sleep positions

How to Fix Your Sleep Problems with Science

According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should get between seven and nine hours of sleep every night. Teenagers need 8.5 to 9.5 hours, and school-age children need between ten and eleven hours [1]. Unfortunately for many of us, sleep can sometimes be elusive, and sleep problems are common.

Some of us have trouble falling asleep at night, some are constantly waking up throughout the night, and some find it impossible to get out of bed in the morning.

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Whatever your sleep problems are, you can fix them- with science. All it may take is a small adjustment in your sleep position or the temperature of your room, and you could be dozing off into dreamland before you finish reading this article.

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Change Your Position to Help Solve Your Sleep Problems

It may seem inconsequential, but your sleep position can actually have an impact on your health.

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If you’re finding it hard to sleep at night because you’re uncomfortable, or some part of your body is in pain, it could be that you’re simply sleeping in the wrong position. Shoulder, neck, and back pain can all be fixed with only a few small adjustments:

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Shoulder Pain

If you’re experiencing sleep problems due to shoulder pain while you sleep, your best bet is to avoid sleeping on your side. Instead, try sleeping on your back with a small pillow beneath the affected shoulder. If you can’t (or don’t like to) sleep on your back, be sure to sleep on the opposite side of the injury. In each case, hugging a pillow can help to keep your shoulder in the correct alignment [2].

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Neck Pain

If your neck is getting sore, it could be that you need to replace your pillow. In one study, participants generally agreed that firm, latex pillows were the most comfortable. Whatever pillow you choose, however, you should replace it at least every two years [3].

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Back Pain

If you experience back pain when you sleep, there are various solutions depending on which sleep position your prefer:

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Back: place a pillow under your knees to maintain the normal curve of your lower back. A small, rolled towel under the small of your back can also provide additional support.

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Side: Place a pillow between your legs and draw your knees up slightly. A full-length body pillow works well in this scenario.

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Stomach: Avoid sleeping on your stomach if you experience back pain. If you must sleep in this position, pace a pillow beneath your pelvis and lower abdomen. You can use a pillow under your head, but if that places more strain on your lower back, try sleeping without one [4].

You Can’t Fall Asleep

There could be many reasons why you’re having trouble falling asleep at night. It could be because of a stressful day, your last meal not sitting well, or poor sleep conditions, among many other factors. Consider these suggestions to help you fall asleep faster:

  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon, or at least several hours before you go to bed [5].
  • Exercise in the morning or afternoon as opposed to the evening [6].
  • Establish a pre-bed routine. This should involve turning off all screens at least half an hour before you go to bed. The blue light from phones and laptops can affect your circadian rhythm, making it harder for you to fall asleep [7].

You Can’t Stay Asleep

The inability to stay asleep could also be the result of a number of factors. If you’re having this sleep problem, consider making the following changes:

  • Avoid alcohol before bed. It can cause sleep disturbances during the second half of your sleep cycle, decreasing the amount of time you spend in deep REM sleep.
  • Make sure your room isn’t too hot. The ideal sleeping temperature is between 60 degrees fahrenheit (15.5 celsius) and 70 degrees fahrenheit 21 celsius). 

You Can’t Wake Up

If you find yourself constantly sleeping through your alarm, or hitting the snooze button multiple times before getting out of bed, there’s a simple solution. Scientists call this “social jetlag”, which is the discrepancy between work and free days, or social and biological time.

To solve the issue, try setting your alarm for the same time every day- even on weekends. This will help your body to get used to getting up at that time, and make it much easier [8].

You Have Acid Reflux

Acid reflux is a very common problem and can be very disruptive to sleep. Sleeping with your head elevated can help prevent acid reflux. In addition, sleeping on your left side can help. This positions your stomach below your esophagus, which makes reflux more difficult [9].

If nothing seems to work, talk to your doctors about medicated options.

You (Or Your Partner) Snore

There are many factors that can cause someone to snore, including alcohol consumption, body weight, medications, smoking, and nasal congestion. If you or your partner snore, there are some small changes you can make that may help.

Instead of sleeping on your back, sleep on your side. Use an extra pillow to elevate the torso a bit, or prop the head of the bed up a few inches [10].

You Have Leg Cramps

These painful, involuntary muscles contractions can jolt you awake and be very disruptive to your sleep. While they are very common, if they happen very regularly, you should talk with your doctor. They can be a sign of a more serious condition like ALS, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes.

More than likely, however, your leg cramps are a result of dehydration or stress. To get rid of them, forcefully stretch your calf muscle, wiggle and massage your leg, or force yourself to walk.

To prevent leg cramps in the first place, make sure you are drinking water throughout the day to stay hydrated. You may also need to reduce the amount of caffeine or alcohol you consume. Use pillows to keep your toes pointed upward if you sleep on your back, or allow them to hang off the end of the bed if you sleep on your front.

You can also try to stretch your calf muscles before going to bed to help them to relax [11].

Solve Your Sleep Problems, Getter a Better Sleep Tonight

Getting adequate amounts of quality sleep is vital to your health. If you are having sleeping problems, do your best to pinpoint the issue and take action to fix it. If nothing seems to be working, talk to your doctor. They may be able to help you get to the bottom of your sleep problems so you can get a good night’s rest.

Sources:

  1. ‘How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?’ Sleep Foundation Eric Suni. Published March 9, 2021.
  2. ‘Are you sleeping in the right position?’ Hennepin Healthcare
  3. ‘Pillow use: the behavior of cervical stiffness, headache and scapular/arm pain’ Pubmed Susan J Gordon. Published August 11, 2010.
  4. ‘Sleeping positions that reduce back pain’ Mayo Clinic.
  5. ‘Effects of caffeine on sleep and cognition’ Science Direct Jan Snel.
  6. ‘What’s The Best Time of Day to Exercise for Sleep?’ Sleep Foundation Danielle Pacheco. Published January 11, 2021.
  7. ‘Evening Exposure to LED backlit computer screens affects circadian physiology and cognitive performance’ Physiology Christian Cajochen. Published May 1, 2011.
  8. ‘Evening Exposure to LED backlit computer screens affects circadian physiology and cognitive performance’ Pubmed Marc Wittmann, Jenny Dinich, Martha Merrow, Till Roenneberg. Published 2006
  9. ‘What is the Best Sleeping Position for Acid Reflux & GERD?’ Sleep Score. Published April 22, 2019
  10. ‘Snoring solutions’ Harvard Health. Published July 2015.
  11. ‘Leg Cramps’ Clevland Clinic
Brittany Hambleton
Freelance Contributor
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!
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