What is good vs bad sleeping posture?

Most of us have been given advice about ‘good posture’ at one time or another. It usually relates to our daytime activities: for lifting, standing, sitting, or using a computer. But how many times have you been given advice about a good posture for sleeping? 

Given that we spend at least a third of our lives lying in bed, a good sleeping posture could make a huge difference to your health and wellbeing. So how do you know if you have a bad sleeping position that could be hurting your back?

 

What is a bad sleeping posture?

To help explain what makes 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.

 

Graphic showing poor sleeping posture: on a flat surface that doesn't conform to the shape of the spine.
An example of a bad sleeping position, which could cause back pain

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.

Bad sleep posture can cause a lack of support for your spine. This will result in the vertebrae squeezing 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.

What is a bad sleeping position for people with back pain?

A flat position generates pressure points which are relevant to the areas of your body that

  • carry the most weight
  • are subject to the body’s bony prominences 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.

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. And it’s not the only good sleeping posture you can choose from.

Could Fowler’s positions help improve bad sleeping posture?

To get to the heart of a truly effective and healthy sleeping posture, it’s important to consider 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. Adjustable beds have certainly been influenced by this thinking over time, and can easily adapt to the Fowler’s positions.

Illustration showing three positions that an adjustable bed can perform: raised head end, head and feet raised, and feet only raised.
Raising the top and bottom of an adjustable mattress allows you to take up the Fowler’s positions with ease.

How to achieve good sleeping 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.

Graphic showing good sleeping posture: on a surface that is lower at the hips and with the head and feet gently raised.
Adjusting your bed into a soft contour position provides optimum support for a natural spine position. It reduces tension, relaxes the joints and eases pressure points.

Adjustable 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, our split or ‘dual’ adjustable beds allow you to independently control your mattresses, all within one bed frame.