The purpose of sleep is to rest and recover from the strain of the every day and the added stress of intentional exercise and training. As trainers, we should always encourage adequate, quality sleep. But what if your clients are spending their nights doing more harm to their bodies than good, missing the window of recovery? Some sleeping positions could be less than ideal for restful sleep, healthy skeletal alignment, and back health. Here are some things to consider that you should share with all of your clients, but especially those who claim to wake up stiff or with back pain.

Sleeping Positions

There are three basic positions people assume in their sleep, and may vascillate from one to another in the course of slumber: back, side, and stomach sleeping.

Back Sleeping: Back sleeping is easier on the spine because gravity centers the body over the spine. With an appropriate neck pillow to support the cervical spine, this could be a restful and comfortable position for some. If one experiences lower back pain in this position, placing a pillow under the knees could help relieve the lower back. 

Too soft or too firm a bed can also affect how comfortable this sleep position is.

For women who are pregnant, this sleeping position is not recommended for women during second and third trimesters due to it causing restricted blood flow and weight on the intestines. 

For those who struggle with sleep apnea, this is not an ideal sleep position, as may make breathing more difficult. For those with sleep apnea, alternating sides while sleeping is a good option. 

Side Sleeping: For those that choose to sleep on their side it’s just as important to maintain good posture. Maintain a neutral spine and neck, being certain a pillow is not too stacked or the mattress supportive enough to keep hips aligned with knees and head. The knees should stay slightly bent in order to avoid an anterior pelvic tilt. Keeping the top arm supported by an additional pillow will also prevent anterior glide of the shoulder joint.

It’s important not to curl up in the fetal position while side sleeping because it can promote weakness in some back muscles and cause pain.

Using a C-shaped pillow, or a body pillow at the head may help keep the head from drifting toward the chin while sleeping. Using a pillow between the knees could help keep one knee from moving forward and causing torque on the low back and allowing for proper hip alignment. 

Stomach Sleeping: It’s very difficult to stay in the stomach sleeping position and maintain any kind of healthy alignment. Sleeping in this position keeps the head turned to one side or the other which can cause pain and muscle imbalances. Imagine standing for 6-8 hours each day with your head turned to one side. Talk about painful! I would suggest not sleeping in this position at all.=

A great option for transition out of this position is to start by side sleeping with a body pillow. Using the body pillow will allow for some pressure on the stomach for those who are used to the comfort of being on their stomach. 

If your clients experience pain or discomfort due to poor sleep position habits, encourage them to consider trying some of other sleeping positions and get creative with pillow usage. You may even consider having them do a complete inventory of their sleeping habits. Creating better sleep habits should improve recovery and overall health and restfulness.

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Hanna Riley

Hanna Riley B.S. in Kinesiology, NFPT CPT is a passionate trainer, writer, and graphic designer. Hanna’s greatest passion is working with people who want to better themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually. She believes that we are all stronger than we think and she aspires to extend patience, kindness, education, self-motivation, confidence to her clients to help them unleash their strength. For more from Hanna, connect on social media on Facebook as Hanna Riley and Instagram as @house.ofhanna.