By Benjamin Semmens, Registered Nutritionist (BHSc)
13 Seeds is back again with another edition of Friday Q&A, a digital series where we answer all your health and nutrition-related questions.
This week’s question came from Desmond: “I’ve been waking up with a lot of pain in the back and knees, is there anything I can do?”
When it comes to getting a good night’s rest, your sleeping position is just as important as the number of hours you’re able to clock in every night. Knowing what sleeping position is right for you could not only improve your overall health, but can also reduce aches, pains and stiffness in the morning.
Read on for a full breakdown of the three main sleeping positions and how to decide which one is best for you (and your joints).
Let’s start with the sleep position that research suggests has the most health benefits – on your back. When you sleep on your back you are working with gravity, not against it, that can help to reduce pressure on your spine and joints, which is perfect for anyone who suffers from back pain or arthritis. Sleeping on your back can also reduce the risk of developing facial wrinkles, that can occur when your face is pressed against the pillow.
However, this position is less than ideal for snorers or individuals with sleep apnoea because it may trigger breathing difficulties. Be forewarned if you also have gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) or just ate a big meal, it may also spike up your acid reflux.
To optimize sleeping on your back, use a medium to firm mattress and place a small pillow underneath your legs that helps to support the spine. A thinner head pillow is best to avoid any straining on your neck and shoulders
Sleeping on your side is the most popular sleep position and is also great for anyone with lower back pain. It’s also the ideal position if you're pregnant and can help reduce snoring and sleep apnoea. In addition, this position is best for digestion and reduces acid reflux. To get the most out of this position, place a pillow between your knees, this can help to take the load off your lower back and hips which can lead to tightness or soreness in the morning (especially if you suffer from joint pain or stiffness).
On the downside, this position can also cause stiffness in the neck and shoulders. If you’re a side sleeper, you’ll need a thicker pillow to avoid this problem. Soft mattresses are best for side sleepers because it supports the contour of your spine.
Out of all the sleep positions, sleeping on your stomach is the least popular and may be the worst for your health. This position can cause both neck and back pain by straining your muscles and joints. There are a few handy tricks you can use if you can’t sleep any other way. Pretend you’re a skydiver and “free fall” with your arms and legs flared out. This can help relieve any pressure at your hips and shoulders.
Placing a pillow under your lower stomach and using a thin head pillow can also help ease the load on your spine and reduce back pain. You can even try changing the direction your head faces each night if one side of your neck and shoulders is tighter than the other. For all our belly sleepers, invest in a firm to hard mattress to help keep your spine aligned and prevent any pain or stiffness.
Congratulations to Desmond who won a $20 gift voucher just for asking Ben a question! If you have any other questions or need some extra support with your health, feel free to email our head nutritionist Ben at firstname.lastname@example.org and subscribe to our blog for more updates.
This article does not constitute medical advice and does not take into consideration your personal circumstances. Please see your medical professional before implementing the above.