One of the most commonly discussed topics among new parents (and their parents) is whether infants are supposed to be positioned on their stomachs or on their backs. While today’s parents are explicitly told that newborns should only be positioned on their back, earlier generations received the exact opposite guidance, and that has led to both confusion and a fair amount of headshaking by grandparents who believe that they know better.
Whichever side of that argument you fall on, one thing is very clear just as is true of infants — adults should not be sleeping on their stomachs.
Though infants should sleep on their backs to cut down on the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, for adults the risk of damage to the spine. Sleeping on your stomach can lead to neck pain, back pain, hip pain and shoulder pain. That’s due in part to the fact that lying on your stomach forces you to turn your head sharply to the right or the left in order to breath, and keeping your head in that position all night long. The physiologic result is to cut off blood flow to the head and neck, and this can lead to all kinds of painful results.
So what should you do if you’ve been sleeping on your stomach since you were little and can’t break the habit? One answer is to purchase a pillow with a hole in it that will allow you to keep your neck straight and still breathe, but this still leaves you with another problem, and that’s the unnatural arch in your lower back that is created by sleeping on your stomach. This arch compresses your spine and throws your muscles, bones, joints and ligaments out of proper alignment. Keep it up and you’re likely to find yourself experiencing tingling in your legs or feet, or a stiff lower back.
The best way to avoid this is to place a pillow or multiple pillows directly under your hips and stomach. The goal is to lift your hips high enough so that your spine is in a neutral position. By elevating this area of your body, you will reduce the arch in your lower back.
Of course, the best answer to the situation is to flip yourself over and train yourself to lie on your back while you’re sleeping, and failing your ability to make that switch, try sleeping on your side. Even if you manage to make that switch, you still want to be mindful of your spine’s position and keeping yourself in as neutral a position as possible.
You can do that through careful pillow placement, either under your knees if you’re sleeping on your back or between your knees if you’re sleeping on your side. The pillow under your head should also be carefully chosen, as you want it to elevate your head to a neutral position and no higher.
The time that you spend sleeping is supposed to be restorative. If you find yourself waking up in pain, it may be time to seek help from our lumbar spine specialist in New Jersey.
Contact us today to set up a time for an appointment to discuss what is happening with your spine.