Is Your Bed Right For Your Back?

We spend nearly one-third of our life in a bed sleeping. That’s nearly 25 years for the average person. Think about that: if you knew you were going to spend 25 years of your life lying down in one place, wouldn’t you take every step to ensure you were the most comfortable, most correctly supported? Even more importantly, if I told you that the quality of your time spent in bed would impact greatly on the other 50 years, wouldn’t you take every step to ensure those 25 years of sleep were of the highest quality?

Medical research has demonstrated that good quality sleep leads to better mood, energy, and concentration, while poor sleep leads to increased pain levels, depressed mood, and irritability. When it comes to neck and low back pain, choosing the right type of bed and pillows can make all the difference between being in pain and getting on the road to recovery.

You probably have noticed that beds here in Asia tend to be quite hard. Pillows too. The foundation for this comes from the concept that more support = healthy spine. However, does medical research support this notion? In a 2008 study published in Spine, a Danish medical group took 160 patients with back pain and attempted to tease out this question, asking patients if they preferred a water bed, a hard futon or a body-conforming foam mattress. In the end, the results were mixed. Some people preferred the support, while others wanted the soft, comforting feeling of the foam and water mattresses. This is a good representation of the medical literature in general for this question: for reasons we don’t clearly understand, some people respond better to soft comfort, others to hard support.

So if you are dealing with pain, there are steps you can take towards improving symptoms and getting better quality sleep. Here are a few tips on beds and sleeping positions:

  • I recommend to patients that a mix of comfort and support in choosing a bed is my preferred approach. This usually comes in the form of a firm mattress with a pillow top cover, such as a Down cover.
  • If you are having pain in the morning when you wake up and the mattress is very firm, try adding a mattress cover to soften things; however, if the mattress is very soft, try adding a bamboo roll mat to the top of the mattress, increasing support.
  • Tempurpedic and Posturpedic mattresses are both excellent options for a mattress that will provide support to the naturally occurring curves in your spine.
  • If you sleep on your back, try placing a pillow under your knees or sleeping with your knees bent up. This decreases stress on your spinal joints and muscles.
  • If you sleep on your side, place a pillow between your knees. This will reduce stress on the pelvis and hip joints.

When it comes to pillows, people don’t seem to understand that the right pillow is important to quality sleep, so it becomes an afterthought. Improper pillows can lead to headaches, neck, shoulder and arm pain. Here are some tips for proper pillow selection and pillow use:

  • Your pillow should support your neck in the correct posture. If you are sleeping on your side, your pillow should keep your head level. A firm pillow may keep your neck crooked up too high and a flimsy pillow may let your neck drop down too low.
  • If you are on your back, a thin feather pillow or contour pillow (cervical pillow) is best to help support the normal neck curve.
  • When considering pillow materials, a memory-foam pillow works well for most people. Dacron fiber-filled contour pillows can hold shape for long periods and are machine washable.
  • No one should be sleeping on his or her stomach because the head has to be twisted to one side or the other for breathing, which is not good for the neck.
  • Always keep the pillow under your neck and head only, never under the shoulders. A pillow under the shoulders will create increased stress on the neck, chest, shoulders and thoracic spine, leading to pain.

Hopefully, making the right choices during those 8 hours will keep you feeling better during the other 16 hours.

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