Sleep Ergonomics
A man sleeping on a bed, resting his head on a pillow.

Sleep Ergonomics

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Sleep ergonomics refers to our postures and positions during sleep, which either help us rest safely and comfortably, or stress our joints to the point that we wake up with more aches and pains that we fell asleep with.

Sleeping positions matter even though you might not think they do. Poor quality sleep is proven to affect your overall health in a negative way.

One of the areas most affected by sleep is your back. It is possible to take strain off your back by making simple changes in your sleeping position. The healthiest sleeping position is on your side. If that is how you sleep, draw your legs up slightly toward your chest and put a pillow between your legs. Try not to put weight on your arms. This causes circulatory problems and a related pins and needles sensation. Instead, try crossing them in a braced position.

If you sleep on your back, the best place to place a pillow is under your knees to maintain the normal lower back curvature. Be aware that sleeping on your stomach is generally not the best for your back. In this position, the cervical spine undergoes strain, which can cause nerve compression, muscular imbalance and muscle pain. If you can’t sleep any other way, reduce the strain on your back by placing a pillow under your pelvis and lower abdomen.

Mattresses and Pillows

Your mattress and pillow should support your body in its natural position, allowing it to rest and recover from the day’s activities.

The best mattresses are designed to conform to the spine’s natural curve and keep the body in alignment. A good one should be firm enough to support your spine in a side-lying position, but soft enough that it feels good to your skin. A mattress that is too firm may irritate bony prominences of the hips and shoulders.

It is also important to replace your mattress after five to seven years of regular use. If you feel springs, bumps or dips beneath the surface when you are lying on the bed, it’s time to go shopping for a new mattress. A worn-out mattress can reduce quality of sleep and make back problems worse.

A pillow is just as important. An ergonomic pillow is designed to accommodate the user’s sleeping position and to minimize any associated tension that may result from prolonged time spent in one position. Ergonomic pillows are shaped differently from regular pillows. They are often made of foam or similar form-retaining material that offer greater support.

A healthful pillow is designed to keep the spine in natural alignment, which minimizes stress on the body. Most people don’t maintain neutral positions while they sleep. This creates tension at problem spots like the neck and lower back, resulting in pain on both these areas.

A pillow of the wrong size can cause or aggravate neck and shoulder problems. When you sleep on your side, the pillow should fill the space between the head and mattress so that the cervical spine is in line with the spine. The pillow should support the head, neck and shoulder and adapt to the contours of the areas. This will optimize your sleeping position throughout the night.

Trouble Falling Asleep?

In addition to a comfortable mattress and the right pillow, there are several things you can do to enhance your ability to fall asleep successfully each night. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests the following:

• Be consistent. Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends and vacations.
• Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing and at the comfortable temperature. Darkness is especially important for those working night shfts.
• Remove electronic devices from the bedroom.
• Avoid large meals, caffeine and alcohol before bedtime.
• Be sure to move. Being physically active during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night.

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