Part 1 Pillows and Sleep Postures for Baby Boomers: You know who you are!


By Dr. Lee Parimuha, DC

Part 1: Side Sleep Posture Positions.

As we age we have special needs. We take care of our body until we are 40, then we take care of it. Our hormones have dropped precipitously and now we don’t heal like we used to. Need I go on? Younger bodies can sleep most anywhere, not only do boomers have their routine before bed but, to have healthy deep sleep, many require different shaped bed pillows for comfort and support in the side sleeping position.

I recommend finding your favorite side. Many have found this position naturally and have been falling asleep in this one position for many years. By naturally I mean, “in this position I feel more comfort and less irritation or pain over time.”

On our side sleep position the very sensitive, flexible neck is placed between our arms and shoulders and this heavy, boney head. Other body parts needing support are hips and knees. Each part may have special needs due to our history of trauma. Pillows are often used to separate and lift, easing the strain on muscles, ligaments and joints.

Pillows of various types can be used to comfort and support our assorted parts for different sleep positions. One type of pillow doesn’t work for all parts. I find the proper lift and separation of can be very important to reduce strain on sensitive tissues. A better spinal alignment in all our sleep positions combined with the proper supports may help reduce pain, snoring and the development of conditions like sleep apnea. Let me tell you what I mean.

The left side sleep position has a significant down side. For some, they wake with acid reflux symptoms. If you have ever had this you know what it’s like to have the burning or acid taste in your mouth. A simple solution is to eat lighter meals earlier at night and sleep on you right side.

For those that don’t experience this particular problem, find your favorite side. If you have hip or knee pain, find a comfortable support that separates and elevates sufficiently to reduce strain and pain symptoms. The hip or knee that has more pain is usually the one on top. Make sure you elevate the hip and leg high enough and change the angle at the hip or knee to reduce the strain.

Bend your hips less to the 90 degree angle and keep it more toward the 45 degree or less and see if this helps with the supports you choose for this area. The more you bend the hip joints, typically, the less arch you will have in your low back curvature. Normally this loss of curvature is not good.

Imagine, as you lie on your side, you are actually sitting at the computer. Your hips and knees are at 90 degrees. What does the physical therapist say you should to reduce neck and low back pain? The ergonomic specialist suggests a good position for sitting is to maintain an arch in your low back and an arch in your neck too. Can you do this when you lie on your side to sleep? What are the supports you need and how do you lie so that the position of you neck and low back maintain an arch?

If sitting at a desk properly help reduce strain can we find specific side sleep positions that may help our sleep? I think we can.

Arms and shoulders may be best supported with the arm under the pillow and somewhere above the head especially if there is joint stiffness. Imagine you on your right side with the right shoulder and arm angled from 9 PM to 12 on a clock face. Which feels better? Is there a bit of a stretch anywhere? There should be no pain and if there is, this may not be a position for you. With your arm in this position it is important your head isn’t too high or low on the pillow or you could wake with a mighty kink in the neck. Find your sweet spot where your neck and shoulder is very comfortable. Support other parts as suggested above and don’t forget the other arm, the left. Again elevate and support for comfort.

To choose your best sleep postures, suit your individual needs by being mindful of the supports and elevation needed to find comfort. Spinal alignment is also very important factor to consider when you long for deep, restorative, uninterrupted sleep. Take some of those pillows you’ve discarded out of the closet. See if they work now to support and comfort parts in the side sleeping posture.

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