The Ergonomics of Sleeping Well

bed pillow sleepThe average person spends about a third of their life sleeping.

That’s a lot of time spent lying in one position, making it crucial to take the proper steps to ensure that even while sleeping you aren’t doing any physical damage to your body.

Sleep ergonomics, or the postures people lie in when sleeping, are extremely important to a healthy lifestyle, said Carrie Chamberlain, PT, DPT, a Physical Therapist and Clinical Director of Tidewater Physical Therapy’s Kings Charter location in Ashland, Va., near Richmond.

Usually within the first two sessions of seeing a patient who’s come to the clinic because of neck or back pain, she said, “we discuss how you are sleeping.”


Most people prefer to sleep on their side, Chamberlain said. It’s always better, she added, to avoid sleeping on your stomach, which can make it difficult to obtain a neutral spine position and can irritate your nerves.

Pillow Choices.

Much of the time, pain comes when people don’t use the proper pillow.

Although the material of the pillow doesn’t necessarily matter, the size and depth does.

If you’re a side sleeper, you need a thicker pillow for your head, because you want to fill the gap between your head and the mattress. You need to position your pillow so that your head, neck and shoulders are properly supported, Chamberlain said.

Chamberlain recommends putting a large pillow between your legs when sleeping on your side, which will help keep the spine in proper neutral alignment.

You also want support on your back while you sleep on your side. Consider putting another pillow against your back for support.

Special Considerations for Pregnant Women.

Pregnant women should avoid sleeping on their right side, where the aorta lies. A large pillow placed between the knees can create more comfort in this instance, too, for pregnant women sleeping on their left side.


Mattresses play a factor in sleeping habits, too.

“Firmer is better,” said Chamberlain. “Typically, for back pain, you want a supportive mattress.”

And one that doesn’t have any kinks or gaps.

Be sure to flip your mattress over every few months and make sure your mattress isn’t too old or worn out. Some experts recommend buying a new mattress every five to seven years.

Feeling no pain.

Prolonged incorrect sleeping ergonomics can lead to shoulder impingements, low back pain, lordosis, or an extreme curvature in your lower spine, Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction and generalized neck tightness and or weakness.

But it’s not too late to start sleeping the smart way now. Once patients correct their sleeping postures, Chamberlain said, they often experience immediate pain relief.


Anything here ring true for you? Make your own physical therapy appointment with Carrie Chamberlain today. Learn more about her treatment philosophy and her clinic near Ashland, Va. here.

The physical therapists at Tidewater Physical Therapy Inc. hold Direct Access Certification through the Virginia Board of Physical Therapy allowing them to evaluate and treat patients without a prescription. As part of your healthcare team, a physical therapist will make an assessment of your condition and create a plan to start you on the road to wellness. Our team will communicate with your physician of record and obtain a referral, if necessary, for your continued treatment. We will also work with your insurance carrier to make sure services are covered by your plan.


Looking for more sleeping tips? Learn how your food choices can also impact your sleeping.

Marie Albiges is a freelance writer with Consociate Media based in Newport News, Va. Second only to running, writing is her passion.