Poor body alignment and an improper mattress may prevent you from enjoying deep, restorative sleep. Sleep ergonomics can help you improve your sleep quantity and sleep quality. Read on to know more about this.
How well your body is aligned during sleep is, in essence, a strange, yet a very important, question. It is a strange question because common sense dictates that any posture in which you are able to sleep comfortably is a good one for you. Yet, it is an important question on two counts: the position you are comfortable sleeping in may prevent your body from realigning itself, and misalignment can cause various health issues in the long run. Besides other things, misalignment can cause or worsen back pain and affect both the quality and quantity of your sleep. Sleep deprivation or poor sleep quality, in turn, can impact your physical and psychological health.
Why do we get comfortable with an improper sleeping posture?
A comfortable sleeping position may not be always an ideal one, but why do we get comfortable with an improper sleeping posture in the first place? The answer lies in the inherent nature of the human body. The human body, you see, is very adaptive. It automatically adjusts itself to counter any misalignment. If your body is not aligned properly, it will position itself in such a way as to counter any prevailing misalignment. Comfort, simply put, can be an adaptive response, and may not be necessarily good for your health.
Importance of alignment when we sleep
Here’s one test question for you: do you often experience daytime sleepiness, headache, fatigue, and/or lack of focus after a night’s sleep? If yes, chances are your body is poorly aligned during sleep. To be more specific, you may be breathing shallowly during sleep.
There is a clear and strong relationship between body alignment and breathing and sleep quality. Structural imbalance in the body affects breathing, which, in turn, affects sleep quality.
When our spine is in its natural position – a position in which the neck (cervical), middle back (thoracic), and lower back (lumbar) are in good alignment – our lungs are able to hold more oxygen. Adequate intake of oxygen during sleep facilitates smooth functioning of the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS), which induces and promotes relaxation. On the other hand, reduced oxygen intake causes an excess production of cortisol (the stress hormone) and adrenaline, which prevents the body from relaxing.
Correct body alignment during sleep also promotes proper blood circulation throughout the body and relieves joint pain, both of which help you get a good night’s sleep.
In whichever position you sleep, it is important that you maintain a ‘spine-neutral’ position (neutral spine position is the same as the spine’s natural position). The mattress you sleep on has a huge influence on your structural balance. If the mattress is not appropriate, it can create, mask, and/or worsen structural imbalances, which can be detrimental to good sleep. It can also lead to health conditions such as sleep apnea and back pain.
Hard Mattress vs. Soft Mattress
Some say a hard mattress is better than a soft mattress, some say a soft mattress is better, and some say whichever type of mattress you are comfortable with is the right one for you. Nevertheless, it is now believed that a hard mattress is better for those who don’t have back/neck problems, and that people with back pain or other similar problems are better off using a soft mattress.
Advantage of Hard Mattress
The new ergonomics of sleep dictates that when it comes to mattresses, less is usually better. The less cushioning the mattress provides, the more it is likely to support or facilitate a neutral-spine position during sleep.
According to the ergonomics of sleep, it is necessary that bones have some resistance for good sleep. When you lay down on a hard bed with a thin, hard mattress, your bones bears the most, if not all, of the pressure. This, in turn, frees your muscles and allows your arteries and veins to relax. As a result, the blood circulation in the body improves, helping you sleep better.
The other benefit of a hard mattress is that it prevents your lower back from collapsing when you lay on it. This ensures that your airways are not constricted, permitting you to inhale more oxygen. Ample oxygen intake, as we’ve seen already, is crucial for good sleep.
Switching to a hard mattress after sleeping for many years on a soft mattress may not be easy. You may feel a bit uncomfortable during the first few nights. The feeling of discomfort usually dissipates on its own within a few days.
That said, people who have health issues like back pain, rheumatism, arthritis, weak capillaries, or scoliosis should not go for a hard mattress. If you have any of these conditions and want to use a relatively hard surface, it is recommended that you use props. For example, individuals with back pain may place a flax seed eye pillow under the lower back for support when sleeping on their back. When sleeping on your side, you can use a body pillow or place a soft pillow between the knees.
Advantage of a soft mattress
A new study has pointed out that a soft mattress may be beneficial to people with back problems, refuting the age-old belief that people with back issues should sleep only on hard surfaces.
Here are the details of the scientific study:
In the study, Spanish researchers analyzed the effect of mattresses on 313 participants who had back pain. The participants were randomly divided into two groups. One group was asked to sleep on a firm mattress that had a softness rating of 2.3 out of 10. The other group was asked to sleep on a medium-firm mattress that had a softness rating of 5.6.
The duration of the study was 90 days. The researchers assessed the patients at the start of the study and upon the completion of the trial. Patients were also asked to assess their condition on a daily basis and to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 the intensity of pain they felt on rising from the bed, the intensity of pain while sleeping, and the degree of discomfort, disability, or pain they experienced during the day on a scale of 1 to 10.
At the end of the study, all participants experienced improvement in their condition. However, the participants who slept on a medium-firm mattress for 90 days experienced better results.
The condition of participants who experienced back pain while lying down improved by as much as 80% on a medium-firm mattress, and 70% on a firm mattress. The degree of discomfort experienced during the day decreased by an impressive 50% for participants who used a medium-firm mattress, and 30% for those who slept on a firm mattress.
Overall, the participants who slept on a medium-firm mattress for the duration of the trial were less likely to require any pain-relieving drug treatment.
Disadvantage of a soft mattress
A soft mattress may be disadvantageous for healthy people as it may cause the back to collapse when you lie on it. When the back is collapsed, the lungs are not able to take in as much oxygen, which can prevent you from getting good sleep.
Proper body alignment during sleep is necessary as it allows you to enjoy a good night’s sleep. Your mattress can affect your body alignment and quality of sleep. Healthy people may benefit from sleeping on a hard mattress, while a medium-firm mattress may be beneficial for people with back pain.