Do you wake up with headaches? If so, there is a good chance that you need to change your sleep position. Sleeping is one of the first things I go over when a patient comes in for headaches. How we are sleeping plays into the amount of tension placed through the cervical spine. If you think about how many hours your body has to put up with bad positioning during the night, it only makes sense that you wake up with a headache. As this is a common conversation in the clinic, let me take you through a typical conversation with a patient about sleeping position.
Me: So here are the no no’s of sleeping. First, absolutely no stomach sleeping! I have repeat patients who come into the clinic 6 months after their final treatment all because they couldn’t break their habit of stomach sleeping. If a patient says they tend to stomach sleep, day one I explain that treatment will be limited and we will most likely see a digression in between sessions. Here’s why; as we discussed in my first post, the headache is caused by a joint in the neck that has lost its ability to move, this limits the amount of rotation for the head and increases stress through the neck when the head is rotated. Stomach sleepers need at least 90 degrees of rotation in order to breathe. If you sleep on your stomach for say 8 hours a night, it’s no wonder the first thing you feel in the morning is a raging headache and a sore neck.
Patient: So how do I fix it?
Me: Don’t sleep on your stomach :)
Patient: How do I change the way I sleep if I’m tossing and turning the whole night?
Me: Give it time, you would surprise yourself on how much control you have of your sleeping position. Force yourself to fall asleep on your back or side and every time you have the urge to roll onto your stomach, just remember how awful it feels in the morning.
Patient: What are the alternative positions?
Me: Back sleeping is my first choice followed closely by side sleeping. Back sleepers typically allow for their cervical and lumbar spine to relax throughout the night, but I also find that this is the least common position to sleep in. If you choose the side sleeping option just know that it helps to have a thicker pillow to allow the spine to rest in neutral and a second pillow to hold onto in order to prevent the shoulder from drooping causing neck tension.
So there you have it, the cure for those morning headaches may be something as simple as changing the way you sleep. Give it a shot and let me know how it goes.