sleep. To avoid causing more shoulder pain, sleep on the opposite side and try hugging a pillow to keep your involved shoulder closer to your side.

If you want to try sleeping on the side of your painful shoulder, try using body pillows in front of and behind you. Bring your knees around the body pillow in front of you and hug the pillow with your elbows close to your side. Once you have the body pillow set in front of you, try rolling back onto the one behind you until you are lying at an angle and slightly off of your shoulder blade.

This way of using body pillows is also good if the outside of your hip hurts when you lie directly on your side. By rolling back onto the body pillow, you relieve the pressure on the hip bursa. This is also true if you have larger hips because of your build or your weight.

Keep your spine aligned
Sleeping with body pillows can help align your low and mid back. Your spine should be relatively straight when you are lying on your side. You can do this by lying on your side and putting the pillow between your knees while your knees and hips are flexed slightly. You may want to place the pillow low enough to support your top foot and ankle. If your shoulders and hips are comfortable, you can simply use a body pillow in front of you; if your shoulders and hips are a problem, however, try rolling back onto a body pillow placed behind you.

What about snoring?
You are more likely to snore if you sleep on your back. Snoring is less likely to happen if you sleep on your side. You are much less likely to accidentally roll onto your back if you are side sleeping with two body pillows. Good positioning in bed can decrease the severity or chance of snoring.

About your bed
Your bed should be firm enough to support your body, but not too firm. It should allow for the contour of your body to be aligned if you are lying on your back or your side. It should be wide enough to give you and your partner enough room to have body pillows and not disrupt each other by posture changes. The ideal is a king size bed for a couple if body pillows are being used. A queen size bed can work, but it is a bit tight for a couple if there are extra pillows; you might want to try a small foam wedge to keep your knee and back aligned and then use a king size pillow for your upper body.

If your bed is too firm you can add a pillow-top mattress cover or a foam mattress cover. If you are in the market for a new bed you might consider the king size air beds that are available with dual chambers that can be adjusted to your preferred level of firmness. Air beds do not need to be rotated as do spring beds.

Your position, bed and pillows can have a significant influence on the quality and quantity of your sleep, as well as the health of your musculoskeletal system. We all sleep about one-third of our lives—it is important to do what is most comfortable for you.