With the holidays rapidly approaching, we tend to get busier and busier. Since we cannot add more hours to the day, many of us choose to decrease how much sleep we will get.
Whenever one thinks of health, you must begin with sleep. Sleep is when your body gets to recharge, not just physically but also mentally. When you sleep your blood pressure drops, your heart rate drops, and most importantly your brain gets to recharge.
Just about everyday in my office a patient will ask, “Doc, should I get a new mattress and how should I sleep?” Since I am far from a mattress expert I asked Steve, owner of Siesta Sleepworks in Acton, the first question. “The first sign a person needs a new mattress is they can see a body impression. The second sign is when you stop getting a restful night sleep and you toss and turn all night.” Steve also offered the following advice when you have decided to get a new mattress, “Try a bunch of different mattresses when you go into a store. Everyone has different tastes and it takes some time to find the one you will be happy with.”
If we are sleeping a decent amount, we will spend between 25% and 33% of our life sleeping. Once you have determined if you need a new mattress, you now must take into account your sleep position. Sleeping on your stomach is the worst position in terms of spinal health. In order to sleep on your stomach you need to turn your head left or right to breathe. Now doing this for a few minutes is no big deal, however, 6 to 8 hours per night for many years, is going to lead to neck and shoulder problems. Stiffness and pain are very common reports from stomach sleepers.
The ideal positions for sleeping are either on your side or on your back. When sleeping on your back you want to choose a pillow as thin as is comfortable. A pillow that is too thick will jut your head forward placing undue stress on your neck and shoulders. When sleeping on your side you need to choose a pillow that keeps your head in a neutral position, in other words not tilting either up or down, while lying on your side.
How long you sleep is just as important as how you sleep. Although everyone is different, the ideal seems to be 6.5 to 7.5 hours. Interestingly enough, sleeping more than 8 hours may actually be very bad for you. Morbidity, obesity, and depression are all associated with people who get both too little sleep and too much sleep.
Changing sleeping habits can be very difficult. If you are a stomach sleeper and want to change, start out on your side with a body pillow. If you wake up in the middle of the night on your stomach, flip to your side again. Give this a couple of months and soon enough you will be finding yourself spending more time in a good sleeping posture. You neck and shoulders will thank you.