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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Robin

I was a belly sleeper for a long time and thought I could never adjust to a different sleeping position. I knew it wasn’t optimal, but when I started waking up with neck pain, I decided it was time to experiment with alternatives. And when I injured my shoulder and couldn’t get comfortable at night, propping myself up with pillows in this way was the only way I could fall asleep. I understand now how my sleep position was putting pressure on the nerves in my cerebral spine, and my neck pain has clearly improved after making some small changes.… Read more »

Mary

This article definitly sounds like it will be helpful, i’m a serious belly/side sleeper and I do wake up with back and neck pains. Tonight I’m going to try the props, I’ll see how that goes. The breathing techniques Im going to try on my husband he has a lot of trouble sleeping due to breathing issues. Good stuff!

Pat

This is a really great post. I think most people could benefit from this knowledge. I slept with a town rolled up inside a soft pillow case last night and my neck feels great this morning! It is a bit awkward to have a pillow fort in your bed when you are sharing it with a special other, but one doesn’t have to sleep under these conditions every night. It is good to know these modifications so you can use them when the time is right!

Becky Czornobil

I recently woke up in the middle of the night and could not for the life of me get back to sleep! The next night when it happened again I tried this breathing– and it really helped!

dagmar Khan

It is amazing to see that even people who are practicing all kinds of Yoga have problems getting a good night sleep.There might be a variety of reasons from A to Z.but one of them could be very well that there is not much education on Sleep Adjustments in regular classes or Yoga workshops. Propping your body so it is aligned makes so much kinesthetical sense and if we are after a day of slouching in front of computer for 8 hours couple with 1 hour drive to work and an hour driving back,our bodies will most definitely be not… Read more »

Kristen L

I used to be a belly sleeper, but chronic neck pain and muscles spasms forced me to switch my sleeping position, I now sleep on my side with hug pillows on either side just like in the photo above, The hug pillows offer support similar to how I felt sleeping on my stomach.

Cassie Cherney

I am a side sleeper and will definitely try the pillow between my knees, but I’m especially excited to use the breath nudge. I have the hardest time just putting myself to bed. I am doing doing doing til I just pass out. Maybe the breathing can replace the doing….ahh that seems so much more relaxing.

Wade Carpenter

Man, Count me in. i almost feel asleep reading that. Hey…. I meant that looks real comfortable. I can’t wait to try it out:)

Natalie Nazihi

Very helpful article! Especially the suggestions for knee and neck support. Both my mother and grandfather suffer from sleep apnea, I wonder if these suggestions will help so I’ll pass them along.

Karla Huffman

I’m an all around the place sleeper where sometimes when I sleep on my side my hips hurt, on my belly my neck hurts in the morning, and when I sleep on my back my lower back hurts all day. Its torture for me, I do have a couple of body pillows but I never thought to use them for sleeping, they are more for decoration. Trying these suggestions tonight.

rcm

I find a knee pillow very helpful.

Jill Miller

Probably best to seek serious medical advise regarding the shoulders….a pillow may not solve the larger issue here with your soft tissue injuries. Regarding a full body pillow, you need to experiment to find what works and feels comfy to you.

Blessings and Sweet Dreams!

Ariel Marcoux

I really suffer from poor quality of sleep and I also have shoulder impingement syndrome in both shoulders (the left more so than the right). Would an extra pillow under my shoulder be best? What are your thoughts on those long, full length body pillows?

Teresa Heit-Murray

Hi Jill, Thank you for sharing your methods and reasons for sleeping. I didn’t know the effects on the low back of back sleeping. I have been having trouble sleeping since we adopted our lovely daughter almost 3 yrs. ago. I am a back and side sleeper in a bed with a husband who tosses and turns, but I am looking forward to trying our your support suggestions. I will also try the nudge exhale to see if that will help me fall back to sleep which is my main problem. I look forward to more sleep especially now that… Read more »

Cathy

I have always been curious about using more props to create a more supportive sleep style since I have back issues. I have used the pillow between the legs prop and it is good. I’d like to try all of this though and see if it helps my sleep, we can all benefit from better sleep! It’s just me and my cats so it’s not a problem to crowd up the bed! Thanks for these thoughtful tips.

Elizabeth S.

Thanks be to Anita for telling me about this posting!
I’ve always slept on my side, but wondered if I should be sleeping on my back.

Actually, I heard it was better to prevent wrinkles….(lol…silly yogini). I tried it, but could never get comfortable. Good to know I was on track all along; now, I will be putting all my pillows to future use!

(About to hop board a flight CHI-KC: let’s hope I don’t wind up face down on the tray table).

Kristen

As a lifetime belly sleeper, I cringe at the thought of testing out any other way. This information does make sense though, so I will give it a try.

Pam_SF

I’ve always been a big fan of pillows on my bed, but never used them this way. Can totally see how it can help alignment. I’m going to give it a try!

Alexandra

I am a side sleeper and I have been hugging a body pillow for years b/c hugging something soft and squishy has made me sleep better. I never thought about the fact that I am helping my alignment. I will try the extra pillow and towel to get extra support since I’ve had a shoulder injury in the past and still have muscle tension in that area. Thanks for the insight!

Anita

I am a side sleeper but love the suggestions on how to better align my body during slumber…anxious to give them a try to see whether my sleeping improves and whether it makes a difference in how my body feels…thanks!

