At least some aches & pains and signs of ill health that a person suffers from could stem from not sleeping, sitting or standing the right way. You may be surprised to know that you may be causing yourself not only some discomfort, but even lasting harm by things like a poor sitting posture, sleeping the wrong way or even by not standing right.
Should you sleep on your stomach, your back or on your side? Which side is better to sleep on? We spend a third of our life asleep, so we really should know the answers to those questions. We also spend significant amounts of our day sitting and standing; not doing these the right way can lead to musculoskeletal problems. So, it makes sense to find out more about the right ways to sleep, sit and stand – to be aware of the potential problems that could stem from not doing these the right way.
How to sleep right
Many specialists recommend that sleeping on one’s back with the arms loosely stretched above the head (sometimes referred to as the starfish position) or by the side (as in the yogic shavasan posture) is the best position for sleep. This places the least pressure on the internal organs of the body and the limbs. Lying on one’s back while sleeping is also thought to be good to prevent premature aging, because sleeping on one’s back is seen to cause fewer wrinkles. Since this sleep position also puts less pressure on the food pipe and stomach, there are fewer chances of suffering acidity, which is caused by the contents of the stomach traveling up. However, some people find that this sleep position can cause snoring and pain in the shoulders.
Others simply find it uncomfortable, even impossible to sleep on their backs for any length of time. Sleeping on one’s side is another recommended position. This is relaxing for the back, prevents neck pain and also lowers chances of snoring and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea by keeping the airways optimally open. So which side is best – left or right? There is evidence to show that sleeping on one’s left reduces acidity. Pregnant women are also advised to sleep on their left side because it is good for the fetus and the mother-to-be. However, make sure to keep your knees and ankles one above the other to maintain a relaxed position of the spine. Keeping a pillow between your knees is also recommended to maintain correct spinal alignment. By no means should you place one leg in front of the other while sleeping on your side. This misaligns the spine causing long-term harm.
There seems to be consensus among experts that the least desirable position to sleep is sleeping on one’s stomach because of the way one has to twist their neck sideways and position their head sideways from the rest of the body. This can cause back ache and neck strain among many. Sleeping on the stomach also means having to crane the neck to breathe while asleep.
That said, it is important to remember that one’s natural inclination is important to consider when sleeping. A majority of people do sleep on their side, only about one third of people lie on their back or stomach. The important thing to consider is, do you wake up feeling rested and refreshed after your nightly sleep? Or do you note any aches or pains? There is no point in trying to sleep on your back just to prevent wrinkles if you’re uncomfortable in that position. Changing your sleep position because someone said so can possibly hamper quality of sleep and is not advisable. If changing your sleep position alters and improves your sleep quality, you can try and get used to it.
It is also advisable to choose your mattress and pillow with care. If you’re waking up feeling tired or have aches and pains, examine these: a saggy, lumpy mattress could be causing your back pain; a too thick or too soft pillow may be responsible for that nagging neck pain.
How to sit correctly
Most of us spend most of our waking hours in a seated position. Recent research shows that the human body is not designed for the sedentary life most of us live or for the long hours we spend in a seated position. This is simply because sitting for long periods is unnatural; regular movement is what our bodies are meant for. In fact, studies tell us that sitting for most of the day as we do could result in diseases like obesity, heart disease and diabetes, and cause us to die before our time.
While sitting itself is bad for us, sitting in the incorrect position is even worse! A good sitting posture is therefore vital. Keep the back straight, maintaining a normal curve of the spine (not slumped over to the front or leaning too far back). Body weight should be evenly distributed on both hips, knees should be bent at right angles and feet should be flat on the floor. Sitting for any length of time with the legs crossed at the knees is not recommended as it puts unnatural pressure on the knees and calves, besides harming the back.
Many people find that alternating the above posture with a cross-legged posture helps. Tucking one leg up on your chair not only helps vary your position, it also facilitates circulation and helps you sit up straighter. If you’re experiencing some stiffness or back pain, you may want to try this. Try to keep one leg up on your seat (you may need to modify your chair or buy one with adjustable arm rests) for a while and then alternate with the other.
If you’re working long hours at the computer desk, you must have a chair with adequate lumbar support and armrests that let you rest your elbows and forearms while keeping your arms in a comfortable position. The mouse and keyboard should be within easy reach and the monitor at a level that does not need you to strain to look up or down. You should also try and maintain a good seated posture if you spend long periods behind the steering wheel of a car.
It’s also important to keep moving and not to sit still and unmoving. Take frequent breaks. Get up and walk around at regular intervals. If you have to speak to a co-worker, get up and go over rather than speak over the intercom. If it is possible, do some of your work standing up or strolling around: perhaps you can read reports or study charts while moving around on your feet? Also try and slip in some stretches while at your desk: shoulder rolls, ankle rotations, neck rotations, stretching your arms above your head and so on.
How to stand right
Though we don’t spend all that much time standing (unless our particular jobs require us to stand for long periods) it is also important to stand using the correct posture. It’s important because of the way it impacts your physical wellbeing and also because of the impression it conveys to others: the way you stand can convey self-confidence or diffidence, dominance or submissiveness, interest or indifference. Standing right could also help you change and improve your own attitude, not just change how others view you! Plus, the right standing position prevents spinal problems, pressure on ligaments and joints and also helps to prevent backache and general fatigue.
Keep the spine in a straight and upright position while maintaining its natural curve. The weight of the body should be distributed equally on both feet – try not to keep your weight on one foot, though it can be very tempting to do so. The shoulders should be squared. Don’t slump forward or to let your stomach stick out.
Don’t lock your knees and keep your arms to your sides in as natural and non-stiff a position as possible. Don’t give in to the instinct to fold in the chest: not only is it bad for the spine, it conveys the impression of being diffident and underconfident. Guard against hunching of the shoulders and rounding of the back. The feet should ideally be placed hip-width apart and should be pointing forward rather than be turned inward or outward.
If you spend long durations standing, the right shoes are also important. While there are arguments for and against going barefoot, this may not be a viable or safe option in many environments. So ensure comfortable footwear that spreads your body weight equally all over your feet, and which offers support and breathability. Walking around frequently to stretch the muscles and vary the standing position is also important.
So, in conclusion, the best position for sleep is that which you find comfortable and which best alleviates aches, pains, acidity and snoring problems for you. For sitting correctly, the right posture is vitally important; and it is also important to have a reasonably active lifestyle where you spend a signification proportion of your time engaged in some exercise, activity or sport to counter the known negative impacts of sitting for long durations. Examine your mattress, the desk and chair you use and the shoes you wear to get it right. And remember stand right not just for your health and wellbeing but also for your looks!