Not getting enough sleep? Sleeping pill or no sleeping pill? Getting too much sleep? How many hours are needed to yield best results? How to get rid of that snorer in your bedroom who won’t let you rest without resorting to divorce? What mattress to choose: memory foam or regular? So many questions around sleeping. It sounds like such a mission.
Sleep can affect your looks, performance and overall health, both physical and mental, so although you might be sleeping a third of your life, which some view as such a waste, a good night’s sleep is actually an investment in yourself that pays off. The way you sleep has even been linked to innate unconscious personality traits. Here’s what’s best for your body, to make sure you don’t hurt your back or neck, get extra wrinkles or upset your stomach.
Does Sleep Reboot your System?
Sleep consists of alternating REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep about every 90 minutes. REM represents 25% of a night’s sleep and it’s when the dream occurs.
Sleep consolidates memory and strengthens learned knowledge. What you learned throughout the day is reorganized while you are sleeping. Sleep also enhances attention and concentration, spurs creativity and keeps your body weight under control. The levels of the hormone cortisol decrease around bedtime and gradually increase to promote alertness early in the morning. Sleep helps regulate our appetite by controlling the levels of the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which dictate when we feel hungry and full. So sleep deprivation could make us eat more, which can lead to weight gain. Sleeping well also helps fight depression.
Overall, a good night’s sleep helps you live longer and happier.
Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
If you’ve ever woken up feeling even more tired than when you went to bed, spent a whole day being irritable and unproductive, you know that getting a good night’s sleep is vital. There are quite a few factors to take into account that could affect your sleep, such as your mattress, pillow, lighting, noise, tidiness, odor, what you had for dinner, how active you were during the day, duration, your sleeping position and your mental state. Not to mention when you bring in another person into the equation like your sleeping partner. All of a sudden, it doesn’t sound as easy as you thought: after all, you’re just zoning out, what could be so hard?
If your mattress is too soft and doesn’t support your back, or your pillow too thick, you might soon feel back or neck pain. If your curtains aren’t thick enough, your sleep might be interrupted at sunrise. If you had a heavy meal before bed, your body might still be digesting and isn’t ready for rest. Or if you had some green tea, your body is experiencing an energy boost. If your mind is focused on your boss finding out about the mistake you made last month that might get you fired or on world peace, chances are your brain will keep racing late into the night. If your neighbors have a habit or fighting every other night, no sheep counting will help you fall asleep. If you spent the day in bed watching movies, chances are your day hasn’t even started yet and you’re too full of energy, but not full enough to catch those zs. Or, if you just came back from the gym or dancing, your body is full of endorphins and energy – you’re too restless to fall asleep. Or if you like to spoon or sleep on your partner’s chest but he’s a stomach sleeper. The absence of cuddling can build up frustration and a frustrated mind cannot find rest quickly.
Here are a few tips on how to sleep better. Invest in your sleeping environment: buy a mattress and pillows suitable for your sleeping style and any existing health issues like a bad back. Make your bed comfy so you look forward to sinking in. Support your sleep with the right pillow, which can go under the arch of your spine if you’re a back sleeper, between your knees if you’re a side sleeper, or under your hips if you prefer sleeping on your stomach. Start a sleep-inducing ritual. Make sure to keep your bedroom clean as mess has an adverse psychological effect. Next time before you hit the sack, take 30 minutes to relax and unwind. Take a hot bath while listening to some soothing music. Start dimming the lights. Light some scented candles or burn some essential oils. Aromatherapy can work wonders, helping you relax: try some lavender, lemon, bergamot or jasmine.
Cuddling isn’t an all-nighter practice: as long as you get some tender loving care for a few minutes, then you can both move into your usual sleeping positions. Or make sure there’s a bit of skin-on-skin contact regardless of what these sleeping positions are: maybe hold hands or rest your arm on his back. Use earplugs if that’s the only way to keep the noise down. Earplugs can help with external noise, but you’re responsible for the noise that comes from within. Practice meditation to make your mind still and distress, forget any worries, be present. Think happy thoughts. Make sure you exercise in the morning or mid-day or well before your bedtime. Don’t eat right before bed. If you don’t drink coffee and aren’t used to caffeine, you will know by now that even having a glass of Coke in the early evening will keep you up late. Pay attention to what your body is telling you. The recommended sleep duration might be 8 hours, but you might notice that 7 hours suffice and that you feel overly tired when you get 8 hours of sleep. Fatigue sets in when you oversleep. Listen to your body.
Your body will also dictate which sleeping position is best for you.
