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Sleeping Well

Sleep. It’s precious, restorative, healing. With the average American lifespan at 73 years,(1) if you sleep 8 hours each day, you’ll spend 24 years of your life in bed. How can you take care of your spine and health during these decades in bed? Here are some facts and tips, courtesy of the Unified Virginia Chiropractic Association.

There are 2 basic components of a bed or “sleep system”: The sleeping surface, and the pillow or pillows. Common sleeping surfaces include futons, air mattresses, memory foam, mattress-box spring combinations, etc. The sleeping surface should be comfortable, should gently cushion pressure points, and should avoid “hammocking” or sagging. Proper support and comfort are crucial. Consult with a specialist in beds and sleep systems to learn more, and to find a surface that suits your unique needs and preferences.7[1]

Pillows can be used to position and support key body parts, maintaining optimal alignment and in some cases cushioning bony prominences. Pillow use is tied to sleeping postures — read on…

There are three basic postures for sleeping: supine (on your back), lateral decubitus (on your side), or prone (on your stomach). Lying on the back is in some ways ideal — though some people will tend to snore in this position. Snoring can be an indication of airway difficulties or even the more dangerous condition of sleep apnea — and it can also be unacceptable if you share a bed. As in CPR airway management, head tilt and optimal chin lift are important. A cervical (neck) pillow should support the natural curve of the neck, keeping the head functionally aligned with the rest of the supine body. On your side, the same applies: a cervical pillow should support the head in-line with the neck and torso, not raising the head too far off the bed or allowing it to sag too far towards the bed, and filing the “negative space” that the shoulder creates between head and bed. Pillows can also be used between (side-lying) or behind (supine) the knees, dictated by personal preference.

Prone (face-down) sleeping is a troublesome posture. Prone sleeping virtually guarantees neck asymmetry, as the face must be turned to one side for breathing. Though some have adopted this as a preferred sleeping posture, most health professionals recommend attempts to retrain towards supine or lateral decubitus postures.

Do you wake up refreshed from sleep? Sore? Achy? Headachy? Your doctor of chiropractic can help you live better when you’re awake, AND when you’re asleep. For more information, ask your chiropractor for guidance, or visit to find a highly-qualified chiropractor near you.

[Special thanks to Sleep Essentials, a Unified VCA Supporting Supplier Member and retail mattress store in southwest Virginia, for its contributions to and sponsorship of this article. Sleep Essentials specializes in healthy, non-toxic sleep products to enhance your family’s health. For more information, visit

Written by Daniel A. Shaye, DC, CCSP, FIAMA

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1 U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Reports (NVSR), The 2012 Statistical Abstract, cited at

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