Posture-perfect sleep positions that are right for your body

Chiropractor Sapna Sriram shares her tips and tricks for the best sleep posture.
Published March 18, 2020 1:00 p.m. EST
Last Updated March 20, 2020 9:38 a.m. EST
The information provided on the show is for general information purposes only. If you have a health problem, medical emergency, or a general health question, you should contact a physician or other qualified health care provider for consultation, diagnosis and/or treatment. Under no circumstances should you attempt self-diagnosis or treatment based on anything you have seen on the show.A crick in your neck, an ache in your back – it starts when you wake up and seems to stick with you for the whole day. While the amount of sleep we get is important, our sleep posture can’t be overlooked. But how do you know what sleep posture is best for you? Chiropractor Sapna Sriram stopped by The Social to give us the A, B, Zzz’s of proper sleep positioning.


There’s all kinds of aches and pains you might feel when you wake up in the morning, but how do you know if that pain is linked to your sleep posture? To answer this, look at when your pain started: did you go to sleep in pain, and when you wake up, is it the same or worse pain, or is it new? If it’s a newer complaint, like waking up with new neck or back pain, 9 times out of 10 it’s due to your sleep habits. This could be the wrong pillow, an old mattress, or even a new mattress.If you feel like these pains linked to sleep have suddenly appeared out of the blue, it’s likely that you’ve actually had these bad mechanics for a while. You might have been getting away with bad sleep posture this whole time, but now other factors might be starting to malfunction that make you become more aware of it. For example, a change in mental and/or emotional state can worsen these pains.Ultimately, it’s simple: you won’t get the restorative sleep that you need without the right mechanics.


The only positron that is an absolute no-go for sleep posture is sleeping on your stomach. It introduces too many issues with creating injury to your neck, nerve injury down your arms, and you can develop a lot of back pain.Another issue with stomach-sleeping is that there isn’t much that you can do to help your upper body in this position, because your neck has to swing one way or the other. If you’re on your stomach, and you have your arms shaped like a diamond over your head, you can imagine how your neck is flexed to the right and your shoulder is hiked up - you’re super clenched there. Holding that position for hours on end can lead to a lot of damage to the shoulder, and the upper and lower neck can be also be affected. You also might start to feel pins and needles and/or numbness in your hands


If you’re a stomach-sleeper who can’t break the habit, here’s some sleep posture steps to follow:
  • Step 1: Never start on your stomach. There’ll always be a subconscious and conscious state to your sleeping: you consciously go to sleep with an intended position in mind, so just don’t start in the no-no posture. We say that we sometimes switch positions in the night unknowingly, but really, there was a moment in your sleep when you realized you switched to your stomach.
  • Step 2: If you notice you aren’t able to veer away from stomach-sleeping, then sleep in your next most favourite position, like on your back or side. You can also put an additional pillow in front of your stomach. You should always be using pillow placement based on the position that you pick.
You can also add a weighted blanket, because this can help in reducing movement onto the stomach.[video_embed id='1752874']RELATED: How to beat travel aches and pains after hours on a plane[/video_embed]


Choosing in the right pillow for sleeping on your back can be tough. A lot of people will come up with specific types of pillows depending on if you sleep on your side or back, but there really is no magic number of inches or height. It’s all about filling the dead space between your head and your shoulders, and because there are so many different head weights and body sizes, it’s different for everyone.A lot of people view pillows as being for your neck, but it should go all the way down to your shoulders too. If you’re only addressing your head on the pillow, there is still that big gaping space between your neck and shoulders that isn’t being fitted by your pillow. If your pillow is too high, then your chin will be tucked into your chest. You might need two pillows, or even a pillow and a half.


When it comes to pillows, the idea of ‘the bigger the better’ isn’t recommended, but getting rid of the pillow altogether isn’t a great option either. It’s very hard on your neck to sleep with nothing.This is usually seen a lot with young children. Parents sometimes don’t know when to introduce a pillow, so at first they introduce a really small pillow. In reality, kids need pillows at an earlier age than most people think.


Extra pillows are the key to perfect back sleeping, but how should you use them?First, you should start with a pillow under your knees to soften the back a bit. You want to make sure that your back is not going into a c-curve. If you feel like you need even more support, you might have to move the pillow a bit higher towards the bum. These don’t have to be top-of-the-line pillows, any pillow under your legs will do.A common mistake back-sleepers make is that they cross their legs at the ankle. This can cause tension to the hip line and introduce extra pulling on the back. But if you put a pillow between your knees to create a sort of forced space, this can directly help with that issue.In fact, when a previous patient of Dr. Sriram started putting pillows under his knees at night, it made a major difference with his pain –and he’d had back pain for six years.


Most people end up in side-sleeping positions, or they start in this position. You always want to try and emulate a nice neutral posture for side sleeping. If you end up curling into a fetal position, this puts a lot of tension on your neck, as this will round out your body. Crossing your legs over is also bad for your lower back.The key tip to help fix your side-sleeping is to get accustomed to putting a pillow in between your knees. This helps stack the hips so that you aren’t rolling your hips overnight. That can cause too much rotation of the spine, which can lead to stiffness because your body is fixated in one position for too long. If you have knee pain, you’re also putting a surprising amount of pressure on your knees when you’re side-sleeping, so a pillow between your legs is also helpful to alleviate that.[video_embed id='1903214']RELATED: This is the best temperature for sleep, experts say[/video_embed]


The biggest missing piece for side sleepers is what to do with their arms. People will automatically bring their arms to their heads, which leads to shoulder issues, tennis elbow, and carpal tunnel.  Don’t put your hands up to your pillow for too long, or hopefully not at all.If you’re on your side, you tend to think about not shrugging your shoulders up to your ears, or about being less tense. But to compensate for the shrugging, a lot of people will bring their hands to their head. You’re inadvertently trying to give your neck support - literally holding your head up.To fix this, you can hug a pillow at your belly button level. This way, you’re bringing your shoulders down and allowing your whole upper body to get more relaxed. If the pillow is doing the work, you don’t have your hands doing it for you!Essentially, you’re using up to 4 pillows if you’re sleeping on your side.


This can feel like you’re using a lot of extra pillows, but there is an alternative: body pillows! Body pillows are often talked about in relation to pregnancy, but they can actually be a great tool for any side-sleeper who wants to alleviate aches and pains. It’s kind of like a two-in-one problem solver: you wrap your knees around the pillow, and it’s in the perfect spot to hug and bring your shoulders down.


People can debate whether being the big spoon or small spoon is better, but the big spoon definitely has the leg up here in terms of spinal alignment. You’re essentially using your sleeping partner as a body pillow, and it makes your body and spine neutral.[video_embed id='1903209']BEFORE YOU GO: Steph Curry shares sexy vacation pic with wife Ayesha Curry[/video_embed]