JT

I have five pillows and good luck to the person sleeping next to me, because I’m a toss-and-turner too. Since doing Yoga Tune Up regularly, and learning about the Yogi Complete Breath, I’m much more able to transition into a parasympathetic state much better and just let the day–and all its drama and problems–end right there.

subir

great article- i wake up so many mornings with a lot of compression on my right side- having spent all night mashing my shoulder into my neck the cervical trapezius and scalenes alike are really tight and sore; these simple steps should alleviate the problem.

Aura Carr

Wow that’s a lot of stuff in bed with you. I use a hug pillow but interestingly enough am always sleeping on my left side which I do not think is healthy. It seems to be the most comfortable position. It is the only position that doesn’t bother my back. As an aside, I do not snore when dairy is removed from my diet.

Jill D

I am figety so I sleep in all three positions. Most of the discomfort I experience is in the neck so the rolled up towel is a great idea I will try. I’ve tried using different types of pillows but they never seem to allow the neck to stay neutral. I usually just wrap the covers between my legs to use as a cushion for the knees which can be annoying to my fiance since he often ends up in the cold!

Susan McGurn

I am a restless sleeper, back and side sleeper. I also have back and neck discomfort. I tried those special neck pillows with no success. This is encouraging news that I will apply the pillows and breathing exercise to see if I can sleep well once and for all!

bo

I am a side sleeper and I usually sleep with a pillow between me knees, the pillow in front of my however, is my dog, and the brace behind me is my fiance, very comfy, very cozy!

Renee Braunsdorf

great tips for sleeping. I am a side sleeper. I often place a pillow between my knees. My pug, Leo is often my prop for my front or back.

Taina

I have had a horrible time sleeping for at least 15 years now. One problem has always been position and pain associated with each one, neck and shoulder pain from side sleeping, and back pain from side and belly sleeping. I agree with all of the suggestions, but would like to add that the QUALITY of the pillows is essential. During my most recent sleepless week I picked up two new pillows and it made all the difference. It sounds like flat back sleeping is not ideal, but does anyone have an opinion on supported back sleeping? Think lounging on… Read more »

Tamara Z

I am also going to try this tonight since I have a hard time staying asleep throughout the night. TIme to put all my decorative pillows to work!

CSK

i need to buy more pillows! i toss and turn for hours some night b/c i’m not comfortable and can’t relax. i’m going to try the nudge breath too.

Gillea

Love this! I love the idea of supporting your body while you sleep, just as you would support your body in an active or restorative yoga pose with props. Or get emotional support/positive energy from the people you surround yourself with. I love that only by acknowledging that we need support, we will achieve proper balance in our life. It’s a beautiful surrender.

Amy

This information is very helpful. My husband always laughs at the ways I have pillows placed in strategic places around me as I sleep. After reading this article, I realized that over time I have figured out the way to align my body as I sleep. I am going to work on the “Nudge” breath tonight. Anything to improve the quality of sleep!

Liz

Good article! Explains why I often wake up in the middle of the night with am arm asleep. I will try the pillows to either side technique. Thanks!

Karen

I enjoyed reading these suggestions, especially the “nudge’ at the end of the natural exhale – will try that one. The pillow propping makes me think maybe I shouldn’t have gotten rid of my body pillow I used during pregnancy. I’m naturally a side sleeper but sometimes do miss the support. My husband always used to complain about feeling there was “something between us” though!

Nui K

Couple more items added to my bed are welcome. Stabilizing anterior and posterior of my body will give me warmth & comfort. My head resting on the buckwheat hull cylindrical pillow so the trapezia doesn’t scream. That’s a good night sleep.

Jill Miller

Lauren, I used to be a belly sleeper too….you might want to craft a snakalpa around it and repeat it to yourself nightly before going to bed..something like “I sleep peacefully on my side and wake up refreshed.” Blessings!

Susan Cooper

My husband is a back sleeper, and often wakes up in pain. I’m going to suggest these techniques to him in hopes of a better night’s sleep. Thanks!

Anne

I love this blog, because it brings awareness to what we need to do exteriorly that our bodies already do interiorly! Each bone is delightfully cushioned by our ligaments, connecting bone to bone, with a substance that is pillow-like…. There’s also the chance to engage deregulating breath to calm the nervous system and prepare for a good night’s sleep. Thanks for pointing out all of these great tools at our fingertips.

Lauren Iden

I’m a belly sleeper; it’s the most comforting position for me and I haven’t noticed any discomfort because of it. However, I certainly don’t want to wake with spastic neck muscles one day! How can I prevent myself from rolling onto my belly during the night, which is inevitably what will happen?

Karen K

Thank you, Never knew that Flat Back Sleeping was not good. and that 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

Rima

It is interesting to think about constantly aligning the body- even while sleeping. Nudge breath is wonderful- will definitely put you in a state of deep relaxation.

Peter

Very good ideas! Thanks!

taryn

Good advice… especially the breathing to relax the body in order to sleep.

Amber Campisi

Okay…not going to lie, the first line of this blog sucked me in!! Used to be a drunk sleeper…am totally a side sleeper and now I will be pulling the decrotive body pilllow out of the guest room and tryin it out!

Shilpa

Very informative! I’m a bely sleeper so I will have to try some of these techniques.

Sabena

Good post – I need to try some of these things to get a better night’s sleep!

Joe Matson

I will try the hug pillow.

Trish

I agree…I sleep with a pillow between my knees and it makes all the difference!

Leigh Bailey

Great article!!

Chris

The side sleeper modification may deter nerve damage, but won’t it also deter snuggling?

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