I need to stop sleeping on my face
May 22, 2016 9:17 AM   Subscribe

Sleeping position is causing problems. How do I fix this?

I recently had surgery to remove a messed up disc from my neck and fuse the vertebrae. Recovery going well, most of my symptoms have gone.

But now I have a new problem. When I sleep, I usually fall asleep on my side. At some point in the night I flop over onto my stomach, and virtually always wake up that way. This seems to be causing some sort of compression to my spinal cord: I wake up with the ring and pinky fingers on both hands, half of my palms, and the corresponding parts of both arms completely numb. It goes away, mostly, after waking up/sitting/standing up for a while, which is what leads me to believe it's pressure. (Slight tingling/numbness was a symptom of the messed up disc; this is much worse than it was.)

I specifically believe it's the position, because if I fall asleep on a sofa at my sister's house that is too short for me to stretch out on, I remain in a fetal position when I wake up and don't have this problem.

How do I prevent myself from sleeping on my face without sleeping on a short sofa forever?

I see my neurosurgeon next week to assess how the fusion is going and will be asking about this; looking for something immediate (and free/cheap) that I can do, as I'm worried about causing damage. I have a cervical pillow but usually end up with it thrown somewhere else in my sleep--I wake up without, or under, the pillow most of the time.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
When I had a back injury and needed to sleep on my side I made a wall of pillows behind me, and tucked pillows between my knees and one along my torso. This makes it very hard to move positions.
You could also look at pregnancy sleeping pillows, they basically do the same thing but are all in one. I think I used about 7 pillows for this setup.
posted by littlewater at 9:25 AM on May 22, 2016

Folks with sleep apnea tend to have the opposite problem (rolling onto their backs, which makes the snoring/apnea worse).

Maybe you could try one of their remedies (like taping/attaching a tennis ball to your shirt, or make-shifting a positional device like a Zzoma), but backwards to put the "lump" on your front somehow?
posted by sparklemotion at 9:26 AM on May 22, 2016

Snorers trying to avoid sleeping on their backs sew a tennis ball into the back of their PJs, you could do the same with one in front.
posted by jamaro at 9:26 AM on May 22, 2016

i have similar problems (numb hands etc) for different reasons (ms). what works for me is to put my head towards one end of the pillow (rather than in the middle) and then "hug" the rest of the pillow, with one arm below and one arm above. i don't know why this works for me, or if it will work for you, but it's the only way i can avoid numb hands on a morning.
posted by andrewcooke at 10:12 AM on May 22, 2016

I had to use a body pillow to keep myself probe when I had back problems. My neurosurgeon and pt also talked about using foam wedges to help me keep my position neutral during recovery.
posted by boo_radley at 10:15 AM on May 22, 2016

How many pillows are you using? Dropping down to one pillow instead of two might help reduce the strain on your neck when you sleep.
posted by pharm at 10:41 AM on May 22, 2016

That doesn't sound like a spinal cord problem so much as an ulnar nerve problem (I guess it could be your spine, but you wouldn't normally expect such a clear ulnar distribution). Often caused by pressure on the inside of your elbow (funny bone) or further up the inside of your arm. Are you folding your arms under your pillow like this? Or even over-flexing the elbow can put traction on the nerve if you've already got a problem there.

Anyway yes since you know that sleeping on your side fixes the problem then the tennisball on your PJs solution is probably the quickest and easiest way to retrain yourself. There are other options in that first link if that doesn't work.
posted by tinkletown at 1:36 PM on May 22, 2016

I agree this is from laying on/pinching arms/inner elbows. I'm a stomach sleeper and I get this from time to time, though I think from sleeping this way all my life I mostly figured out how to hold my arms so that it doesn't happen. (I sleep on my stomach with my arms curled under me like a weirdo.) Again, done this my whole life and I still have arms with no problems or "damage" from it.

If it's a problem for you, then yeah, I'd try body pillows, tennis ball trick, and possibly a higher pillow that's uncomfortable on your stomach.
posted by Crystalinne at 2:56 PM on May 22, 2016

I think a contour pillow will solve this. I have one - I got it for a different problem, and I love it so much I can hardly tell you. It holds you in the right position on your back; it works for side sleeping too, but won't let you flop on your tummy. (They make others too, like this somewhat more extreme side-sleeping support one.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:45 PM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Pillows like this are designed for pregnant women, but there's no reason you couldn't use one.
posted by decathecting at 6:01 PM on May 22, 2016

I sleep on my stomach, my neck would sometimes hurt, and I've always vacillated between A) pillow and B) no pillow. I've used medium / firm pillows my whole life, but a year or two I switched to a soft pillow and it's working out well. The pillow is literally half an inch thick in the morning after having been flattened all night. Something simple to try before you head off into more complex solutions.
posted by intermod at 9:19 PM on May 22, 2016

Thank you for ideas. The tennis ball/tshirt thing won't work, so far wedging myself in is working slightly better, and I'm going to see if my niece still has her pregnancy pillow.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:26 AM on May 24, 2016

Saw the neuro this morning, tinkletown nailed it--ulnar problem.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:01 AM on May 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

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