Today I want to expand on a topic Dr. Charlie brought up in a recent post. He taught us the best positions to sleep in are on your back or your side. Read on for some details as to why!
Dreaming of Jelly Doughnuts?
There is a squishy jelly doughnut type-thing in between each of the bones in your spine – better known as the intervertebral discs. The intervertebral discs do NOT have a blood supply, but they do have a high water content. When the discs are compressed, the water content decreases; when the compressive force is taken away, the water levels are normalized…almost like a sponge. This movement of water is how the discs acquire life-sustaining nutrients and dispose of wastes. Without this transfer, the discs will degenerate and cease to function. Another good example of how movement sustains life!
As we go about our daily activities and our body deals with the effects of gravity, the water content of the discs gradually decreases. Sleeping is important to the discs since we are lying down (hopefully!) while we sleep. This (lying down) results in the removal of axial compressive forces due to gravity and allows the discs to imbibe water and nutrients while we sleep. This sounds important, right?!
Consider this: When the bones in your neck rotate, they also compress, or move closer together at the same time. So when you look to the right, the bones are squishing the discs on the right side.
Give Those Discs a Breather!
At the end of the day we have a bunch of tired, cranky, hungry discs that are swimming in their own waste! Not very pleasant sounding is it? So, let’s examine the position of a stomach sleeper. They are obviously face down, but how will they breathe? That’s right! They have to rotate their head to one side or the other…theoretically for 6-8 hours…and keep all that pressure on those tired and cranky discs.
But, why does this really matter? In other words you will be putting constant compressive forces on the discs for an extended period of time which will prevent them from being able to absorb water and nutrients. Imagine doing this every single night! Nobody wants to intentionally predispose themselves to developing degenerative osteoarthritis/disc disease at a VERY young age or adverse cardiovascular effects. Just another reason to consider how you bunk-down!
Health Note: arthritis is a normal response to an abnormal situation. It is NOT however a part of the normal aging process, so no, it does not happen to everyone. Your sleeping position is one of the small things you can control in your everyday life to prevent it.
So remember: sleeping on your back or your side will help keep your spine healthy and happy!
Check back at Dr. Charlie’s previous post for other tips on how to sleep! Take my word for it…enduring a few restless nights while you adjust to a new sleeping posture will be far better than dealing with the alternatives for the rest of your life. Sweet dreams!