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I usually sleep on my sides. I do not feel comfortable on my back, plus I snore in that position. However, sometimes when laying on the side I end up putting a hand under my cheek (palm on the cheek). This twists my neck, causing neck pain when I wake up, it hurts my wrist, and it causes me to snore which makes my wife unhappy ;) I also feel less well rested when I did this than I usually do.

Since this happens while I am asleep, how do I correct my posture and prevent me from slipping the hand under my cheek?

Our bed has a firm mattress and I lay on a firm pillow that should be of correct height (my neck vertebrae are aligned with the rest of the spine when I lay on it).

In case it matters: I always have neck pain due to facing the computer for most of the day. I am doing an hour of walking every day (30 minutes to work, 30 minutes back) these last few weeks in an effort to be more active and to ramp up to more strenuous exercise soon. I am 27, 1 meter 85 and weigh somewhat over 90 kg

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Have you tried strengthening your neck during the day? Are you sure that bad sleeping posture is the cause of the problem, not general weakness and stiffness in the neck? I've had similar problems and adding neck exercises to my daily routine fixed them. –  BKE Jan 16 at 7:52
    
@BKE, I am not sure, its just that when I end up in this sleeping posture, the pain is worse. I do have a stiff neck always. Would you expand your comment into an answer with some suggestions for exercises (weight training with an already painful neck scares me)? Thanks! –  Diederick C. Niehorster Jan 16 at 7:55
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6 Answers

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I'm sorry you are having poor sleep!

There are a few things you can try that have worked for me (I also have chronic neck issues).
Rolling a towel and placing it under your neck while lying on your back, and rolling a few towels to place underneath your knees. If you feel uncomfortable on your back because your lower spine feels a pull, the rolled up towels under your knees should help with that. What is it, specifically, that makes sleeping on your back too uncomfortable? You can put a bolster under your mattress so your head is somewhat elevated to minimize the snoring.

Alternatively, if you cannot sleep on your back, try lying on your side with that same rolled up a towel placed under your neck and also add a feather (or a very malleable) pillow to rest under your head. Adjust the pillow and thickness of the towel until you feel your neck and spine are completely horizontal while you're are lying on your side. Then place a long body pillow between your knees to keep your arms and legs resting mostly horizontal. This will keep your shoulders and hips from being pulled down too much by gravity over the course of the night.

If you also add a daily (or at least weekly) yoga practice - even 10 minutes of sun salutations - it will elongate the spine and neck, reversing the chronic compression from sitting at a computer most of the day. If you have never tried yoga before, start with Downward facing dog, or a straddled forward fold, but don't let your head make any contact with the floor or it will just compress the spine more. Keep your head hanging freely, which isn't exactly demonstrated in those pictures, but you get the general posture from those pictures. Then shake your head from side to side, then up and down while you are still inverted. This will begin to create more space between each vertebra.

Also drink lots of water! Sometimes those chronic aches are exacerbated by dehydration.

I have to use all of these tricks to help me sleep better and minimize my chronic neck pain. I hope this helps you too. Good luck!

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For side sleeping use body pillow.

I have to sleep on my side because of sleep apnea. I'm using two body pillows and Side Sleeper Pillow under my check.

  • First, it's much more comfortably to hug body pillow with your arms
    and legs. Your arms and shoulders will be completely relaxed.
  • Second, check size of the pillow under the check. It should be exactly match the size of your shoulder. You can add second pillow if you have wider shoulders.
  • And third, I'm using second body pillow to prevent myself from rolling on my back during the sleep.

The body pillows available in BBB and Amazon at size 20" x 54". You can also find a lot of different custom shaped body pillows, but regular rectangle pillow is more than enough.

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I too get horrible neck/back pain when I sleep in any other position than on my back (supine). I would recommend making another effort to sleep on your back, but with a twist! (How exciting! Read on!).

I had trouble sleeping on my back for a while because I would always turn around onto my stomach at some point in the middle of the night.

Having the front of the body covered and warmed (ie, sleeping in the prone position) is more "comforting" (at least it is for me). Perhaps this is some sort of subconscious desire to feel protected and safe during sleep? I haven't done enough research on that...

Regardless, to answer your question, I would suggest sleeping with a pillow or some other object on your stomach/torso while you sleep on your back. This is what I do to prevent myself from rolling over to the prone position in my sleep. Hugging the pillow close to my body on my stomach provides that "comforting" feeling I subconsciously crave. This is (I think) the same concept of a child holding a teddy bear close as they sleep.

This helps keep me on my back while I sleep. I hope it works for you.

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Thanks for that idea! However, I wish to not lay on my stomach, which is something I infrequently do anyway (my wife would kill me for the resulting snoring). –  Diederick C. Niehorster Jan 15 at 1:38
    
@DiederickC.Niehorster I am NOT suggesting that you lie on your stomach. I think that you should sleep on your back, even though you find it "uncomfortable". I am merely suggesting that you try something (the pillow on stomach idea) to make it more comfortable. –  Soylent Green Jan 15 at 20:26
    
sorry that was a typo, I meant sleep on my back indeed. Thanks for the suggestion, will give it a try –  Diederick C. Niehorster Jan 16 at 7:51
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I usually start out the night on my back and move to some position that has my head turned sideways on my pillow. I usually put my hand under my face (palm to the pillow) to keep the pillow itself from covering too much of my face when I sink down. The solution I've come up with was to get a firmer pillow. This has helped with my need to sleep on my hand.

Hopefully this will be of some use to you.

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thanks for the suggestion, sadly I have a firm pillow of correct height already –  Diederick C. Niehorster Jan 15 at 1:36
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I am not a physiotherapist. I am not qualified to give you an answer, only my narrative, which, however, you might find useful.

I have had similar problems (extremely sore neck after sleeping). I found it almost impossible to change the way I sleep, so, yes, sleeping in another posture (on my back) might have helped, but practically I was unable to do it. I have also tried all kinds of pillows, but these methods did not really work - after some improvement, the pain always came back. I have found the anatomical pillow useful, though.

Then, I started doing mma wrestling. The training included lots of neck exercises, mostly dynamic ones, some that might even look quite scary. I definitely do not recommend doing these on your own. If you are not prepared, they might make your problems much worse. The reason I think they worked for me is because I already had a established yoga practice, so my body was prepared and I knew what I was doing. I experienced significant improvements after a few weeks, which I attribute to these dynamic neck exercises. Now the pain is fully gone, though I sleep in the same positions as before!

Not sure how useful is to you... if pillows, other positions etc. are not working work for you, finding a good physiotherapist and/or yoga teacher might be a good idea.

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From what I gather, sleep dysfunction may be difficult to diagnose. However, perhaps you can self-diagnose by watching a few videos. There are three videos here from Kelley Starrett (who is a DPT and is also the man), that I recommend:

Start here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnlDTyMRRGg

Here are two others:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cq64hxZMJbc
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rWidQgT5yo

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