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Human Body - Central States Orthopedics

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Patient Info

Sleeping Well

You spend a full one third of your life doing it — sleeping. But what do you know about how the way you sleep and the mattress you sleep on can affect your spine? Sleeping on your stomach with an oversized pillow, or sleeping on a mismatched box spring can translate into back problems, even if you’ve never had a “bad” back before.

Sleep is a period of mental and physical rejuvenation and, if you aren’t feeling refreshed in the morning, the reason could be underneath you. Poor body support while you are sleeping can result in poor sleep posture and extra strain, instead of relaxation, for your muscles. The spine, especially, relies on good muscle support all day long, while you drive, as you work, while you are relaxing, and while you sleep. When the muscles that support the spine aren’t given a good nights rest, they can suffer from muscle fatigue. Over time, you might feel vague discomfort in the lower back or neck, or the problem could develop into muscle tightness or spasm.

Select from the list below for information and tips that might help you get a better night’s sleep.

Sleep Posture

Feeling your best in the morning can be viewed as a two-fold challenge. First, is your sleep position. The best position for your back during sleep is the side-lying, or fetal, position. This position helps to rest the back by keeping the spine in its normal “S” contour. Sleeping on your stomach or back does just the reverse — by arching the natural curves and asking back muscles to work long past their workday. Many “stomach” sleepers find an acceptable compromise by sleeping with the outer knee flexed. It may help to place pillows at your lower back and/or between the legs to help reinforce back support. Many “back” sleepers find it helps to place a pillow under the knees to accomplish the same thing — maintaining support for the normal curve of the lower back.

Don’t Forget the Pillows

The pillows you use under your head are another consideration. If you sleep in the side-lying position, you may find you don’t need a pillow under your head, or you may change from one of those “nice” full and fluffy pillows to a smaller, flatter one. There are a variety of pillow types on the market and trial and error may be the only route to a satisfying and comfortable pillow type. In general, however, most doctors recommend avoiding the oversize pillow and using multiple pillows under the head because of the potential for strain on the neck.

When is it Time to Buy a New Mattress

Most people don’t know how long a mattress set should last, and there aren’t any hard-fast rules for a bed’s life span. Many factors can affect the life of the materials you are sleeping on, however, and everyone uses or maintains their beds differently. But, if you are waking up with back pain, especially if you aren’t going to bed with it, its probably time to check the condition of your bed. A few questions can help guide you in your assessment:

  • Is your bed over 10 years old? Again, there is no set rule for the life expectancy of bedding materials, but a mattress set that is older than 10 years, combined with the onset of back pain or discomfort, is a place to start in your analysis of what to do
  • Has your mattress kept even contours, or are there impressions where you sleep or a tilt from one end corner to an opposite corner or end? A mattress doesn’t have to look good to do a good job, but it should maintain an even consistency from head to foot without any tilt, lumps, sagging, or crushed spots. Also look at your box springs the next time you turn or flip your mattress, because their condition is just as important to good back support as the mattress
  • Finally, is your bed comfortable? There are many types of mattresses available today, and sleep comfort is highly individual. But if you feel your mattress has “good” spots and “bad” spots, or you roll toward the center, or it just doesn’t feel comfortable anymore, it may be time for replacement

What Kind of Mattress is Best for Me?

Bedding technology is continually changing. And there is a great variety of types and levels of comfort and support. The difficult part in shopping for a new bed set is taking time to learn what you want and how to find it. Each manufacturer has a different definition of what the term “firm” means, and even the same manufacturer’s “firm” may be different from one style to the next. So taking your time to research each bed type and going to several stores to take a “try out” will be necessary to feel satisfied with your choice.

Below are a few tips that may help you select the bed the is most comfortable for you.

  • Take enough time to really learn the “feel” of any mattress set you are considering. Get on the bed, lay down, roll-over. Try to imagine yourself falling asleep in the bed. If you will be sharing the bed with someone, it is a good idea to have them try the bed with you
  • Always buy a matched set when you are purchasing new bedding
  • Firm doesn’t mean hard. You can obtain good support from a wide variety of “firmness” levels. Keep in mind that firmness and comfort should be defined by you, not the manufacturer. If the mattress feels good to you, that’s good. If it doesn’t, that’s not good
  • Shop for price only after you have defined what is comfortable and supportive for you. Most people keep a bed set for 8 to 12 years, so if you decide to wait for your favorite choice to go on sale, you’ll have many years to appreciate that relatively brief delay

Keeping Your Mattress Fit

A new bedding set is a sizable investment and taking good care of it will not only preserve your investment but help you to enjoy the full benefits longer. In other words, don’t wait for Spring Cleaning to turn your mattress; do it frequently for the first few months and regularly thereafter. For example, one rule of thumb is to turn the mattress clockwise head to foot and over once every two weeks for the first three months after purchase, then every two months thereafter. Remember to look for signs of wear when you are turning the mattress.

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