Problems that Arise from Sleeping the Wrong Way
Throughout the years, I have witnessed a variety of problems that were caused by nothing more than patients who continually slept in the wrong position. The underlying cause of sleeping in the wrong position was generally found to be a pillow that didn’t meet their particular needs or inadequate bed support.
The following list is made up of the most common problems that are brought to me regularly by my patients as well as the names that they use to describe them. These are all problems that can be caused by sleeping in the wrong position and I’ve added some of the strategies that we’ve tried in order to alleviate these problems.
Case I – Jaw Aching in the Morning (TMJ)
The Temporomandibular Joint is among the most actively used joints in humans. The real problem is that it isn’t actually a joint. It is made up of the jaw muscles (buccinators) that keep the jaw bones aligned and allow a wide range of flexibility in how wide our mouths open. They are also responsible for giving us the necessary force for biting, chewing, or clamping down.
When this joint doesn’t have sufficient stability, the muscles become overworked. This means that the muscles in our jaws can end up retaining a great deal of tension and stress.
Often, patients talk about sleeping incorrectly and waking up to pain on one side of the head or in their jaw and often comment on pressure from their pillow. If you sleep on a pillow that is too firm, of course you’ll wake up with pain in the side of your face, but why? The reason is that the firmness of the pillow doesn’t allow your jaw muscles to relax and release the built up tension. This is the same reason that you may wake up with an ear ache.
If you recognize any of these symptoms, it is important to make sure that your pillow has adequate support without being too firm and unyielding. Your pillow should be made of a material that matches what I like to call the NCi, or Neck Compression Index. This measures the amount of pressure that is placed on your pillow using your body weight, head size, and neck width. If your pillow doesn’t match your NCi, it will either be too soft or too hard to be beneficial.
Case II Morning Wrinkles (MFW)
The eyes and face have more than 40 small muscles that permit us to do everything from smiling to eating. They work together in a very complex process to accomplish this and as a result, a vast blood supply is required to move through the face for the process to function correctly.
Our bodies produce many cellular by-products that overheat the skin, which can limit circulation to the small blood vessels (capillaries). It’s very important that you pillow has enough flexibility to let proper blood circulation take place. If it’s too hard, the by-products can’t be flushed away and result in morning face wrinkles.
Your face has more direct contact with your pillow than with any other item; 6 to 8 hours each day for most people. It is therefore critical that it is made of material that has an open cellular structure and good air flow, while still offering support. The best pillows don’t push into the muscles of the face or limit circulation. It should be firm enough to support your neck and shoulders, but soft enough to allow relaxation of the facial muscles while you sleep.
The reason that Pillows Made to Measure use only certified 100% organic latex is because it offers natural softness and open ventilation and it is able to be crafted to your specific needs. It is also among the most environmentally sound products available. In addition, it doesn’t contain the toxic chemicals that are used in the manufacturing of most man-made materials.
Case III Morning Headaches
It doesn’t seem fair! You’ve done nothing that should result in a morning headache, but you still have one. Eventually they will become so common that you get used to them and accept them as the norm. Many of my patients think that morning headaches are just something that they must live with.
I believe however, that there is generally a structural explanation. To put it simply, your neck muscles should be able to relax when you sleep. The spine is something like a spring. It periodically needs to uncoil and this is done by relieving the weight of the head. The joints need the pressure taken off of them in order to allow proper circulation and breakdown of any lactic acid built up in your system. If your neck muscles can’t properly relax, you’ll end up with a headache just at the base of your skull, at the hairline.
The combination of bed firmness, the density and size of your pillow, and your body weight are all critical and all of these factors need to match.
Case IV Excessive Sneezing
Another complaint that is common is that patients wake up sneezing and with a stuffy nose (blocked sinuses). This is also unfair, but still very common.
The cause behind this is really quite simple. Their bed or pillow is old and full of dust mites and other microscopic allergens. After 6 to 8 hours of constant contact, their allergies are in full swing and their sinuses become clogged. It may not be just your pillow’s age or its material. The majority of pillows are manufactured from petroleum based foam. These synthetic pillows are then sprayed with fire retardant and antibacterial chemicals so that they meet fire safety standards. Anyone who is even slightly sensitive to chemicals will certainly be affected after resting their head on a man-made, unnatural pillow all night.
I searched the world over for an alternative that is chemical free and discovered 100% Certified Organic Latex. This material is naturally antibacterial as well as hypoallergenic. Pillows made to measure is the smart choice for anyone who suffers from allergies.
Case V Waking up with a Stiff Neck
Another common ailment is what some of my patients call “Duck Neck.” When you wake up in the morning and can’t move your head or neck without pain and stiffness, you have what my patients call “Duck Neck.” Almost everyone has suffered from this at one time or another.
Every colleague that I know treats this problem regularly. Patients generally claim that they slept the wrong way, went to bed very tired, are stressed, or the age old gem, “I slept with a window open and there was a draft on my neck.” While any of these could be the culprit if it were an occasional occurrence, but if it happens every day there is an underlying problem.
Torticollis is when the large muscles that support your head go into a spasm. Generally it only occurs on one side and this restricts your ability to rotate or move your neck. Usually when getting up or lying down, you must hold your neck. If you experience a stiff neck regularly, the first thing to look at is what type of support your shoulder and neck muscles are getting at night. “Duck Neck” can be caused by those muscles not getting sufficient support to allow them to relax.
