Most of us have read or heard advice about ‘good posture’ at one time or another. More often than not it relates to our daytime activities – lifting, pushing, standing up, sitting, using a computer. But how many times have you been given advice about a good posture for sleeping? The answer, in all probability, is never. When you consider that we spend at least one third of our lives lying in bed, it should be every bit as important to maintain a good posture but it’s often neglected.
It’s easy to understand why – when you reach the end of a long day and your head’s about to hit the pillow, you probably don’t have the energy or the desire to think about your posture. However, a bit of time spent doing this could make huge difference to your health and wellbeing.
What is a bad sleeping posture?
In explaining what represents a good sleeping posture, it’s helpful to start with what makes a bad one. Spinal support is vital. Your spine is an ‘S’-shaped curve, so when you lie on your back, you put pressure on the areas that are not supported, such as the lower back, where the arc is at its peak.
As a simple illustration, if you lie down on the floor, flat on your back, you should be able to put your hand under the arc of your spine. This proves that it’s not fully supported. Lack of support causes the vertebrae to squeeze the discs in the back that can lead to severe back problems. If you toss and turn throughout the night, it’s probably because all your body weight has been pushed to one side of your body. This makes you uncomfortable and as a result you subconsciously turn to the other side to relieve the excess pressure.
A flat position generates pressure points which are relevant to the areas of your body that carry the most weight and are subject to the body’s bony prominences that are close to the skin. These pressure points include the sacrum (a triangular bone in the lower back), hips, head, shoulders and heels.
Lying flat, without full support for your spine, can strain specific muscles for long periods of time and their tension can gradually pull the spine out of alignment. Each section of the spine maintains different bodily functions including the nervous system, organs and your ability to move muscles and bones. Misalignment can therefore irritate any of these and result in a vast array of different symptoms and conditions.
The profile of the spine needs supporting whether you lie on your side or back – the above positions provide inadequate support
What is a good sleeping posture?
Now that we understand bad sleeping posture, it’s easier to identify what good posture represents: a position that fully supports your spine and relieves your pressure points. It’s vital to maintain a ‘neutral’ posture in which the joints are not bent and the spine is aligned and not twisted. This allows the muscles to hold the bones in a position that allows all organs to grow and operate and the joints achieve a full range of movement.
When lying on a flat bed, the recommended sleeping position for a neutral spine is the foetus – on your side, curled up. However, this position is just one of six common types of sleeping position and is adopted by less than half of Britons. Even in the foetus position, experts still recommend certain sleeping habits to ensure the body’s alignment is not disrupted, such as replacing pillows frequently to keep the head, neck and shoulders appropriately supported and propping pillows between the knees to keep the hips in the mid-line as well as below the knees to flatten the back. If that doesn’t sound particularly appealing, we can hardly blame you – it can be very difficult to change your sleeping habits and get used to new ones.
To get to the heart of a truly effective and healthy sleeping posture, it’s more instructive to move away from the conventional idea of lying flat and instead think about positions that are more suited to the contours of your spine. This kind of thinking was pioneered by surgeon George Ryerson Fowler. Now referred to as the Fowler’s positions, they are differing degrees of back and leg height and angle, including low, semi-high, high and the standard Fowler’s position, also known as “Fowler’s”. As well as being used to reduce pressure on the spine and release strain on the muscles, these positions can improve breathing and help with fluid drainage. For example, the ‘semi-high’ position is seated in a semi-upright position of 30 to 45 degrees, with the knees bent or straight. This can ease tension on the stomach muscles and help with breathing. The Fowler’s positions are recognised in standard teaching for many nursing courses today due to their medical benefits, which have been backed by clinical research over many years.
How to achieve good posture
So how do you achieve a sleeping posture which resembles the Fowler’s positions? It’s extremely difficult with a flat bed. Some back-pain sufferers will pile pillows up. However, this can lead to awkward neck positions, causing stiffness and muscle strains.
That’s why adjustable beds are becoming an increasingly popular option. Adjustamatic have developed a range of adjustable beds that can contour and profile to all the Fowler’s positions. Our beds can closely match the contours of the body to ease the pressure on the spine. Their extra support for the base of the spine prevents the trapping of nerves.
Adjustamatic beds can provide an elevated back or leg position without putting extra pressure on the neck. Raising the bed slightly also offers extra support for the shoulders, which can lead to fewer strains and less stiffness in the mornings. Sleeping on your back puts approximately 50 pounds (20kg) of pressure on your spine, so raising your knees while lying on your back cuts pressure on your spine roughly by 50% (The American Chiropractic Association, 2015).
In principle, the ideal and most comfortable position is a ‘zero gravity’ position which eliminates pressure points. The smooth, accurate and contouring control of an Adjustamatic bed allows you to position and contour the bed to support and reduce tension on these pressure points. This ‘soft contour’ position will take the strain off the spine and pivot point joints giving you as relaxed position as possible to zero gravity (Call et al, 2007).
Our beds are renowned for their ability to adapt to individual needs. And if you happen to share a bed with someone who has different support needs to yours, we have that covered too with split or ‘dual’ mattresses, each independently controlled but built in one bed frame.
Adjusting your bed into a soft contour position (above) provides optimum support for a natural spine position. It reduces tension, relaxes the joints and eases pressure points.
The wider benefits of good posture
Using an adjustable bed to achieve a good sleeping posture can ease aches and pains relating to your back, neck, muscles, nerves and joints. That much is clear, but it’s also worth noting that an adjustable bed can bring a range of wider health benefits.
For one thing, sleeping with raised legs can improve circulation. Standing and sitting throughout the day can lead to swollen legs and ankles, particularly for those who are inactive as walking can help to pump blood back to the heart. Raising the feet by 15cm allows for extra drainage while resting/sleeping.
Furthermore, Telegraph life coach Dr Dan Rutherford (2011) suggests that gravitational pull from raising the head by 5-10cm can prevent acid reflux by keeping stomach contents where they should be whilst lying down. Raising the head during sleep can also drain the nose and throat of congestion to ease seasonal allergies (although it’s not advisable to do this for several consecutive nights as the unnatural elevation can strain muscles). Similarly raising the head of the bed by 10-15 cm helps as a natural remedy for preventing snoring and improves breathing.
An adjustable bed can also improve the quality of your sleep when pregnant. The US National Sleep Foundation survey found 78% of women had difficulty sleeping during pregnancy because the added weight and strains on their spine as well as weight placed on their bladder and uterus. With and adjustable bed, you don’t need spend every night hastily assembling support from extra pillows; at the push of a button, you can adjust mattress to whatever works best at each stage of your pregnancy.
With all of these benefits in mind, an adjustable bed represents a fantastic investment to serve your lifestyle needs. Whether you’re 18 or 80, the difference between a good and bad sleeping posture can be significant to your health and wellbeing. With the peace of mind of an adjustable bed, you won’t lose sleep worrying about that difference.