Sleeping Positions for Athletes: Part 1
This is strictly my opinion from experience and research and I am in no way an author or writer, I am a Registered Massage Therapist so please excuse the grammar and puncutation. If you have feedback, feel free to comment.
I have been asked a few times in the last couple of weeks about sleep positioning and what is the best way to sleep. To properly address this question I will touch on it in three different parts. This is the first of three in a series to hopefully get you a better night's sleep and, therefore, a faster recovery time.
At its core, the answer is simple; whatever position you are the most comfortable in and will have the best chance of attaining a deep sleep is your best position. Now, I say whatever position is the most comfortable, but that really depends on if you're experiencing general discomfort or are nursing an injury. There is an exception to the comfortable rule though; DO NOT SLEEP ON YOUR STOMACH.
Sleeping On Your Stomach.
It's just horrible for you. The purpose of a good mattress is to keep your spine in a nice neutral position (between flexion and extension). So how do you suppose you would keep your spine in a neutral position and still manage to avoid suffacating yourself while lying on your stomach? You just can't. You have to turn your head to the side and you're most likely laying with a pillow, which is going to extend your neck as well. This rotated and extended position is just forcing your vertebral joints too close, when at night all they want to do is hang out in the neutral postion, open and free to breath. This closed position causes the joints to lock up and become irritated. This atrocious position also shortens the muscles surrounding the joints, which causes them to become angry and tight (torticollis anyone?). If you're a swimmer or a runner that tends to have their shoulders up by their ears, then you'll know that your neck and shoulders are already knotted up and don't need to be put into a position that makes things worse.
Let's discuss your spine for a moment. Your spine is the channel for nerves, which everyone knows lie throughout the entire human body. Needless to say, stress on the spine is stress on the whole body. When you sleep on your stomach you leave the lumbar spine (low back) unsupported and typically in an extended position which will put undo stress on the joints, vertebral discs and inevitably the nervous tissue. And if you are already having pain in the low back from a long ride on the bike in the aero position or experiencing side effects of tight hip flexors, then added stress is not going to help you recover and regain optimal health, NO PR (personal record) for you.
Add this horrendous low back postion to your twisted and contorted neck and you're going to be uncomfortble, plain and simple. I don't know about you, but when I'm uncomfortable I don't tend to get the best sleep and if you're an athlete you know that sleeping is the best recovery tool you have, check out my article on recovery tools.
I have one tip on making sleeping on your stomach bearable, if you absolutely cannot change your sleeping style. Place a pillow under your abdomen and ankles, this will provide at least a little bit of much needed support for your low back but if you want to be a pain free athlete thats capable of setting new records, then you just have to STOP SLEEPING ON YOUR STOMACH, period.
Check in for Part 2: Sleeping on you back