Dr. Tobias Pintar

General Practitioner, LNB Pain Therapy, Acupuncture

It happens while you sleep

Did you know that the position you sleep in can cause you pain? If you sleep like 80% of people, then you’re spending most of the night in a sideways position, with your hips and knees bent and your arms in front of you.

What does that position remind you of? Correct, it’s sitting while you sleep. So if you’re one of those side sleepers and have a sitting job and like to do sitting activities in your leisure time, you will end up spending most of the day in a sitting position.

Unfortunately sitting is bad for your posture and therefore it is the breeding ground for unfolding of pain. As I mentioned in my previous article “Lower back pain or the curse of sitting”, sitting is a major reason for back pains. The sideways sleeping position does even more harm. It shortens your hip flexors and your rear thigh muscles as mentioned in the blog about sitting but it also tilts your shoulders forward. A very common cause for shoulder and neck pain.

Why do so many people prefer sleeping on the side? Maybe, because it reminds us of the fetal position, which we spent the most comfortable time of our lives in? I’d say it’s because it reduces the stress for our tight, shortened muscles in the short term.

What can you do?

Now if sleeping on the side is potentially harmful obviously there must be a good position as well. The secret is to sleep on your back or front. That way you have your hips and knees straightened and your shoulders naturally fall back again as well, your upper back will straighten as well and your body will thank you for it. At the best you even leave the pillow aside. That will avoid that shift of your neck forward, which is aggravating the tension in the neck muscles, that are already stressed from staring at phones and tablets, etc.

What to expect

You think that’s tough? You’re right. It’ll take a few days or even weeks to get used to it. You might have a few restless nights, using the moments where you wake up during the night to reposition yourself. In the short term you might even feel more pain because your short and tight hip flexors, hamstrings and pectoral muscles get a decent stretch until your body has adjusted. That’s why I highly recommend to combine sleeping on your back with the right stretching exercises. In the long term though, you will be rewarded. You will wake up in the morning without wondering where all that back, calf, thigh, shoulder and/or neck pain is coming from, even though you’ve actually just been resting eight hours. Try it, it’s like stretching while you sleep. How much better can it get?