What you never knew about sleep and PT

A good night’s sleep can go a long way toward recovering from an injury. During sleep, it is our body’s ideal time for healing and recovery, so sleeping in a position that causes pain can hinder the recovery process. This makes it crucial to find a comfortable sleeping position to allow the body to feel at ease and promote a restful sleep, especially if you are dealing with some type of injury.

Addressing sleeping position is something that I try to do with most of my patients, regardless of their diagnosis. Whenever I’m asked about the “best” position to sleep in, I usually tell my patients to sleep however is most comfortable for them because there isn’t one single answer that will work for everybody.

Still, learning the pros and cons of different sleep positions and how to use pillows to support the body during the night can give people different options to find the position that best works for them.

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Sleeping on the back is probably the best for helping the spine to maintain a neutral alignment and reducing stress on the head, neck, and back. In this position, you want to make sure that you have a pillow supporting the natural curvature of your neck, but not too much support that your head is elevated much past a neutral position, as this could increase stress on the neck. A pillow underneath the knees, to keep them in a slightly bent position, can help to reduce stress on the lower back during the night as well. Sleeping on your back has the added benefit of helping to combat acid reflux, but is not ideal for people who are pregnant or have sleep apnea.

Side sleeping, particularly on the left side, is the preferred position for pregnant women, and can also help to ease acid reflux, snoring, and sleep apnea. Orthopedically speaking, however, sleeping on your side is not ideal because of the amount of pressure it puts on your neck and shoulders. It can also result in restricted blood flow and compression of nerves which can lead to pain, numbness, and tingling in your arms.


If you prefer sleeping on your side, in order to best support your body, consider using a thicker pillow to support your head and neck in a neutral position as well as a pillow between your knees which can reduce stress on your back and hips.

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Sleeping on the stomach is probably the worst sleep position from an orthopedic standpoint. Being on your stomach increases the curvature of your lumbar spine, and staying in that position throughout the night can result in a lot of added stress to your low back.

In this position you also have to turn your head to one side or the other while sleeping which increases strain on the neck as well. If you need to sleep on your stomach, consider using a pillow underneath your midsection to prop up the lower back and reduce stress on that area during the night.

With all that said, listen to your body and do what feels right. If you feel most comfortable in a certain position, that’s probably the best fit for you. If you are having pain, experimenting with different sleep positions to find what works best can go a long way toward helping you to feel better. If you find yourself waking with neck, back, or shoulder pain and your pain persists throughout the day or continues to get worse over time, consider calling us at CPTC to see how we can help.

– Kevin Churchill, PT


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