How Your Sleeping Position Will Affect Muscle Tension

How Your Sleeping Position Will Affect Muscle TensionOne of the factors I look at in clients who come to me for treatments is poor posture and whether that may be causing lower back or neck pain. But it isn’t only standing or sitting posture that are important, but your sleeping posture. Sleeping position can not only affect whether or not we suffer with back pain, but also may lead to other issues:-

 • Pain in any area – the spine forms part of the central nervous system so if it is poorly aligned, this will cause additional stress on the area, causing aches and pains throughout the body • strained, shortened, or tightened muscles,/ leading to poor support of the spine causing poor posture

 • back and neck pain 

• fatigue

 • sleep apnoea

 • muscle cramping

 • impaired circulation demonstrated by pins and needles

 • headaches

 • heartburn and digestive issues 

• premature wrinkles 

Despite the fact that we tend to move around in our sleep, we generally hold certain positions for several hours, so if part of the body is twisted or held at a strange angle, it can maintain that imbalance when you’re awake.

 There are certain positions and things you can do to avoid excess stress on the spine, by ensuring it is in a neutral position:-

 • a well-made innerspring or foam mattress, or using a foam mattress topper will help provide additional spinal support, may but depending on the firmness, it still may not support the lumbar or neck curves, and can also create pressure points at the back of the head, the shoulder blades, the tailbone and the heels. Old springs may press into pressure points, which can cause pain. A good mattress should support the lower back and prevent your lower torso and pelvis from sinking too deep into it.

 • use pillows and bolsters to fill any gaps between you and the mattress and support neutral alignment. If the pillows are too flat, too high, too firm or too soft, the head will become misaligned, causing an imbalance around the neck. When lying on your side, it may be helpful to use a thicker pillow under your ear, or memory foam which moulds to the body. Pregnancy pillows are also a good way to fill the gaps and will prevent you from turning onto your stomach.

 • Generally if your hips are wider than your waist, as with females, a softer mattress can accommodate the width of the pelvis and encourage neutral spinal alignment, whereas if your hips and waist are relatively straight, a firmer mattress is likely to support better

 • To keep the spine neutrally aligned, where possible, the legs should be fairly straight with a natural knee bend, (avoiding tight ligaments) and hips should be aligned with the shoulders. Shoulders should also be in a relaxed down position. Both sides of the body should ideally be symmetrical.

 • Poor posture during the day, due to muscle tension or weakness, or occupational habits will make it difficult to sleep in a natural position at night. Stretching or massage will help to correct these imbalances which in turn should help improve sleep

 • The spine and joints are not weightbearing when you are sleeping, so you shouldn’t be in pain. If you have recurrent back pain, it may be worth checking with your GP that there is no underlying cause eg. osteoarthritis, a slipped disc, sciatica

 1) SLEEPING POSITIONS: ON YOUR BACK (generally considered the optimal position)


• weight is evenly distributed across the widest surface of your body which reduces pressure points and encourages proper alignment of internal organs

 • the spine is more supported, reducing neck and back discomfort

 • less likely to cause wrinkles 


• may not be advisable for those with sleep apnoea

 • can increase snoring 


 • Keeping your arms by the sides reduces shoulder strain on the shoulders (Soldier position)

 • use a low, supportive pillow which doesn’t cause the chin to be pushed too much towards the chest. For those who don’t like sleeping flat, elevating the upper body with a gently sloping wedge pillow or adjustable mattress will reduce the risk of a compressed nerve due to tilting just the head forwards

 • using a small pillow under the knees and the lumbar curve can help maintain neutral alignment in the lumbar region.

 POSSIBLE ISSUES:STARFISH POSITION Sleeping on your back with hands above your head, can result in shoulder pain due to increasing pressure on the nerves in the upper back.

 2)SLEEPING POSITIONS :ON YOUR FRONT (generally considered the worst sleeping position) 


 • may reduce snoring 


• the core sinks deeper into the mattress because it is the heaviest part of the body, while the head and limbs remain higher, creating a freefall position. The spine will be unsupported, causing back pain

 • increased stress on the muscles, joints and internal organs

 • locks the upper cervical vertebrae due to the position of the neck, which may cause headaches and problems with the neck

 • may increase numbness and tingling in the legs and feet due to increased pressure on the knees, which are turned into the mattress, and on the feet which are forced into an unnatural position 


 • If sleeping on your front is the only way for you, using a small pillow under the pelvis and lower abdomen will reduce the pressure on the back. The pillow under the head should be quite flat to avoid neck strain from pushing the head back, or preferably, don’t use a pillow at all

 • keeping the head straight by placing a firm pillow under the forehead can allow comfortable breathing, while relieving stress on the neck when the head is facing down


 • facing down into the pillow will restrict breathing, causing people to turn the head to one side, increasing neck strain and pain during the day. Sleeping with a twisted neck can also lead to shoulders and upper back tension 


 41% percent of adults sleep in the foetal position and another 15% sleep in a log or very loose foetal position. 


 • loose foetal position on the left side improves circulation, which is why it is the preferred position for pregnant women as it prevents the uterus from pressing on the liver, and prevents compression of the inferior vena cava 

• A very loose foetal position lengthens the spine, reducing the risk of back and neck pain and acid reflux 


 • always sleeping on the same side can contribute to muscle imbalances and pain, as it repeatedly suspends the middle of the body between the hips and shoulders 


 • alternate the side you sleep on

 • elongate your legs and arms as in the log position, supports the spine in a neutral position, thus reducing back and neck pain. The log position also reduces snoring.

 • positioning a slightly thicker pillow under the head and neck, but not the shoulders will help maintain neutral neck alignment (the neck shouldn’t be bent up or down) 

• keeping the knees slightly bent but not pulled right up to the abdomen is optimal positioning

 • using a pillow between the knees will promote alignment of the hips, pelvis and spine and reduce stress on the joints and avoid twisting of the spine that occurs when one leg is bent up above the other. Having a slight bend in the legs with the pillow between will reduce stress on the lower back, but don’t extend the arms outwards, as this will then increase the strain on the shoulders and arms. 

• If the foetal position is preferred, but stiff joints are also an issue, try relaxing the position by extending the legs a little and untucking your chin. Wearing wrist splints may help if you have a tendency to curl the wrists. Also if hip pain is an issue a pillow should be placed between the legs.


While this is the most popular sleeping position, probably because it was the first position we were ever in, it can cause some problems:-

 • a very tight foetal position may restrict diaphragm and breathing

 • a very tight foetal position may worsen arthritis in older people whose soft tissues aren’t as elastic as they once were 

• can be one of the worst positions due to the lack of neck and spinal support and curvature of the spine, but because it’s a natural and familiar position we tend to favour it 


 • arm and shoulder pain due to nerve compression and restricted blood flow from having the arms in an outward position

 • back pain due to the lack of spinal support which can also place additional stress on the internal organs eg. stomach, lungs


 • arm and shoulder pain due to nerve compression and restricted blood flow from having the arms in an outward position 

• back pain due to the lack of spinal support which can also place additional stress on the internal organs eg. stomach, lungs

 • may increase acid reflux, and is another reason why pregnant women are advised to lay on their left side 

• may restrict blood flow to the uterus in pregnant women