For years I used to be stomach sleeper. It was so comfortable. It was the only way I could fall asleep. Then my low back started to hurt. Nothing crazy, just a low grade ache on my right side that never really went away. I was young and active with no history of injury to that area so I couldn’t figure out why it pained me so much. It was about this time that I enrolled into the Massage program and I learned that my sleeping position wasn’t ideal and was probably causing my pain.
My sleeping position was similar to this photo. The right leg was being used as a “kickstand” and my head would be turned to one side or the other for most of the night. I learned that the external rotators of the hip were in a shortened position and my right hip was “hiked” higher than my left when I slept like this. No wonder I had low back pain!! All of those muscles connected to my low back were being aggravated all night and I had no clue.
That was when I made the decision to stop sleeping on my stomach, but it wasn’t easy. I was so used to falling asleep in that position that it made it hard to change. I would just lay there, on my back, waiting to fall asleep. It was agonizing. Eventually though, I got used to sleeping on my back or side and guess what? My low back pain disappeared! I was ecstatic. Gone are the days that I wake up with a sore back and I haven’t looked back since.
Neck pain can also be caused by sleeping on your stomach. It is hard to maintain a neutral spine when you sleep on your stomach and gravity and the weight of your head can cause tension on the neck and spine. Add to that a rotation of your head to one side for most of the night and you have a recipe for neck muscle tension, pain and headaches. Lately, I’ve been seeing a huge correlation between stomach sleeping and patients who present with Temporomandibular Joint dysfunction (TMJ). The mandible (jaw bone) can be pushed to one side and people will complain of pain and tension in their jaw and the occasional “click”. By maintaining a neutral spine during sleep, a person can reduce their symptoms significantly.
I know how hard it can be to change a sleeping position, so I’ve listed a couple of solutions to help prevent you from rolling onto your stomach in the middle of the night.
- Use a body pillow. By hugging up to the pillow, you will prevent yourself from completely rolling over onto your stomach.
- Sew a tennis ball onto the front of your pajamas. The idea is that the tennis ball will wake you up when you do roll onto your stomach, making it uncomfortable to sleep. This also works well for people who snore, but you would sew the ball onto the back of the pajamas.
So, before you buy a new mattress, maybe consider changing your sleeping position and see if that helps with those unexplained aches and pains that you may wake up with in the morning.