For much of my life, I woke up from a night of sleep in a pool of drool. And no, I was not drunk. I was a belly sleeper and a mouth breather and a pre-adolescent snorer. It wasn’t until I began practicing yoga as a pre-teen that I became aware that my sleeping habits were unhealthy (and gooey! Yoga, with its emphasis on body alignment, and its use of props to achieve that alignment, helped me learn how to establish a new perfect sleep posture that helped me sleep more soundly (and soundlessly) through the night.

The human body can fall asleep in almost any imaginable position. Just look around your fellow passengers while on a long flight to see the astonishing variety of sleep postures! As I write this blog, the young woman sitting next to me on my cross country flight from NYC to L.A. is out cold with her face on the tray table!

But by learning about the best positions for sleep, you can tweak the ergonomics of your sleeping posture to be conducive to deeper sleep and to optimize an easy flow of breath through the nose. If your nose gets congested, mouth breathing and snoring are likely to ensue.

3 Sleeping Positions That Hurt!

Belly Sleepers: If your body chooses to sleep facing down, your face must turn to one side or the other in order to breathe. This places torque on the neck, and a lot of pressure on the delicate nerves running from the skull through the upper spine. Belly sleepers can often wake up in a pile of spittle and spastic neck muscles.

Flat Back Sleepers: Low back pain is the most common complaint with this posture, caused by the rigid holding of the limbs in this “corpse-like” shape. When the body lays for hours on end with the knees and hips “locked open,” the weight of the legs can actually pull the lower back bones and muscles out of alignment and put undue stress on the lower back vertebrae and discs.

Side Sleepers: Even though this is the safest choice out of the three for the back muscles and bones, the weight of the body collapsing the shoulders up and in towards the neck can be very painful and cause muscle spasms in the upper back, shoulders and neck.

3 Ways to Sleep More Comfortably On Your Side

By propping yourself up in bed you protect delicate nerves and may sleep more soundly.

By propping yourself up in bed you protect delicate nerves and may sleep more soundly.

By modifying the side sleeper position with a few simple household items, you can create a brand new supported side sleeping posture that prevents neck compression and ensures ideal symmetry throughout the night for all the joints of the body.

Properly placed pillows prop up your joints in just the right places for supportive sleep.

Roll up a beach towel (or use a buckwheat hull cylindrical pillow) so that it is about one foot long and 8 or 9 inches in diameter and place it on front of your favorite pillow. This will keep the cervical bones from collapsing and bending to the side, giving them support and keeping the neck long throughout the night.

Place two other pillows on either side for your arms to embrace as a “hug pillow.” This will keep the shoulder joints spacious throughout the night and prevent the weight of the arm bone from compressing the precious brachial nerves that stream underneath the collar bones.

Place a light blanket or towel between your knees and attempt to keep it in place throughout the night as you toss from side to side. This will keep the hips spaced apart enough to prevent the lower back or hip bones from slipping out of alignment. It also prevents bone bruising between the knees.

It may seem like a lot of extra “stuff” in bed, and you may have to practice for a few weeks until your body adapts to holding the hug pillow and hanging onto your knee blanket, but the sound sleep you’ll experience with this improved sleep posture is worth the inconvenience of a crowded bed.

Try Yogic Breathing To Help You Sleep Better

Follow this Yoga Tune Up® breathing technique we call the “Nudge” breath:

Begin by watching how your body is naturally breathing, watching the behavior of your breath. Once you feel that the breath is “happening” and you are not controlling or manipulating it, then add an additional exhale after the body has finished its automatic exhale. This extra exhale is a little nudge, not aggressive at all.

After the nudge, watch for the natural inhale and exhale, then add the gentle “nudge.” Repeat until you drift off into slumber … Sweet dreams!

 

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Jill Miller

Jill Miller, C-IAYT, ERYT is the co-founder of Tune Up Fitness Worldwide and creator of the self-care fitness formats Yoga Tune Up® and The Roll Model® Method. With more than 30 years of study in anatomy and movement, she is a pioneer in forging relevant links between the worlds of fitness, yoga, massage, athletics and pain management. She is known as the Teacher’s Teacher and has trained thousands of movement educators, clinicians, and manual therapists to incorporate her paradigm shifting self-care fitness programming into athletic and medical facility programs internationally. She has crafted original programs for 24 Hour Fitness, Equinox, YogaWorks, and numerous professional sports teams. She and her team of 500+ trainers help you to live better in your body with an emphasis on proprioception, mobility, breath mechanics and recovery. She has presented case studies at the Fascia Research Congress and International Association of Yoga Therapy conferences. She has the rare ability to translate complex physiological and biomechanical information into accessible, relevant moves that help her students transform pain, dysfunction and injury into robust fitness. Jill is the anatomy columnist for Yoga Journal Magazine and has been featured in Shape, Men’s Journal, Good Housekeeping, Women’s Health, Yoga Journal, Self, and on the Today Show and Good Morning America. Jill is regularly featured on the Oprah Winfrey Network. She is the creator of dozens of DVD’s including Treat While You Train with Kelly Starrett DPT and is the author of the internationally bestselling book The Roll Model: A Step by Step Guide to Erase Pain, Improve Mobility and Live Better in your Body. Based in Los Angeles, CA, she is a wife and mother of two small children and is currently writing her second book.

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Alyssa P

While the spittle never bothered me too much – ha ha – the neck spasms have started in my late 30s and I’ve been trying to figure out whether this was from WAY too much head and shoulder stand in my early days or something else – while I don’t think it’s all one or the other – considering we spend about 30% of our lives sleeping – it’s worth a look for sure. I also loved the visuals – I remember taking such militant care of my sleep position during pregnancy, but then it was right back to belly… Read more »

Maryday

I am guilty of sleeping all the different ways you have mentioned :/ and unfortunately have also experienced the results from sleeping like so. Thanks Jill, for finding this “happy medium” for sleeping. I never realized even going to bed, its very easy to neglect our posture since we are already lying down. Sleep like you are doing yoga! with awareness. So I am looking forward to trying these supported variations, and it looks like I need to buy more pillows! 😉

Christina

Thanks so much for this article. Im a side sleeper but sometimes have neck tightness in the mornings. I will try the towel rolled up. I really appreciate this article, I was never sure what he best sleeping position was, now where does the husband, toddler and dog go?!

Carol Anderson

Proper alignment is so important throughout your day and night. I like how you broke down each body position, how it’s effected and how to support it. Being aware of your breath and emphasizing on the complete exhale does bring my body to a more relaxed state. Thank you for a better and more complete slumber.