Inviting deep, restful sleep: tips for positioning and good sleep practices

Positioning for Sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep is hugely important for your well-being. Use sleep positioning to align your bones, support your limbs, and open your joints, relaxing muscles and minimizing tension and pain so that your sleep is fully restful.

Have on hand a variety of pillows of various sizes and firmness as well as towels in various sizes to prevent rolling and add support. Special pillows support the neck and head.

When preparing for sleep, scan your body for tension and adjust to relieve tension. Re-scan and re-adjust. You may need to keep doing this for a few weeks as your body responds.

Sleeping on Your Back

Support your neck and upper back. Place a pillow with the bottom edge at the level of the shoulder blades or use a cervical support cushion under the upper spine and neck. You may prefer a pillow that cradles the back of your head as well.

For leg and hip comfort, make a wedge-shaped support under the thighs with the upper edge tucked under the buttocks to create a slight bend in the knees.

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If the small of the back is not resting on the bed, support it with a small cushion or rolled hand towel. If desired, place pillows along the body to support the arms and hands.

Sleeping on Your Side

Place a pillow between the armpit and the top of the pelvis to relieve pressure on the bottom shoulder and hip and keep the spine from sagging at the waist. Try several sizes to find one that works with your shape.

Add a firm pillow under the head to keep it level with the spine.

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Place pillows in front of the body to support the upper arm and leg at the height of the side-lying body. To reduce joint strain, the elbow should be level with the shoulder and the knee level with the hip. The entire upper leg and foot should rest on the pillow (unlike in the image above – I will replace this with a better one when I find one). The legs can both be bent or either leg can lie straight with the other bent. A body pillow might work to support the arm and upper leg.

Sleeping with the feet pointed can contribute to plantar fasciitis, so keep the ankles bent.

If You Change Positions During the Night

I recommend the Therapeutica Sleeping Pillow, which positions the upper spine, neck, and head optimally for back-sleeping and sleeping on either side. It helps with neck and TMJ disorder problems. Designed by a chiropractor and an ergonomic designer, you’ll need to measure your shoulder width to get the right size for your body since it comes in 5 sizes.

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Sleep Hygiene

It takes time to accept a new way of sleeping. Consistency is key. Position yourself for sleep, and if after a few minutes you are not asleep, locate the area of discomfort and adjust the cushioning. If you are still awake after another 10 minutes, throw the pillows out and start over the next night.

Continue positioning yourself with pillows every night. As your body adjusts, you may need to adjust your pillows. Within 30 days, your body will accept the new way of sleeping.

Eating, drinking, and exercising affect sleep

  • Regular exercise increases and deepens sleep. Avoid exercising for 2-3 hours before bed.
  • Avoid caffeine after noon and alcohol after 6 pm.
  • No naps after 3 pm.
  • Eat foods that have sleep-inducing properties (white meat turkey, fish, leafy greens, bananas, cherries, dates, figs, dairy products, whole grains, high-glycemic jasmine rice, chamomile tea, decaffeinated green tea). Avoid greasy or spicy foods. Eat several hours before bedtime.
  • Receiving a massage can help you sleep better. Some clients have reported that craniosacral therapy has relieved their insomnia.

Preparing for sleep

  • Create a sleep sanctuary that’s quiet, dark, and cool, without distractions. You can include soothing music, sounds to induce theta and delta brain waves, or white noise, and add a pleasing aroma. Make sleeping a priority in this room and avoid stimulating or upsetting activities.
  • Make sure your mattress is supportive; if not, it’s time to shop for a new one.
  • Let your day wind down. Develop routines or rituals around going to bed. An Epsom salt bath before bed can help relax you.
  • Stay up until you feel tired. Conversely, knowing when you need to get up and how many of hours of sleep you need, go to bed at the best time for you to wake up fully rested. If you get up at the same time every day, you’ll soon fall asleep when tired.

Inviting sleep

  • Learn to progressively relax each body part from toes to head, adjusting pillows to relieve strain. Then you will be able to simply scan your body for tension and release it. Don’t be surprised if you need to readjust the pillows after a few weeks as your body becomes more relaxed.
  • Do 4-7-8 breathing. When you are positioned for sleep, place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth behind your upper front teeth and keep it there. Inhale through your nose for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 7, and exhale through your mouth for a count of 8. Repeat for a total of 4 breaths, then breathe normally. This oxygenates your body, releases carbon dioxide, slows your heart rate, lowers your blood pressure, and calms your nervous system. A second set of four breaths may be needed for your body to respond. You can also use this during the day to relieve tension.
  • If you still haven’t fallen asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something boring until you feel sleepy again, keeping the lights dim.
  • If you awaken with something on your mind, jot it down and let it go until tomorrow.
  • Maintain a regular sleep-wake cycle, even on weekends.
  • If you still struggle with insomnia, I recommend a 5-week online program that offers cognitive behavior therapy. Find it at

An invitation to relax

One of the major challenges of modern life is managing stress. Our autonomic nervous system switches us between the sympathetic state (fight or flight) and parasympathetic state (rest and digest). Due to traffic, news, work pressure, social pressure, the clock, the lure of electronic devices, etc., many of us spend a large part of our waking time feeling stressed, which affects our sleep and can lead to adrenal fatigue. Our relaxation is superficial, rather than complete and deep.

Consider the ability to deeply relax a valuable skill that will enhance the quality of your life. I invite you to consider these questions:

How relaxed can I become and still be awake?

How can I accomplish this?

If you would like my assistance with any of these suggestions (sleep positioning, setting up a sleep sanctuary, 4-7-8 breathing, relaxation), I offer wellness coaching sessions at the same rate as my bodywork sessions.

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