The relationship between sleep and posture

Over the past year, remote working and increased stress levels have had an impact on our spinal health

The past year has been tough for us all, for a variety of reasons. From a lack of social interaction to a loss of income and an inability to travel, the significant adjustments we’ve been forced to make in recent months have taken their toll.

Unsurprisingly, numerous reports have confirmed that stress levels have risen since early 2020, and this stress is bad news for our spinal health. Pair this with the increase in remote working, and it’s clear that taking the time to care for our postural wellbeing is incredibly worthwhile.

We’re going to take a closer look at the importance of spinal health, and how you can use good quality sleep to support it.

What is ‘pandemic posture’?

The impact of the COVID-19 crisis on our spinal health has been so significant that it’s coined a new term: pandemic posture. This refers to the numerous factors that have damaged our postures over the past year.

For one thing, we’ve been exercising less due to gym closures, meaning less mobility and flexibility. We’re also spending far more time sitting, whether that’s in front of a computer screen or a TV. Maintaining a hunched posture for hours at a time, multiple times a week, can lead to long term aches, pains and misalignment.

And on top of all this, the stress of a global pandemic – and the individual impact this has had on each of our lives – is also harming our spines. When we’re stressed, our bodies are tenser. We hunch our shoulders, clench our jaws, and don’t prioritise stretching and recovery. A year’s worth of increased stress has taken its toll on our spinal health.

Why should we care about our posture?

So it’s clear that our postures are at risk right now, but why is this so important? Postural health isn’t just about standing up straight or avoiding aches and pains. In fact, the benefits of good spinal health go much deeper.

Your spine is your central nervous system, meaning it’s your body’s main line of connection. Everything from the tips of your toes to your brain relies on your spine, so when issues occur in your spine, it can impact the rest of your body and even your mental health.

Studies have shown that sitting in a slouched position can negatively affect the function of your internal organs by up to 30%. Making the effort to maintain a good posture can support your body in everything from circulation to digestion.

How does sleep impact posture?

When it comes to improving posture, we’re often advised to sit up straight, be mindful about our sitting or standing position, and take regular breaks from the screen to have a short walk. This is all vital advice, but sleep also has a part to play.

The muscles and ligaments in your back relax and heal as you sleep. In order to fully protect your spinal health, you need to encourage good posture while you sleep.

Regardless of your sleeping position, the key is to try and keep your ears, shoulders and hips aligned. Sleeping on your side or back is generally considered to be the best sleeping positions for your spine, but even then extra pillows can be useful – particularly between the knees of side sleepers.

Sleeping on your stomach isn’t typically something that people should be too concerned about – particularly if that’s the only way you feel comfortable at night. However, it is worth noting that this prone position can lead to excess stress on your spine, as you are forcing your neck to maintain a twisted and slightly raised position on a pillow.

And no matter how you sleep, getting a good night’s rest is paramount. Give yourself enough time to enjoy the seven to nine hours of sleep recommended by the National Sleep Foundation. Wind down effectively in the evenings by putting down your phone at least an hour before bed, and engaging in gentle stretching, meditation or reading instead.

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