Two of the most frequent questions I have been asked in my 11 years as a chiropractor include "What is the best mattress for my spine?" and "What's the healthiest position for sleep?" Being that we spend roughly 1/3 of our days (more for children!) asleep in our bed, improving our spinal position during sleep can go a long way in reducing subluxations, feeling good, and enhancing our rest.
In general, I recommend a firm mattress to provide for the best support for the spine. Since everyone has a different spine and various preferences, I recommend trying out several mattresses to see which you prefer the most. Often times a pillow top above a firm mattress is a great choice for those who like a softer feel. From a health perspective, standard mattresses contain flame retardants, which are known to be highly toxic. For myself and my family, we purchase latex mattresses to avoid breathing in flame retardants for a relatively long period each day.
In terms of position, there are two that are healthy for your spine: lying on your back, or lying on your side. (If you are pregnant, lying on your side, preferably your left side, is the best choice for you from about 20 weeks on). Here are my tips for optimizing spinal position and comfort in each sleep position:
Back sleepers: Aim for alignment of your body in the horizontal position. Just as when sitting or standing, your ear will ideally be in line with your shoulder, your shoulder with your hip, and your hip with your knees and feet. Common mistakes include having a pillow that is too high, lifting your head into anterior forward posture, which causes lots of stress to the neck, shoulders, and potentially the head and jaw. So a small pillow, one that specifically lies under the neck curve, is perfect. One way to provide extra comfort and support for the low back in this position is to have an additional supportive pillow beneath the knees.
Side sleepers: Aim for alignment of your body in the vertical position. When lying in your side, we also like to see your ear, shoulder, and hip in alignment. Bending the knees is natural in this position. Common mistakes for side sleepers include: curling up too much into fetal position, or rotating or flexing the head down toward the pillow. Side sleepers require a thicker pillow, such as a gusseted pillow, or a down pillow that can be puffed up to support the head and neck. A small pillow between the knees also prevent an extra twist from occurring in the pelvis and hips.
Stomach sleepers: This is the position that puts a lot of strain on your spine. Either your neck is turned 80+ degrees for eight hours, or your low back and hips are twisted. We recommend transitioning to a new sleeping position. The most effective way that our patients have transitioned successfully is by switching to a stomach/side position with a pillow underneath the lower side, and one between the knees. Over time, you can switch to your side and remove the lower pillow.
Cheers to a great night's sleep!