Everything is black and silent. I am immersed in a sort of nebulousness around which I cannot quite wrap my mind, and, for the life of me, I am unable to reconcile the last moments I can remember, the ones wherein I was sitting out on the porch with the kids, with this new reality in which my arms and legs are fastened in place.. affixed to something. I am confused and disoriented. There is a sharp pain searing through my spine. Am I paralyzed? No. I try to free myself from whatever is binding me, but my efforts are futile and ultimately to no avail. Slowly, the little soldiers in my head begin to sift and sort and rearrange themselves until my mind manages to narrow in on some semblance of reality.
I can hear the pop music and the incessant beeping and the harp. My three alarms. I’m in bed. It must be 3:15 in the morning. I reach behind me with my one free arm, and my hand stumbles upon Kate. Her head is resting heavily atop the small of my back, Liam’s the nape of my neck. My left arm is twisted and pinned beneath Dylan’s massive ribcage, and my nose is lost in an ocean of paws. Marley’s and Liam’s. Only 3/4 of me is actually in contact with the mattress. The rest of me is draped messily over the platform.
As I free myself from my confining and painful albeit wonderfully endearing plight, I am overcome by the lingering aches that are now pervading every facet of my being. I literally hurt everywhere.
I wake each morning and find myself so magnificently contorted that I look like I tumbled right out of The Exorcist. I am literally wearing my head and feet backwards and my spine is bent into an ’S’ or an ‘L’ depending on the night and which kids claim which parts of my bed and body. I am ruled by an army of profusely spoiled and unrelentingly affectionate dogs, and they are destroying the integrity of my musculoskeletal system moment by moment, bone by bone.
So.. what does that have to do with exercise? Well, while mine is obviously an extreme example, most people tend to slumber in a less-than-optimal position, and, over time, our bodies adapt to this variety of dysfunction and allow it to spill over into our day. The reverse is also the case, which makes this a vicious cycle. We tend to take to bed our postural distortions that we accumulate throughout our day and lifetime, which ultimately subjects our bodies to an ever-worsening and gradually increasing variety of trauma.
Our muscles don’t simply return to normal lengths because we wake up and stand up straight, and then we go and add movement and weight-bearing activities atop this dysfunction, which will ultimately only cause us more grief, and then we take that new grief back to bed. Over time, we simply become accustomed to an anatomically sub-optimal set of circumstances, which is something that requires a self-intervention to stop and reverse the damage.
There are a few ways we can combat the adverse consequences of sleeping in anatomically unfriendly positions.
1. If you sleep on your side, put a pillow between your knees and perhaps one beneath your side. Be sure your head is in line with the rest of your spine, not sagging or terribly elevated.
2. If you sleep on your back, your head, neck, and spine tend to be in a neutral position and thus the most anatomically sound situation. You may throw a pillow under your knees, and be sure your head is not flexed too far forwards (without a pillow would truthfully be best), but you are affording yourself the best opportunity to avoid problems in this position. CONGRATULATIONS.
3. Contrarily, if you are a stomach sleeper, you may ultimately be in trouble, as this is said to be the worst possible case. When sleeping on your stomach, your spine is forced to deviate from its natural curve and your neck is always rotated one way or the other, potentially leading to problems at the lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spine, which will inevitably resonate into other parts of the body. In an effort to minimize this, consider placing a pillow beneath your pelvis, but, if you tend to sleep in this prone position, my sage but obviously non-medical advice is to cut it out.
4. Stretch before you go to bed. Don’t take your bad posture to bed with you, especially if you spend most of your day sitting behind a desk or driving. Stretch your hip flexors, chest, and neck. Straighten yourself out to avoid exacerbating musculoskeletal issues that you may already have going on.
5. Wake up and stretch… and not just arbitrarily, as that can do more harm than good. For example, if you sleep in the fetal position and then wake up, bend over, and reach for your toes, you may be further lengthening a muscle that you already spent all night lengthening. Stretch your hip flexors and lats, neck and calves. Be deliberate and methodical about it.
It is vitally important for us to get a good night’s rest, as such bears physical, mental, and emotional benefits throughout our day, and no single position will work for every individual, so do what works best for you and take care of your body accordingly. You, for the most part, only get just this one.