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We spend a large chunk of our lives – about 40% – in bed.1 Having a good night’s sleep – both in quality and quantity – is vital to our health and well-being. It allows us to mentally and physically recharge, and is an important time for our muscles, bones and organs to repair themselves.2

 A key factor of being able to achieve healthy sleep is knowing how to sleep, which involves knowing the right sleeping positions and finding the right bed and sleeping aids.1


 Key points

·       Sleeping in a proper position is an essential part of having a good night’s sleep


·       Sleeping positions play a key role in musculoskeletal health and well-being


·       Whether you sleep on your side, back or front, being in a midline position is essential


·       It is vital that you choose the right bed and sleeping aids


·       Your local physiotherapist can help you to improve your sleeping positions and can provide professional advice on how to choose the right bed and sleeping aids

Sleeping positions and musculoskeletal well-being

Sleeping positions play a key role in musculoskeletal well-being by affecting how we sleep. Learning the right sleeping positions can help prevent common musculoskeletal conditions, particularly neck and back conditions, from developing.1 Research has shown that people with sleeping problems are more likely to develop chronic musculoskeletal pain. This is potentially due to disruption of the muscle healing and relaxation that normally occurs during healthy sleep.3

Proper sleeping positions

Some people feel comfortable sleeping in a range of positions, whereas others prefer to sleep in only one. The most important thing to consider, regardless of the position, is that the body should be in the midline position (keeping the head, neck and trunk centrally aligned). This helps to minimise stress and strain by maintaining the natural curves of the spine.4

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Lying on your side4

Sleeping on your side can help the structures of the back attain an optimal position. Support your hips by placing a pillow between your bent knees. If your bed is very soft or saggy, consider positioning a pillow under your waist. Ensure your neck is supported with the right number of pillows.

Common postures when lying on your side include the foetal posture, the log posture and the yearner posture.1

Lying on your back4

Ensure your head and neck are supported with the right number of pillows, in order to prevent your head and neck from tilting too far backwards or forwards. Support your lower back by positioning pillows under your knees.

Common postures when lying on your back include the soldier posture and the starfish posture.

Lying on your front4

Lying on your front has the potential to cause the most problems. It is important that your neck is kept as close as possible to the midline position (ie. don’t bend or twist your neck too far forwards, backwards or to the side). To help your neck be in the right position, consider sleeping with a pillow under your chest or with one shoulder back slightly. Beds that are too soft or saggy can place an asymmetrical strain on your spine when lying on your front.

Physiotherapy is recommended for those who require professional advice about the best sleeping positions for specific health needs (such as finding the best sleeping position for back pain or the best sleeping position for neck pain).

What's a good way to rise from the bed?

When standing up from the lying position, turn on your side, draw up both knees and swing your legs over the side of the bed. Try sitting up by pushing yourself up with your hands. Then, bend forward at your waist with your core muscles activated.

What type of a mattress is beneficial?

Generally, a firm mattress or an ensemble that does not sag is recommended by physios.

How to select the right pillow for sleeping?

The human neck curves slightly forward to sustain the weight of the head when upright. This natural mechanism should ideally be maintained during sleep as well. The height of the pillow should not be too high or low, otherwise the neck is bent abnormally out of alignment. This can lead to muscle and joint strain.

Sleeping positions to avoid

It is important to avoid sleeping in a position where your head, neck and trunk are not in the midline position. As mentioned before, lying on your front is the riskiest of the sleeping positions as it can be quite difficult to keep your neck in the midline position.4

Choosing the right bed and sleeping aids

Your physiotherapist is an expert in understanding how sleep can affect your body, particularly your musculoskeletal system. They can help you choose the right bed, mattress and pillows based on your health, level of functioning and other personal needs.5

Choosing the right bed1

Generally, bigger beds are better as there is more room to stretch out and adjust position. If you sleep with a partner, a bigger bed is recommended so that you don’t disturb each other when changing position.

If you sit on the edge of the bed, your feet should be able to be placed comfortably on the floor. Beds that are too low are harder to get up from and are particularly bad for those with back or hip issues.

Choosing the right mattress1

It is important to find a mattress that has the appropriate level of firmness. If it is too firm, it will push onto the body’s main pressure points. If it is too soft, it might not be able to provide the necessary amount of support. It is recommended that you have your mattress assessed if you have back aches that persist for more than a few minutes after getting out of bed.

Choosing the right pillows1

Choosing the right pillows can help prevent certain musculoskeletal problems, particularly neck problems, from developing or worsening. If you lay on your side, your pillows should be big enough to make up the gap between your head and shoulder. If you sleep on your back, your pillow should be big enough to support your head, but not so big that your head tilts forward. Your chin should be in the neutral position.

A: Use HealthEngine to find and book your next Physiotherapist appointment. Click on the following locations to find a Physiotherapy clinic in your state or territory.

This article is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. If in doubt, HealthEngine recommends consulting with a registered health practitioner.

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