You try to sit up straight when you’re at your desk and when you’re looking at your phone (text neck is real!). But did you know good posture isn’t just for standing and sitting? Bad posture in bed can lead to muscle tightness and spasms, headache, and an inability to turn your head the next morning.
“You should be essentially aiming for a straight spine,” says Camilo Ruiz, D.O., the medical director of the Choice Physicians Sleep Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “The head and neck should be supported, and you want to avoid overflexion and overextension.” Here’s how to do that so you wake up without a crick in your neck.
Don’t do a belly flop. Sleeping on your back or side is easiest on your neck. That’s because stomach sleeping causes you to arch your back and turn your head all the way to one side, which can put stress on your spine. Though sleeping positions are often set early in life and hard to break out of later on, it’s worth trying to change yours if it’s causing you discomfort in the morning.
Bring in backup. To change your sleeping position, consider putting pillows in places other than just under your head. If you want to sleep on your back, try putting a pillow under your knees or thighs. If side sleeping seems more attainable, try hugging a pillow to your chest or nestling a pillow between your legs. If you already sleep on your side, extra pillows can still be a good idea. “It’s helpful to place pillows between your legs to straighten the spine and help with chronic low back pain,” says Ruiz, while a pillow under your legs can help flatten your spinal muscles. And if you just can’t quit stomach sleeping? A flat pillow under your pelvis can help align your spine.
Cushion the blow. What about that pillow under your head? “I believe that finding the right pillow is essentially trial and error,” says Ruiz. With that said, here are some guidelines from Harvard Medical School and the University of Rochester Medical Center: If you’re a back or side sleeper, consider a feather pillow, which conforms to the shape of your neck, or a memory foam pillow with a neck contour. Stomach sleepers may need a pillow that’s thin and flat, or even want to go with no pillow at all. No matter which pillow you opt for, the National Sleep Foundation recommends you replace it every 18 months, or when it no longer springs back after you fold it in half.
Get good rest. People who had difficulty falling and staying asleep, among other problems, were significantly more likely to develop chronic musculoskeletal pain than those who slept well, according to a 2008 study in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine. One explanation: If you don’t sleep soundly, your neck muscles can’t fully relax or heal themselves. To improve your time in bed (and get more of it), stick to a regular sleep schedule; unplug at least half an hour before bedtime; and make sure your bedroom is cool, quiet, and dark.