Pillow Talk

Pillow Talk

Written by Megan Amerson, PTA

Do you have trouble finding a comfortable position to sleep in at night due to neck or back pain?

Then this article is for you!

Sleep positioning is important so that we can obtain a good night’s rest.  Proper sleep positioning will help to keep the spine in a neutral alignment, which reduces stress on the neck and back.  Reducing the amount of stress on the neck and back can help alleviate pain that may wake you up at night.

If you are most comfortable sleeping on your back, then this paragraph is specifically for you.  One pillow behind the head is more than likely all you will need, depending on the size of the pillow.  You want avoid excessive neck and upper back flexion because that causes increased stress on the spine.  For some guidance, imagine a line being drawn from your ear straight down.  You want that line from the ear to be in line with the outside of your shoulder.  Adding a pillow under your knees can relieve pressure in the lumbar spine and promote comfort.

For the side sleepers (like me!), one or two pillows should be used for under the head, again depending on the size of the pillow.  As mentioned in a previous paragraph, the goal is to keep the spine in a neutral position.  Therefore, you don’t want increased side flexion of the neck.  Also, adding a pillow between your legs will help to improve the alignment of the low back and hip.  For some added support of the shoulder, you can fold a pillow in half at the chest and relax your arm across the pillow.

Last but not least, this paragraph is for those who like to sleep on their bellies.  Optimal positioning is using a towel roll or pillow for your forehead to rest on.  You may use a pillow and turn your head to the side.  However, this could cause some increased tension in the neck.  Adding a pillow under the abdomen can help to relieve some pressure in the low back.  Another tip for prone (belly) sleepers, is to have your feet hanging off the end of the bed or putting a pillow under the ankles.  Adding a pillow under the ankles will relieve stress at the ankles and allow the pelvis / low back to relax.

So why should we use these tips for sleep positioning?  Because proper sleep positioning helps to provide:

  1. Comfort while sleeping
  2. Support and stability for the trunk (spine) and your arms and legs
  3. Efficient function of your body’s systems

Try out some of these positioning techniques tonight to help you achieve a good night sleep!