Researching tips for sleeping? Sandy Boniface DC (Chiropractor) discusses more in her two part series on getting a better nights sleep.
Previously we have looked at mattresses in regard to lower back pain, but your choice of pillow, and the number of pillows you sleep with, can also affect your neck and shoulders.
There are three curves in the spine which need to be properly alignment to minimise back problems developing, and at night, when you are lying down, these curves need to be supported correctly.
As we generally spend about one third of our life sleeping, having the right combination of a supportive mattress and pillows, and sleeping in the correct position, is very important.
If you regularly wake up in the morning with neck or shoulder pain and stiffness, then your pillow(s) and your sleeping posture may be the problem.
Just as you need a good mattress to support your lower back, your neck needs to be properly supported by your pillow to ensure a good night’s sleep. Unless you are a rugby player or weight lifter, your neck is usually narrower than you head, both from the front to back, and from side to side. This means that if your pillow is too firm, it will be supporting your head rather than your neck, and if your pillow is too soft, your neck will sink in to the pillow. Both of these scenarios mean that your pillow will not be providing sufficient support to your neck, and you may find that you wake up in the morning with a stiff and sore neck.
There is a large variety of pillows available, with different shapes and sizes, and a choice of fillings, and finding the right one for you is not always easy.
A good pillow should hold your head in the correct alignment so that you head is in the same position relative to your shoulders and spine as it would be if you were standing upright with a good posture.
It should also be able to be tucked well into your neck and shoulders, or be shaped accordingly, to support the curve of your neck appropriately.
The most basic pillows are usually filled with a man-made fibre, which does not generally offer as much support as you may need.
Feather, goose down and duck down pillows are much better as you can either tuck them in to your neck, or shake the feathers down to the long edge of the pillow to make a roll, and use this to support your neck. Alternatively there are a variety of pillows that are already shaped to support your neck properly. These are often made of foam, in particular memory foam, where your body heat works with the foam to give good support for your neck specifically.
As with buying a mattress, it is a good idea to buy good quality pillows and replace them every few years, either when they have lost their height, or become lumpy, discoloured or misshapen.
The position you sleep in can also cause neck and shoulder pain. Sleeping on your stomach is not good for your spine at all; in your lower back it causes you to increase the curve in your lumbar spine, compressing the small facet joints in the spine, and in your neck, as you have to turn your head to one side or the other, it causes compression of the facet joints on the side you turn your head towards, leading to neck stiffness and possible pain.
If you tend to sleep on your back, your head will usually turn to one side or the other, leading to similar problems.
If you sleep on your side, a pillow needs to support your neck in a neutral position. If your pillow is too low it may feel as if your head and neck are dropping too far to the side, but if your pillow is too high your neck will feel as if it is being propped up too much.
However, if you are broad shouldered, you may need to use a thicker pillow, or two thinner pillows, rolling one up in to your neck, to give better support.
If you need any further advice, please speak to one of the chiropractors at the Guildford Chiropractic Centre.
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