Problems that Arise from Sleeping the Wrong WayThroughout 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
Case V Waking up with a Stiff Neck
Case VI Sleepy Finger Syndrome
Carpal TunnelThis 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.
Brachial NeuralgiaThis 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 SyndromeThe 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)
- 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
Case IX Restless Partner Syndrome
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.