As adults our bodies require a minimum of eight hours of good restorative sleep, and children require substantially more depending upon their age. It is during sleep that our bodies are rejuvenated, muscles and cells are regenerated, and we are re-energized to start a new day. If our sleep is uninterrupted and truly restful, we can expect to awaken feeling refreshed and restored, however, the opposite is also true.
A good night’s sleep is one that is going to be uninterrupted and allow the body to go through its natural sleep cycle. Sleep quality can be affected by many factors, which include but are not limited to:
- The length of time it takes to actually fall asleep
- The duration of sleep
- Food or alcohol consumption
- Nightmares, tossing and turning or any other disturbances
Interrupted sleep, sleep apnea and snoring have been connected to many sleep related symptoms, such as:
According to Dr. Robert Oexman, Director of the Sleep to Live Institute, “We know that mattresses really do matter when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep.” Studies have shown that sleeping on a new mattress or the right mattress can significantly improve sleep and reduce stiffness and back pain resulting in the abatement of stress-related symptoms. This is significant when we consider that 75% of Americans report that they have sleep problems a few nights per week or more and it is projected that 70 million people are currently affected by sleep problems.
Mattresses are meant to uniformly support your body from head to toe. If there are gaps between a part of your body and the mattress then you’re not getting the full support that you need. For instance, look for a gap between your waist and the mattress. Conversely, a mattress can be too firm and put uncomfortable pressure on the shoulders, hip and back. In order to avoid creating indentations in the mattress it is advised that you turn it, but don’t flip it, once every two to three months. Consider turning your mattress every time the seasons turn.
It’s also important to be aware that changes in your body or lifestyle may require the purchase of a new mattress. If you’ve lost or gained a substantial amount of weight, a mattress that previously supported your body uniformly may no longer do so. Finally, a mattress will generally need to be replaced every five to eight years. The clearest signal being when you find that you’re waking up with stiffness or pain in your lower back, hips, arms or legs.
When deciding to purchase a new mattress, carefully consider the following recommendations:
- Choose a mattress that is designed to conform to the natural curves of the spine and keep the spine in alignment when lying down.
- It should distribute pressure evenly across the body to help circulation, decrease body movement and enhance sleep quality.
- Find a mattress that minimizes the transfer of movement from one sleeping partner to another.
Do not be afraid to take your time when mattress shopping, giving each mattress a good trial run prior to purchasing. Lie down on the mattress for at least 15 minutes to get a good feel of its firmness and be willing to toss and turn. It’s also recommended that you take your sleep partner with you when shopping and have them toss and turn, too. It’s important to know that a bed is going to be comfortable enough for both of you to get a good quality night’s sleep.
Considering the high cost of most quality mattresses, this is an investment that should be taken seriously and, as with most major purchases, it’s important to consider the old adage, “You get what you pay for.” The lower the cost of a mattress, the lower the quality of both the mattress and the sleep you can anticipate getting.
Pillows are Important
Many people are completely unaware of how important their pillow is to the quality of sleep they are receiving. While a mattress is vital, no mattress alone can keep the spine completely aligned when lying on either your back or your side. Studies have shown that using an optimal pillow for appropriate neck support to maintain cervical curve may contribute to improved quality of sleep. Additional studies report no evidence that the use of a foam contour pillow has advantages over the regular shaped pillows. However, feather pillows should not be recommended. In fact, the wrong pillow may cause pain in the upper back, neck, shoulders and head.
When purchasing a pillow, consider the following:
- Whether you sleep on your side, or your back will determine the required thickness of your pillow.
- If you sleep on your side, it should be as thick as required to cover the distance between your head and where your shoulder touches the mattress.
- Similarly, if you sleep on your back it should be as thin as the space between your head and where your back touches the mattress.
- Choose materials that are the most comfortable for you.
When it comes to pillows there is no such thing as “one size fits all” so find the pillow that is consistent with the size and shape of your body. Avoid pillows that are so thick or thin that they angle your head and neck away from your body, as their purpose is to keep your spine aligned. You have only one head, so you need to have only one pillow. If you find that you’re sleeping with one hand or your arm under your pillow you’re not getting the support, you need.
Position is Key
When it comes to quality of sleep there is probably nothing more important than the position in which you sleep. The best, high quality mattress will be useless if your sleeping position is causing your spine to flex in an unnatural way. When sleeping it’s important for your spine to be kept in a neutral position; this means your body should be level from head to toe. If you tend to sleep on your side this means that your knees are together and your hips are straight up and down; any variation of this means that there is a twist in your spine at waist level felt in the mid to lower back. If you tend to sleep on your back, it’s important to note the thickness of your pillow. If your head is elevated, your spine is bent forward at the neck. The easiest way to judge if this is happening is to determine if your ears are level with your shoulders or above them. It is important to avoid sleeping on your stomach as this introduces unnatural bending and twisting of the spine in several areas. When sleeping on your stomach the head must be turned completely to the right or left which introduces strain to the spine and neck muscles. Many stomach sleepers have a tendency to bend one leg which is then introducing rotation into the lower back muscles and spine.
Your Doctor of Chiropractic is an expert in the alignment and condition of the spine and recognizes the important role that mattress quality, pillow and correct sleep position plays in quality sleep. Headaches and stiffness or pain in the neck, back and joints when waking in the morning could signal that it’s time to replace your mattress and pillow. Speak with your Family Wellness Chiropractor if you or your children have experienced these signs of poor-quality sleep.
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RESOURCES: DR. CLAUDIA ANRIG-THE WELLNESS FAMILY