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"She slipped the dirk from under her pillow..."
May 2, 2012 11:29 PM   Subscribe

Should I train myself to sleep on my back?

This came of a weird and random thought the other night, after reading some of a Game of Thrones book before going to sleep. I wondered, "How did people ever trust themselves to sleep with a knife under their pillow? Didn't they ever cut their hands or arms badly?"

Which then made me think of all those movies and stories of knights and warriors sleeping at the ready. Obviously they didn't toss and turn, sleep on their stomachs, and get -their- legs all tangled up in the blankets (or not too many would have made it as warriors I should think).

So, more or less, I'm wondering if there's any real reason, besides a passing fancy of imagining myself to be Alanna of Trebond (of the books by Tamora Pierce) or on the verge of whispering "Winter is coming" as I gaze stoically out the window, my non-existent tresses fluttering in the breeze.

I generally sleep on my side because I find sometimes the arch of my lower back aches a bit after a long day when I try to sleep on my back or stomach. Also a sore throat seems more prevalent when I'm sick if I sleep on my back. Is sleeping on my stomach, or my side, that bad long term? Or are there some beauty benefits I'm missing out on, aside from a lack of pillow creases on my face?

And never mind the why. The how, dear friends! I can only think to use a pair of comfy cuffs, from one of my casual collar and cuff sets. I'd have to tie them with thick yarn, at just enough give to let me lie on my side for a couple weeks, then at shorter and shorter lengths to make me stay on my back. Since habits last about a month, I imagine unconscious ones would take at least two to undo. Unless someone has had more success with another way?

Both actual medical reasoning and folk wisdom/remedies welcome.
posted by DisreputableDog to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I can't tell you if there is a real benefit to it, but when I was a teenager I decided to train myself to sleep on my back so I would eventually be ready for married life so as to not take up the whole bed. I was very concerned about this at the time. I accomplished it by having very crisp and well tucked sheets and blankets coming up to my armpits, with both arms hanging out of the covers on my sides. The sheets kept me from moving around too much.

Now that I am married, I sleep on my side out of consideration because I snore (like a beautiful song!) on my back.
posted by onlyconnect at 11:45 PM on May 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


Short answer: No, but a longer explanation follows. Sleep position is very important, and the worst thing you can do for your back (IANAD but per my chiropractor) is sleep on your stomach, but there is no reason to abandon sleeping on your side. While there is nothing wrong with sleeping on your side, proper neck support with a good pillow is important. Some people also sleep with a pillow between their knees (I've done this off and on for years) for back/neck issues. If you are sleeping on your back, most chiropractors recommend sleeping with a pillow underneath your knees. From what you describe, it doesn't sound like you need to adjust your habits too much, if at all. For what it's worth, I'm a chronic neck/back pain sufferer who mostly sleeps on her side with a Tempurpedic neck pillow, but abandoned the pillows between my knees for the time being. A good mattress also goes a long way in terms of back/neck comfort and support. So, long answer short: you do not need to retrain yourself to sleep on your back or (heaven forbid-heh) your stomach. If you experience lower back pain, ice is recommended. Upper back/neck pain, wet heat is the usual recommendation. Hope that helps!
posted by katemcd at 11:46 PM on May 2, 2012


When I was younger, I used to sleep on my stomach most of the night. I still sleep mostly on my sides because my bed isn't comfortable enough to remain on my back all night, but I rarely sleep on my stomach anymore.

I was trained out of the habit by multiple abdominal surgeries and catheters sticking out of my front over the last 5 years. So what you may need is simply an uncomfortable reminder. Can you get some (gentle, but firm) skin tape and tape something to your chest that will be uncomfortable if you turn to your side or front? Just something that will remind you, not necessarily cause you pain if you happen to roll over - unless you're a deep sleeper. Something like a spoon or a highlighter or a large belt buckle.
posted by WasabiFlux at 12:14 AM on May 3, 2012


You move around naturally in your sleep and unconsciously adjust your position for comfort. I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by zadcat at 12:18 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I sleep on my back when I congested by making myself a pillow fort in a u-shape propping up my back and down next to my arms to stop me from turning over. Can't see any particular reason to do it otherwise though.
posted by kjs4 at 3:29 AM on May 3, 2012


Seconding that sleeping on your stomach stresses your lumbar spine. Otherwise, sleeping on back or side is fine.
posted by losvedir at 4:00 AM on May 3, 2012


If you've got sleep apnea, you should not sleep on your back (gravity helps pull the soft tissue into the breathing pathway).
posted by nat at 5:52 AM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


The advice that it's OK to sleep on your stomach isn't great advice. If you have certain back problems that prevent you from sleeping on your back and sleeping on your stomach is the only way you can fall asleep, then go for it.