Your mattress and pillow gradually lose their support until they finally offer no support at all. To alleviate this sort of recurring spasm, you need to replace your old, worn out mattress and pillow with a quality mattress and a pillow made specifically for neck pain.
Case VI Sleepy Finger Syndrome
An issue that is commonly mentioned by patients is a stiff or “dead” feeling in the hands and fingers; in one or both hands. The feeling sometimes wakes them up and feels similar to “pins and needles.” This cause of this is usually one of three things.
This is when the small tunnel where the blood vessels and nerves that supply the hand go, becomes congested and paces undue pressure that sets of the tingling sensations.
This is caused by compression at the neck’s base where the nerves exit the spine. A number of things can cause compression in this area; facet joint arthritis, disc issues, or foramina encroachment. The latter is when the small opening in between the vertebra becomes too small and compresses the nerve.
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
The blood vessels and nerves travel through the neck muscles as the exit the spine. These muscles are large and can compress both blood vessels and nerves causing the “dead” feeling in fingers and hands.
Sleepy Finger Syndrome is most often caused by all three factors combined.
In some cases, simply shaking your hands or moving your shoulders and neck will relieve the problem. The best way to ascertain the cause of your problem is by having a nerve conduction test, but it’s astounding how many patients have experienced relief from these symptoms just by using a different pillow. It stands to reason that if your neck and head don’t have proper support, it will cause the muscles to contract and place excessive pressure on the nerves.
Case VII Morning Stiffness and Back Pain
The first steps of the morning are what I like to call the Five King Steps. You experience stiffness and pain in the lower back that usually subsides after you mover around. The combination of the right bed, a pillow that has been tailor to your requirements, and sleeping in the proper position can help to reduce these symptoms by more than 30%.
When talking with my patients, I find it amazing who much difference one simple change can make. Sleeping with your body aligned and with your neck supported to prevent you from rolling onto your chest is one such change that makes an enormous difference. Another is never bending your top leg over the bottom leg. This can drag one side of the lower back forward and positions your muscles in a way that causes them to over contract and seize up your back.
The best solution is bending the leg that is in contact with the bed and extending the top leg. This prevents your body from twisting and reduces morning stiffness significantly.
Case VIII Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
RLS is caused by a combination of several factors and medications are now available to treat its symptoms.
Once again, keeping the lymphatic and blood circulation moving freely is imperative. This in turn reduces the amount of built up lactic acid in the leg muscles, which is what causes the need for movement or “restless legs.” The lymph nodes, as well as the main artery, are found at the juncture of the thighs and pelvic area, just at the crease of the legs.
There are a variety of things to be aware of that can decrease circulation and cause restless leg syndrome:
- Prolonged periods of sitting right before bed
- Sitting with your knees higher than your bottom can reduce circulation
- Sleeping in a twisted position
- Sleeping on your stomach
- Sleeping with your legs curled up into a ball
The basic sleeping rules apply to this condition as well. Make sure that your pillow gives the correct amount of support and try to sleep on your side. Try to sleep with one leg behind the other or use a pillow to support the top leg. These simple steps can help maximize circulation and reduce the frequency and severity of restless leg syndrome.
Case IX Restless Partner Syndrome
“I sleep fine, but my partner tosses and turns all night. It drives me crazy and I can’t get a good night’s sleep.”
Does this sound familiar?
First of all, if the size between you and your partner varies greatly, the bed might not offer them adequate support and comfort so the toss and turn trying to find that one
perfect spot. Look at both sides of the mattress and flip it over, or turn it around if possible.
Once again, look closely at their pillow. Does it give enough support and comfort during the night? When the pillow is uncomfortable, it affects the entire body. Remember that finding real comfort in bed is a combination of both mattress and pillow.
Case X Sleep Apnea and Snoring
After working in a professional practice for a period of years, you tend to recognize health pattern trends. I consult with a wide range of people: different nationalities, body types and sizes, occupations, and activity levels. This means that I see a comprehensive cross section of general population’s health.
All humans, be they prince or pauper, make noises during the night. Whether breathing noises, talking, or general body or “wind movement” noises, they are all natural.
Recently however, sleep apnea and snoring have become more of an issue. An increase in chronic sleeping and sinus issues, obesity rates, and the general stress of modern living have all made sleep apnea and snoring more common than ever before.
There are some actions that can offer quantifiable results:
- Establish regular sleeping habits and good sleeping positions.
- Maintain a weight that is the ideal for your height and gender and exercise regularly.
- Seek medical advice for any sinus or allergy issues that arise and have proper medical testing for sleep apnea.
- Keep in mind that how you sleep can greatly affect your airflow.
It is VERY important that you don’t have a soft, low pillow that offers little or no support for your throat, neck, and shoulder muscles.
A soft pillow also encourages you to sleep on your stomach, with an arm under or around the pillow. One of the best ways to prevent sleep apnea is by keeping the throat supported and open. This will prevent your tongue from falling back into your throat and forcing you to breathe through only your nose. Snoring is actually the noise from your tongue vibrating in your throat and it may be the result of any number of factors.
I have bought and tested nearly every “stop snoring” pillow available and have been unsuccessful in finding one that delivers on their promise.
What the right pillow can
do is to eliminate one of the most common causes of snoring: improper sleeping position and inadequate support. By providing the correct support for throat and neck muscles, snoring can be prevented. To completely eliminate the problem however, sleeping position, exercise, and weight issues must be addressed.