By Julie Westervelt, Founder of Sleep Crown
“If you’re not sleeping, you’re not healing.” -Shawn Stevenson
Sleep is a vital component of having good physical, mental and emotional health. Without it, you’re at a greater risk for experiencing a wide range of medical conditions including, but not limited to: heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke (NIH). The way you sleep is also directly connected to how your body eliminates waste and pain. One way to set yourself up for success in the bedroom and get the sleep you need is to make sure that you’re assuming a resting position that is both comfortable, conducive for deep breathing, and supportive of your body.
So, what is the best sleeping position?
In my line of work, this question comes up frequently because many people either aren’t sleeping well, or they aren’t sleeping enough. A poor sleeping position can also be the root cause of aches and pains. After consulting with several medical professional biohacker buddies of mine, I’ve found that the answer is… [DRUMROLL]…it really depends on who you ask! When it comes to heart health, digestion, snoring-prevention or pregnancy, side-sleeping is probably the most common recommendation. According to a 2017 study, side-sleeping is favored by most people too.
Physicians and Internists tend to root for side sleeping because it’s been shown to have the most science-backed health benefits, such as helping aid digestion, processing waste, reducing heartburn, and promoting brain health. Although our bodies are generally symmetrical, the placement of the organs inside of our bodies are not. Side sleeping, particularly on the left side – allows gravity to do its job, encouraging the body to properly digest food and process waste. It’s also been theorized that sleeping on the left side helps keep the gastric fluids lower than the esophagus as compared to sleeping on the right side of the body.
Dentists seem to generally concur that the side-sleeping position is best too – because it helps promote more open airways and better breathing.
“I’m interested in how our ancestors lived, where they would sleep on the ground by digging a hole out for their hips, and curl into a fetal position. This concept of back-sleeping is a much newer phenomenon because we have the modern luxury to use a soft mattress that makes it comfortable enough to sleep on your back. Also, side-sleeping prevents the tongue and jaw from falling back, which otherwise contributes to sleep apnea and snoring. When you sleep on your side, your airways are more open, allowing for more oxygen to pass through, which encourages deeper sleep.” – Dr. Mark Burhenne of AskTheDentist
“My advice is to focus on breathing because breathing trumps everything. If you’re not breathing, spinal alignment doesn’t really matter. So do whatever best supports your airway.” – Dr. Gene Sambataro (aka the Biohacking Dentist) Chiropractors favor back-sleeping to support the structures of the head, neck and spine. Makes sense given their specialization in musculoskeletal care to help the body heal!
The spine is primarily made up of a string of bones, but also has elastic ligaments and spinal discs that allow for flexibility. The discs in your spine are essentially “shock absorbers” for the body. They help absorb stress so that your spine can carry the weight of your head, torso and arms, and allow your body to move in every direction (NCBI).
Because of this intricate interweaving of bone and nerve tissue, it’s important to maintain proper alignment at all times. Poor sleeping positions can notably put harmful pressure on the spinal nerves or the spinal cord. A ‘neutral spine’ should include the natural curves of your spine. If you are unable to get comfortable on your back, try placing a pillow or rolling a large towel or blanket and place under the backs of the lower thighs or the backs of the knees. Explore the specific placement under your legs that feels the best in your body and de-tensions the lumbar spine. This can help reduce stress on your spine and support the natural curve in your lower back (University of Rochester). This trick may also help you maintain the back-sleeping position through the night.
You should also have a pillow for your head that supports the natural curvature of your neck, as well as your shoulders. Surprisingly, this may actually be a thinner pillow than most people believe to be necessary. You may also roll a towel or a pillow and wedge around the top of the head to help draw the chin down toward the chest. Especially if your chin tends to jut upward toward the ceiling.
Dr. Peter Martone, owner and director of Atlantis Chiropractic Wellness Centers, has developed a pillow called the Neck Nest which supports the cervical spine and encourages the body to sleep comfortably on the back. See how the Neck Nest can be paired with the Sleep Crown Pillow to help you get the most comfortable sleep ever! Most yogis also recommend back-sleeping. My background is actually in Restorative Yoga, and I believe that the body should be ‘propped’ to allow the spine to be in a neutral position. Every human body is unique and wise. We all have different needs for support (or lack of) and your needs should be honored.
My Sleep Journey
I discovered a very effective sleep hack when I was young – sleeping with a pillow over my head in addition to having a pillow under my head – like a pillow sandwich. It was always so comforting for me to sleep this way when I was young. It shielded me from ambient disruptions and felt great. It wasn’t until I started studying the principles of Restorative Yoga and weighting the body for relaxation purposes that it all made sense. My personal desire to share this special sleep technique and help others achieve proper sleep is what led me to create Sleep Crown and the Sleep Crown.
Even though Sleep Crown works beautifully in all sleeping positions, I have received great feedback that, when used over the face in the back-sleeping position, Sleep Crown helps encourage stillness in this position throughout the night. The gentle weight of the Sleep Crown over the muscles in the the forehead triggers the body’s relaxation response. The corrugator supercilii are the muscles over the eyebrows that are regarded as the principal muscles in the expression of suffering. Gently compressing these muscles is very soothing and relaxing for the whole body. The Sleep Crown contours and drapes on the sides of the head acting as ‘speed bumps’ to prevent the head from falling to either side, and obviously the placement of the pillow over the eyes and ears helps to block out light and sound.
In the past, I would fall asleep on my back and tend to shift to either side of my body throughout the night. I’d even use a body pillow that offered support between the knees in order to keep my sacrum aligned and stable. However, I have found that the side-sleeping position can put massive pressure on the cervical spine, shoulder and hip. After listening to an interview with Dr. Peter Martone, I have committed to do everything possible to maintain the back-sleeping position for a month to observe any changes. In this new back-sleeping-through-the-night endeavor, I’ve added more props to barricade myself on my back. Surprisingly, I now place my heavy body pillow on top of myself! It extends from my ankles to my collar bones and I find the pressure to be grounding and keeps me right in place. I’m happy to report that I’ve successfully made it through the entire night on my back with the help of:
- a Neck Nest under my neck
- a Sleep Crown over my head
- a Magic Weighted Blanket with a full-body pillow on top of that
- a Sleep Crown for each hand to snuggle
Yes, this can be tricky (and perhaps a little over the top) when you share a bed with another person — especially if they require this extreme amount of pillowing too. And it can be costly. However, this natural solution costs a lot less than pharmaceuticals over time! And look at how peaceful it looks…
Stomach-Sleeping Is Not Recommended
You may have noticed that I have not even acknowledged the belly-down position. This is intentional because this particular sleeping position can wreak havoc on your spinal alignment and cause neck and back pain. As the pressure of your body increases, the pressure on your muscles, joints, and organs also increases. Your neck begs you – and I beg you – please just don’t do it! Please try to retrain your body to find an alternate position. Your neck will thank you later.
One Final Thought
Please don’t allow the positioning of your body while sleeping to be a source of distress. You can have all of the best intentions in the world – and who knows what happens after you fall asleep!? Remember, our ancestors slept on rocks, and the most important thing is that you actually sleep! The body knows how to optimize itself when you achieve the proper number of hours for you. Approach any adjustments with an easy-going, curious attitude and observe how you feel when you awaken.
Sending nurturing vibes out to the whole Biohacked Community. If you’re interested in purchasing a Sleep Crown Pillow, enter promo code: “BIOHACKED” for a $10 Savings + free US Shipping!