How are You Sleeping?

Sleep Ergonomics

Just like ergonomics at work, your position all night matters. Sleeping positions can cause neck and back pain, hip pain, hand numbness or tingling and shoulder pain. Since you’ll be in these positions for 7-9 hours, make sure you are in the right position for your body. Pillow and mattress selection is also important and there is no one right choice. Selections should be made based on sleeping position, body weight and physical attributes in the shoulders, hips and waist. Your mattress and pillow should support your body in its natural position, allowing you to rest and recover from the day’s activities and proper positioning can aid this process.


The best mattresses are designed to conform to the spine’s natural curves. Several studies have shown that there is no perfect mattress and the relationship between bedding and sleep quality is affected by individual physical features, dimensions, and sleep posture. Low quality or worn out mattresses really do negatively impact your sleep quality. A mattress should provide uniform support from head to toe. If there are gaps between your body and your mattress (such as at the waist), you’re not getting the full support that you need. A recent study found that the firmest mattresses that is still comfortable is the best choice. A mattress should support the body’s weight evenly and allow the spine to stay in its natural alignment.


Pillow selection is also very important and depends on the position you sleep best in. The right pillow to match your body and sleep position can help reduce neck pain, headaches, fatigue, jaw pain and snoring. Avoid sleeping with your arm up above your head, tucked under your pillow or with your shoulder hunched up all night. Those positions cause circulatory problems and a related pins-and-needles sensation. Many of these postures indicate a need for a change in pillow size. Here are some tips on choosing the best pillow based on what position you typically sleep in:

Side Sleepers (one of the best positions)

Side sleeping is one of the best positions and has a lot of variation for people with specific problems, depending on your body type.

    • The pillow should fill the space between the head and mattress so that the neck is in line with the spine.
    • A pillow between your knees can take stress off your hips, knees and low back
    • A pillow between your arms can take pressure off the chest and shoulders
    • There should be minimal pressure on your jaw, which can help with grinding and TMJ pain

Back Sleepers (often a good position)

A good position, although those with sleep apnea or propensity for snoring may want to avoid this position.

    • A thinner pillow is indicated for back sleepers to maintain the normal curves of the neck.
    • Some back sleepers don’t use a pillow and may try placing a small rolled towel under the neck for extra support.
    • Place a pillow under your knees to help maintain the normal lower back curvature 

Stomach Sleepers (a position to be avoided)

Be aware that sleeping on your stomach is generally bad for your back and your neck. In this position, the cervical spine undergoes considerable strain which causes muscular imbalance and muscle pain. It also extends your back and causes fatigue and discomfort in the lower back. If you can’t sleep any other way:

    • Reduce the strain on your back by placing a pillow under your pelvis and lower abdomen to tip you to around 45 degrees
    • Try to move your head to the edge of the pillow so that you can turn your face closer to a neutral, face forward position
    • Keep your arm out from under the pillow by putting a small pillow under one shoulder

We have additional comprehensive centered tips in a featured article on our website: “Don’t Let Sleep Issues Keep You Up at Night” 

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