How to decompress your spine while you sleep, according to a professional stretcher


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Photo: Getty Images/ Adam Kuylenstierna / EyeEm

After spending hours hunched over your desk “working” all day, your spine winds up all kinds of compressed when it comes time to hit the hay. The good news, though, is that you can use those the hours while you’re asleep to stretch things back out without no effort at all.

Spinal compression happens because when you sit for hours each day over a long period of time (we’re talking weeks/months/years), you’re essentially training your body to “become a chair,” says Stretch*d Program Director Jeff Brannigan to which I say, yikes. Unsurprisingly, this can become a problem. “Over time, the muscles around the spine will become stale and dysfunctional which then compromises the support and stability in the back,” he says, noting that this can lead to poor posture and eventual back pain. And so, it’s important to use the part of your life you spend lying down working to decompress your spine. Just as you (hopefully) think about the position of your body when you’re sitting and standing, pros want you to do the same while you’re asleep.

It all starts with your mattress. Generally speaking, a firmer mattress will be better for your back because it “supports the body and helps maintain a straight spine,” says Brannigan. “A softer mattress will allow the spine to curve and is more likely to create imbalances and discomfort in the body.” If you’re not in the market for a new one, consider slipping a piece of plywood beneath whatever you’re currently working with for an instant firm-up.

As far as positioning goes, back sleeping reigns supreme; it’s best sleep position for back pain. “Ideally, you are lying face up with a small pillow or bolster underneath your knees, keeping them slightly bent,” says Brannigan. If you’re a side sleeper, keep your knees bent with a pillow between your legs to help round out your back and keep your legs and hips spaced evenly, and make sure you’ve got a good pillow under your head because you run the risk of increasing tension in your neck and shoulders if your head is pulled too far in one direction. And just as you can use your horizontal time to help with your spinal compression situation, sleeping improperly can also make things worse. Brannigan advises avoiding stomach sleeping at all costs, because it “compresses the back more than any other position.”

We all know that sleep is the single most important component for recovery (sorry, stretching and foam rolling), and finding the best sleep position for back pain will have you waking up ready to tackle the day with a lengthened, happy spine.

Find yourself waking up in the middle of the night? Here’s how to get back to sleep:

To decompress your neck and spine during waking hours, try the “melt method.” Or, grab a foam roller and get to catcus stretching

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