Of Beds, Pillows and Sleeping Positions


I get a lot of questions at the office about beds, pillows and sleeping positions.

We spend so much of our time in bed trying to get a good night’s sleep that my patients are often concerned that bad habits or equipment may be sabotaging their efforts to be healthy. After 40 years of experience in the art of sleeping, and 10 years as a doctor I think there is one rule and a few guidelines.

The rule is: whatever is the most comfortable and gives you the best sleep is the best for you.

This may be frustrating for those of us who like to have everything in black and white. And we have all heard that you shouldn’t sleep on your stomach and a firm mattress is good for your back. However, I have seen no evidence that these things are rules.

It seems to me that each one of us is different. We are made differently, raised differently, and have different experiences. It follows that our sleeping needs are going to be different as well. It also follows that what makes us comfortable at night may well change over time.

So, my recommendations:

  1. Get a good mattress – the most expensive ones are usually best, but get one that is comfortable. I like Select Comfort’s beds, others prefer something else. Preference is key (are you waking up achey?). Generally a guideline is that your curves are supported, such as the curve in your low back when you are laying on your back.
  2. Find a comfortable pillow – or not. Some of my patients are more comfortable with no pillow because the curve in their neck has completely reversed. As time goes on and the curve restores itself they may well find that using a pillow is more comfortable than not. But let comfort be your guide. Do not rush out and buy an expensive pillow. Start with cheap ones and see if they work first. The guideline, like the one for mattresses is that the curve in your neck is supported when you are lying on your back and when lying on your side your neck is level with the rest of your spine.
  3. Sleeping position – unless you have a specific injury that particular positions irritate, don’t worry about it. Yes, if you don’t usually sleep on your stomach and you do, you may wake up with a stiff neck. But normally you will move while sleeping into more comfortable positions and that is normal and there is really nothing you can do about it easily, nor should you in most cases.

Posted in Lifestyle and tagged bedmattresssleep