Tony picked me up from school that drizzly day in his 1963 Volvo station wagon. He’d invested countless hours fixing up his adorable car, which reminded me of a dapper older gentleman! The jaunty white car’s front grille donned a thin chrome mustache and its two headlamps jutted out like inquisitive eyes. There was even a “monocle” rear view mirror standing up like a comma out by the front of the hood.
The red low back seats were meticulously treated with Armor All making them look they’d just come out of the showroom and the shiny red Volvo logos in the center of each white wheel served as adornments on the spats covering this fellow’s black tire shoes.
We pulled up to a stoplight and talked animatedly about our plans for the day once the weather cleared, then CRASH!
An oversized pickup slammed into us, throwing my head violently forward and snapping it back. I then launched off the silicon treated seat, down onto the floor. The car had been stuck so hard that it would have to be scrapped, but Tony and I walked away seemingly unhurt.
What I didn’t know at the time, was that I had received a whiplash injury that would still be impacting my ability to get a good night’s sleep, almost forty years later.
I injured my back 10 years after that accident and went through three separate back fusions to repair the damage. I spent one year per surgery in rehab learning proper body mechanics, including what position to sleep in for optimal spinal health.
You’ve no-doubt seen the ads for pillows and mattresses on the market today. They show a body outline with the exposed spine all cocked up compared to the straight spine illustration next to it, and you’re sold!
A firmer mattress will provide an even surface to help maintain the best spinal alignment, but the most expensive memory foam or adjustable mattress will not give you the restful sleep you desire, until you start sleeping in the correct sleep position. Period. So save your money and start making a few simple changes to your sleep position first.
Sleeping on your stomach is problematic for your neck and spine, forcing it into unnatural positions which can put a strain on multiple internal organs and may also cause breathing difficulties.
Many believe sleeping on your back is the best way to take the structural pressure off your spine and neck, but it can inhibit vital circulation. In fact, while recovering from my spinal fusions, I was discouraged from sleeping on my back because that position can discourage regular movement which is necessary for healthy blood circulation.
Sleeping on your side is the optimal position for a healthy night’s sleep. Like your time in the womb, your knees should be slightly bent and your spine slightly curved and untwisted as possible while sleeping on our side. This may sound like something you couldn’t possibly do, but let me give you some suggestions, which can help your receive a comfortable and restful night’s sleep as a side-sleeper.
My whiplash injury years ago forced me to become a pillow connoisseur, and side-sleeping requires a specific pillow. I’m so particular about my pillow, that when I see a movie or tv show with an actor sleeping on one or two angled pillows (usually so you can see the their well-coiffed face and hair,) I experience vicarious pain!
A side sleeper pillow should have a cut-out for your shoulder so it can sit comfortably underneath you, while providing enough height that your shoulder won’t bear too much weight. The pillow should also have a raised area at the top of the cutout to fill in the space under your neck and be symmetrical so it works equally as well while sleeping on either side. I prefer a memory foam pillow that can adapt to the temperature and weight. My favorite side-sleeper pillow was sold at Ikea, but is sadly no longer available.
After I got over my disappointment, I found some similar products:
…and the affordable, Contour Products Cloud Pillow may be an option, look for it on Amazon (photo unavailable.)
There are also three other options of Bemo Contour Memory Foam and Ergonomic Support Pillows made to accommodate side-sleepers. These offer different unique options for arm placement so everyone can sleep comfortably regardless of how they position their lower arm. The models available are: the Armrest, Butterfly-Wings Shape, or the Heart-Shaped.
These pillows check many of the boxes when you’re looking for a your perfect side sleeper pillow. Once you try one you’ll never be able to sleep without it!
The other consideration when side-sleeping, is to prevent your spine from twisting while sleeping, so you’ll need to keep a pillow between your legs just above the knees to accomplish this. A small pillow placed between your knees is virtually impossible to keep in place, so I recommend a “knee pillow” made specifically for this purpose and will easily stay in place all night. I would avoid any knee pillows that require strapping on, which I’ve found to be annoyingly uncomfortable. The memory foam model below will retain shape and provide perfect spinal alignment and comfort, even as you turn from side to side.
I never leave home without my pillows and have taken them in backpacks across the globe because I want to enjoy every moment of travel!
Studies have shown that sleeping on your side opens your airways so you can breathe better at night, ease low back pain, and may lower your risk for developing Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other neurological diseases. Left side sleeping in particular has been shown to be beneficial according to this article by Phil Mutz, and he even suggests some creative ways to train yourself to become a side sleeper.
However you choose to go about it, I would encourage you to give side sleeping a try consistently for at least a week and see if you don’t begin to feel refreshed, less stiff and no-longer achy each morning.
Pura Vida, Penny