Many people make the mistake of thinking that sleep is a passive activity. It’s normal to put effort into preparing for physical activity (stretching, warm-up, etc.), but when it comes to sleep, most people just assume it’s something that happens to you. But that’s not the case!
In order to get the most restful night’s sleep, it requires our active participation. This is what we call “sleep hygiene.” It’s the habits and routines around sleep that set you up for success!
Is There a “Right” Way to Sleep?
Let’s talk about sleep ergonomics. You spend approximately 1/3 of your life in bed, so if you’re doing it wrong, then it can lead to big problems! And most people assume that whether or not you’re a side/back/stomach sleeper is just a natural preference. But let’s talk about which sleeping position actually leads to optimal sleep, as well as what type of mattress you should use!
Back is best! This is because sleeping on your back keeps the most tension and pressure off your joints and muscles. If you’ve ever woken up in the middle of the night with your back, hip, or shoulder in pain, it can be related to pressure on your joints or spine. I used to wake up with my arms or legs having fallen asleep/gone numb. This was not only annoying during the middle of the night, but it usually left me feeling sore the next morning! We spend all day standing upright, with the pressure of gravity compressing our spines, so the 7-8 hours of sleep is valuable time to let our spines decompress. Stark’s own Dr Justin Cheng DC recommends that even those with sleep apnea or snoring problems should try to sleep on their back if possible.
Here are some tips to help you sleep on your back:
- Use pillows to barricade yourself from moving when you sleep
- Placing a pillow(s) under your knees to flatten your spine and take the pressure off your low back
- In extreme cases, sleeping on the floor! I know, it sounds crazy. It can be uncomfortable, but that discomfort of sleeping on a hard surface will more than likely help keep you on your back!
Mattresses: Is Firm or Soft Better?
Another big missed opportunity for improved sleep quality is with the mattress you sleep on. As I mentioned, we spend 1/3 of our lives sleeping. And many of us use the same mattress for YEARS. So selecting the right mattress is well worth the investment!
As a general rule, a firmer mattress is the way to go. Sleeping on a firm mattress helps maintain optimal alignment for your spine. Although softer mattresses may “feel” better, that softness allows the body to move, rotate, and sink into different positions. That movement can aggravate orthopedic issues or cause pain because your spine and joints may rotate and/or come out of alignment. The only time a softer mattress would be beneficial is if sleeping on your side is a must. I know, I said side sleeping was bad. But for people that absolutely cannot sleep on their back, it’s better to get a softer mattress. Trying to use a firm mattress and sleep on your side will make things even worse!
When it comes to which mattress brand to buy, remember that one-size does not fit all. Just like anything for your health, everyone is unique, and your mattress should be tailored to you! There is a mattress company here in Southern California called Custom Comfort Mattress, and they do sleep consultations with new customers so that they are able to build the mattress specifically to meet your individual needs. They will even make both halves of the mattress differently for couples that have different needs!
Don’t Forget the Pillows!
When it comes to choosing the right pillow, the general rule of thumb is this: use a thin pillow if you choose to sleep on your back and a thicker one if you sleep on your side. This is intended to help keep your neck and shoulders in a neutral position. If you must sleep on your side, the thicker pillow will help do this. Also, placing a pillow in between your knees while sleeping on your side will help keep your hips and pelvis in a neutral position.
When considering the sheer amount of time we spend in our beds, it’s important the think about the quality of ingredients that our mattresses are made of. While this will not necessarily have a huge impact on the quality of your sleep, it can have a large effect on your health long term. Many mattresses use metro-chemicals that off-gas during the night. So you could be inhaling these toxic chemicals for 8 hours per night every single night!
If you’re going to make the investment in a good mattress, we recommend getting an organic mattress, such as the Avocad Mattress.
The Golden Rule: Treat Your Sleep How You Want to Be Treated
They say it takes anywhere from 21 days to 254 days to break a habit! Building good sleep habits is definitely a challenge, but well worth the time and effort if you want to get high-quality, restful sleep!
As I mentioned above, this means being an active participant in your sleep. Which is why we recommend creating a bed-time routine to help your body and brain prepare wind down and prepare to rest.
Here are some fantastic sleep hygiene practices to incorporate in your pre-bed routine:
- No electronic screens 30-60 minutes before bed – I think most people are beginning to understand the effects of blue light
- Develop a routine to wind down
- Drinking tea, reading a book, prepare your stuff for tomorrow, washing your face, etc. Remember, the brain LOVES routine.
- Eventually, your brain is going to recognize these are the same 3-5 things you do before bed, so your brain will instinctively know it should wind down and get ready for sleep. This will help you fall asleep faster AND get more restful sleep throughout the night!
- Make your room pitch black
- Sleep with the temperature between 68-72° F
- DO NOT sleep with your cell phone near you
- Extra credit!
- Run an air purifier in your room while you sleep (for the same reason you want to get an organic mattress
Hopefully these tips will give you some strategies to improve the quality and duration of your sleep. But more than anything, remember that you have to work hard to sleep well!