What sleeping position provides the best muscle and joint health?

The truth is that one sleeping style does not necessarily work for everyone. I would have to say however that there are two sleeping positions in particular that correlate with neck and shoulder problems:

1. Sleeping on your stomach is not a great idea. The main problem with this position is that you must turn your head to one side in order to breathe effectively. People tend to consistently turn their head to the same side as a preference: the long-term result can be “wear and tear” on the joints of the cervical spine. This situation is absolutely comparable to sitting at a computer all day with your monitor off to one side. It is bad ergonomics to be constantly rotated to one side, whether it is for eight hours a day gazing at a computer screen or eight hours per night sleeping with your head turned to one side.

If you must sleep on your stomach, I would recommend placing pillows under your torso and neck. This will at least lessen the amount of neck rotation that you need to breathe.

2. The second sleeping position that patients often find themselves is side-lying with the arms in an overhead position. Many people report that they will wrap the pillow around their head and secure it in place with their arms.

This position places stress on the downward-facing shoulder. The body weight placed on this shoulder in many cases will cause a compression of the nerve bundle as it passes into the arm. The symptoms of this include waking up with numbness in the arm and hand.

Lying on the side also tends to push the head of the humerus forwards, placing it in an ideal position for impingement of the rotator cuff tendons. I have seen many patients who delayed their recoveries from shoulder injuries because they insist on sleeping on the injured shoulder.

Be creative about changing your sleeping position. I had a patient tell me this week that he changed the placement of his bed so that he wouldn’t need to turn to the side in order to avoid the morning sunlight coming in his window. Great idea!