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Stomach Sleeper – Changing the Habit

Are you a stomach sleeper who frequently experiences neck pain? If you answered yes, you’re not alone. Although sleeping on your stomach can be comfortable and has the added benefit of reducing snoring, it can lead to repetitive neck pain!

Why is stomach sleeping not ideal?

So you jump into bed after a long day, fall onto your stomach, hug your pillow and fall into a deep sleep. What you probably don’t realise is that your neck is placed into a very awkward twisted position. One that is not ideal for the spine to be in, especially for such a long period of time. Your neck is more extended (bent backward) and rotated to one side (often to an extreme end range). In this position, there is excess pressure placed on the joints at the back of your neck, as well as putting certain muscles on stretch. Overtime, this can lead to stiffness, pain and headaches as a result of joint irritation or tight muscles.

I’ve been a stomach sleeper my whole life, how can I change this?

Tip #1: Try using a large pillow/full-body pillow. Lie on your side, slightly bend your hips and knees, and place the pillow between your knees. This will stabilise your legs in the side-sleeping position and prevent you from rolling onto your stomach.

Tip #2: Use a tennis/golf/massage ball. This trick, although extreme and uncomfortable, can help train you to stop rolling onto your stomach. Begin by sleeping on your back or side. If you have a breast-pocket in your pyjamas; place the tennis/golf/massage ball in this pocket. Or you can even tape the ball onto your clothes over your sternum (the breastbone). As your body tries to roll over on to your stomach, the discomfort of the pressure over your sternum will prompt you to alter your sleeping position!

I just can’t change my habits! how can I reduce the strain on my neck?

Tip #3: Try a flatter pillow or no pillow! If you are a chronic stomach sleeper, a flatter pillow or even no pillow at all is most ideal for you. This will allow your spine to remain more neutral as you sleep. However, there will still be some level of stress placed on your neck from being held in a rotated position all night.

Tip #4: Switch to feather pillows! Although memory foam and latex pillows may be all the rage, as a stomach sleeper this won’t be the most ideal pillow for you. Feathered pillows are more appropriate as they are very soft and fluffy, with less resistance against your head/neck. This ultimately puts less stress through your neck as you sleep on your stomach.

I’m no longer a stomach sleeper, how do I know which type of pillow is ideal for me?

Finding the perfect pillow for you can be a difficult task! Especially with the wide range of options currently available. To keep it simple – whether you are a stomach sleeper, side sleeper or back sleeper – you want to choose a PILLOW HEIGHT that allows your neck to be in a NEUTRAL position. If you are still unsure, you can always bring in a photo to one of the friendly practitioners at Stay Tuned Sports Medicine for some advice.

Dr. Avanthi Wickramasekera (Osteopath)
B.HSci., B.App.Sc. (Osteo)

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