As an Osteopath (and a reformed stomach sleeper myself), I have regular conversations with patients who can contribute their ongoing neck pain, or recurring headaches to their sleeping posture.
The most problematic posture reported is stomach sleeping!
Whether you are a nightly stomach sleeper or have had the odd occasion where you’ve ended up on your stomach (sometimes even with your head at the wrong end of the bed) you will have likely experienced the morning stiffness that arises after hours spent with your neck rotated to one side.
If sleeping on our stomach is so bad for us, then why are we doing it?
Most commonly people report sleeping on their stomach due to a feeling of safety. The pressure on your stomach/chest provides a feeling ‘protection’ or being hugged. Our brains still have some primal wiring and subconsciously you’d rather have your back attacked than your chest. Luckily for most of us, we aren’t living in an environment where we need to fear a lion attacking us in our sleep.
Otherwise you might correlate periods of stomach sleeping with increased stress or an emotional imbalance. Personally, I know if I have something going on emotionally that isn’t resolving, I fall back into my old stomach sleeping pattern.
Tip 1: Identify your trigger
If physical pressure or safety feels like a trigger for you…
Try using a heavy blanket or pillow against your chest/stomach when laying on your side or back (this will give your nervous system a similar sensation to what it was used to getting on your stomach)
You can find some great Australian made weight blankets online
Note: One source suggested the weighted blanket should weigh around 10% of your body weight
If stress or emotional imbalance feels like a trigger for you…
Falling asleep to a guided meditation works best for me. There are lots of free apps out there to try!
Tip 2: Set a clear intention to STOP
When we are sleeping our conscious thoughts aren’t at our handy disposal, and our subconscious mind is in control – this can make it really difficult to kick the habit.
Set a clear intension to stop, trying writing on a note pad right before bed.
Start with something like… I am no longer going to sleep on my stomach. When I sleep on my side/back I wake up feeling refreshed and pain free. Write it out a couple of times before turning off the light. Visualising or thinking about what it will feel like to wake up without the pain/stiffness etc will go a long way to helping your subconscious thoughts while you sleep.
Tip 3 : Use props
In my personal experience of quitting stomach sleeping, using props like pillows/towels and blankets was really useful.
- If you are attempting side sleeping, I suggest to try laying a pillow beside your legs, and rest your top leg over the pillow. This will help to stop your pelvis rolling forward during the night.
- If you are attempting to sleep on your back roll up a big towel or blanket (into a sausage shape) have it pressed up against the side of your body you are most likely to roll towards (or have one down both sides if you aren’t sure).
- If you normally sleep on your stomach and have one arm under the pillow, trying covering the pillow with an extra sheet/blanket that you also lay on – then if you roll during the night and go to slide your arm under the pillow, it will be blocked by the sheet.
Tip 4 : Prepare your spine
Try a spine twist or a few cat/cows before heading to bed
Tip 5 : The last resort
If you feel like you have tried and tested everything else and still can’t keep the habit I have one last tip for you! Be aware, this is a little odd, may feel a little over the top, requires some DIY and if you are trying to impress someone with your choice of pj’s may not be the best thing to wear. However, I can guarantee you it will be very uncomfortable to sleep on your stomach when you have tennis balls attached to the front of your top.
WHAT YOU NEED:
1 x tightly fitted t-shirt or singlet top
4 x tennis balls
Somewhat heavy duty stapler or hot glue gun
WHAT TO DO:
- Put on your top and mark 4 points on your stomach (these points need to close to the side of your body – but not too far otherwise it will be uncomfortable to sleep on your side)
See picture for a guide
- Simply hot glue gun the balls into place. If you are stapling, place the ball over the mark on the front of the top and staple from the inside (helps if the ball is rested on a table so you have firm pressure to staple into to) Note: the larger the stapler the stronger the hold, and you may want to have multiple staples for a strong hold.
- Put it on and admire your handy work, and persistence to make a positive change to your health!
I hope you find this article helpful in taking the first steps to changing your habit. If you are experience stiffness pain or discomfort when waking please make an appointment to see me today.