BUT, most doctors (or any doctor with a clue) will tell you that sleeping on your stomach is probably bad for you because 1) it's potentially bad for your spine and partially obstructs breathing pathways, and 2) it puts an abnormal amount of pressure on your internal organs. Those are sensitive organs!

Here's some more information.
posted by imagineerit at 6:29 AM on May 3, 2012


No -- because people who sleep on their backs SNORE!
posted by Rash at 8:00 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Regarding trusting yourself to sleep with a knife under your pillow, some of us just don't move much when we sleep. I've slept with a knife under my pillow (long story) and had no problem at all...but I'm one of those people who gets in bed, finds a position, and then stays like that all night. My mother, husband, and every roommate I've ever had has admitted to checking to make sure I was alive, because I don't move in my sleep. Obviously not everyone sleeps like that, but it's a potential explanation for how people could sleep on their sides with weaponry or whatever and not be bothered by it.
posted by MeghanC at 8:16 AM on May 3, 2012


Due to some shoulder and neck pain, I've been working on moving out of stomach-sleeping for the past 6 months. Once I'm asleep, I'm like MeghanC - I just don't move that much. But I have a hard time getting to sleep on my back, because I'm used to gravity going the other direction, and pressure against my stomach as a cue for falling asleep. The three things that have been most successful have been extra blanket weight, starting with sleeping on my side first, and getting our medium-sized dog to fall asleep on my chest, which actually mimics the comforting feel of stomach-sleeping quite nicely.
posted by deludingmyself at 10:00 AM on May 3, 2012


I am a consummate tosser and turner who normally sleeps on her side or stomach and changes position about 20 times a night. When I have to sleep on my back to recover from surgery, this is what I do -- tight sheets as mentioned above. A pillow tucked close to my side on both the right and left side of the body. A pillow under my knees. The heaviest blankets I can tolerate without sweating to death (the weight helps keep me still).

It works, but I never keep it up. I am destined to night acrobatics, and I'm okay with that.

(Side note: I had a friend who had to do the same thing as I described for a YEAR, 24-hours-a-day, while she was recovering from a liver resection. She used to sleep on her side/stomach, and now she sleeps perfectly flat on her back and would prefer to have the pillows on either side as well, just as a comfort thing.)
posted by Felicity Rilke at 10:23 AM on May 3, 2012


onlyconnect has it: the best way to force yourself to sleep on your back is to get tucked in very tightly so that it's nearly impossible to roll over. You might find that the snug blankets help you sleep better, too (snug swaddling is recommended to soothe babies to sleep).

The best way to train yourself not to toss and turn is to share a bed with a sibling for years who yells and/or pokes at you every time you wiggle. Or even breathe.
posted by Eicats at 10:26 AM on May 3, 2012


If you've got sleep apnea, you should not sleep on your back (gravity helps pull the soft tissue into the breathing pathway).

That should read "untreated sleep apnea." I have sleep apnea that's been treated with amazing success with a CPAP machine and I sleep perfectly (for many hours at a stretch) on my back.
posted by donovan at 12:00 PM on May 3, 2012


I wondered, "How did people ever trust themselves to sleep with a knife under their pillow? Didn't they ever cut their hands or arms badly?"

Short answer: People formerly slept in the upright position, propped up on pillows, or on special recliner beds. Sometimes really old medieval beds are quite short for this reason -- they did not need to accomodate the entire length of a human body. (The ULish folk interpretation is that people were shorter, but not by that much.) Those heads wearing crowns that would lie [sleep] uneasy had their knives more under their asses than the other side of their face from the eider. Bonus: you have a position which affords some upper-body strength, and you're looking out.
posted by dhartung at 5:25 PM on May 3, 2012


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