If you have back pain – side or back
Back pain is the fifth most common reason to go see your doctor. Four out of five people experience back pain at some point in their lives. If you’re prone to back pain, your doctor can help you identify the best sleeping position depending on your condition. The most recommended sleeping position is on your side with your knees pulled up slightly toward your chest for people suffering from lumbar spinal stenosis, for example. You can even place a pillow between your knees. It keeps your spine elongated. However, do not roll into a ball as the fetal position restricts diaphragmatic breathing and can do a number on your back and neck. Sleeping on your side is the most common sleeping position with 41% advocates in one survey. Lying on your side with both arms down by your side, a position also known as the log, helps keep the spine straight. However, sleeping on the side can put pressure on the stomach and lungs and cause limb numbness. If you’re in the habit of resting the head or the entire body on a single arm, this can restrict blood flow and put additional pressure on the nerves.
If you prefer to sleep on your back, place a pillow under your knees and another under your lower back. Sleeping on your back ensures that your head, neck, and spine maintain a neutral position. Sleeping on your stomach puts too much strain on your back, making it over-arch. If you can’t sleep any other way, place a pillow under your hips.
For ankylosing spondylitis, a firm mattress works best to reduce back pain, together with a very flat pillow under your head instead of a thick one.
Sleeping on your back might support your spine, but it doesn’t necessarily make you a happy sleeper. A study comparing sleep habits found that participants who spent more time on their backs slept worse overall.
If you have shoulder pain – side or back
Avoid sleeping on the injured shoulder. Sleeping on the one hand can cause shoulder and arm pain due to restricted blood circulation and increased pressure on the nerves, which can be even worse if your arms are extended in front of you. Sleep on your back with a small pillow to support the injured shoulder. Avoid putting your arms up as this can put pressure on nerves in your shoulders, increasing the pain. Or lie on your pain-free side with your legs slightly bent, avoid extending your top leg forward and place a pillow between your thighs.
If you have neck pain – back
Many people make a mistake putting their arm under their head, which puts a strain the brachial plexus, a network of nerves linked with the arm, shoulder, and hand. The worst sleeping position for neck pain is on your stomach. Keeping your neck turned to one side for hours strains your neck. Take a pillow the size of the space between your neck and shoulder, and place it above the shoulders.
If you have painful hips – back
Around 15 percent of women suffer from a hip joint inflammation, a condition called bursitis. Avoid sleeping on the sensitive side. Sleep on your back to give your hips a bit of a break. You could prop up your knees with a pillow for additional support.
If you have bruxism or teeth grinding – back
About 8 percent of adults suffer from teeth grinding or bruxism. The condition causes tooth and jaw pain. Lying on your back facing up, mouth closed and with your arms straight by your sides allows the lower jaw and the facial muscles to relax.
If you have sinus pain – side
If you’re congested from a cold or allergies, do not sleep on your back, which will make your mouth open while sleeping and dry out. Lie on your side, propped up with an extra pillow under your head.
If you have apnea or are a top scorer – side
Sleeping on your back encourages snoring. When we sleep on our backs, breathing is obstructed due to gravity which forces the base of the tongue or the tissue in our throat to fall into the airway. Snoring puts a strain on any relationship. Sleep apnea is a disorder when pauses in breathing or periods of slow breathing occur during sleep. People can even choke and die during sleep. To avoid rolling on your back, it is suggested to sew a tennis ball onto the back of your night shirt or to elevate the head if sleeping on your back cannot be avoided. Changing sleep position has a 10% rate of success with sleep apnea patients.
You could try sleeping on the side or on your stomach, although sleeping on your stomach is considered the worst sleeping position because it encourages back and necks pain, it maximizes wrinkles and it squishes your breasts. Your head is turned to one side for hours and can get stiff and also strain the neck. It also flattens the natural curve of the spine, which in time can cause lower back pain.
If you have heartburn – back
When you sleep on your back, your head is higher than your stomach or your esophagus so acid reflux, also known as heartburn, is hindered. Sleeping on the left side is also recommended as sleeping on the right side can worsen heartburn. You could also try propping up your head with pillows.
If you have PMS – back
Despite common belief, don’t crouch and roll in the fetal position or on your stomach when you have cramps during your period. This puts pressure on your uterus and only makes the pain worse. Instead, lie on your back. Place a pillow under your knees to avoid over-arching and lower back pain. Keep arms relaxed by your sides.
If you don’t want to have saggy breast – back
All women want perky breasts. Sleeping on your back fully supports the weight of your breasts. They don’t get squished. When you sleep on one side, your breasts hang and are more likely to get saggy with time. The same goes for sleeping on your stomach.
If you don’t want to have wrinkles – back
Your face is smashed against the pillow or bedsheet when you sleep on your stomach or on one side. This encourages wrinkles to form. The older you get, the harder it is for your skin to return to its initial stretched state. Older skin becomes drier and has less elasticity. Best to sleep on your back to allow your face to breathe so you don’t have to use a cold compress in the morning to get your smiley face back.
If you are pregnant – left side
In the more advanced stages of your pregnancy when you tummy shows it is recommended to sleep on your side. Sleeping on the left side increases blood flow. Support your head with a thick pillow so your head and neck are in a neutral position.
If you have plantar fasciitis
Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the tissue on your sole from running or poor arch support. Try to keep your feet and ankles relaxed.