This may be a new concept for some of you, but we have posture 24/7, including when we sleep. Our bodies shape themselves to how we use them. Spending 1/3 of your life with a bad pillow is an invitation for neck pain, possibly headaches, and exacerbated jaw pain.
My profession is bodywork, and I specialize in craniosacral therapy and TMJ Relief. I’m interested in the quality of life of my clients and my readers, and that includes quality of sleep, posture, range of motion, habit change, breathing, awareness, deep relaxation…and so much more.
In the past I’ve recommended the Therapeutica Sleeping Pillow often. Nearly every person with jaw issues also has neck issues, so inquiring about sleep posture and pillows is part of my evaluation, and treating the neck is part of nearly every TMJ Relief session.
The Therapeutica pillow is what I’ve used myself for years, and I never have neck pain. It comes in 5 sizes — you measure the width of your shoulder to get the right height for side sleeping. It also supports the curve in the neck for back sleeping.
I’m still recommending it, and there’s another option now as well. Yes, it is more expensive than the Therapeutica Sleeping Pillow, but it has some qualities you may appreciate.
A client recently shared with me that she’s discovered a pillow that she just loves. She has neck, head, and jaw issues. I looked it up, and it has much going for it. It’s the Turiya Organic Latex Pillow.
It’s made of natural latex and is mold and mildew resistant. The cover is made of organic cotton. The pillow is described as “medium firm”.
The top is for side sleeping, and the bottom is for back sleeping. The ear indentations are great for side sleepers with lots of ear piercings.
The average review is 4.2 stars. I haven’t tried it myself, but my client just loves it, and she’s a savvy woman…with neck, head, and jaw issues.
It’s $118, and you can buy it in 4 interest-free installments. If you buy one, you get 15% off a second one. You can try it for 30 days (which they recommend because it may take some getting used to). It comes with a 365 day guarantee, and returns are free.
It is 5 inches high, so if your shoulders are wider than that, you can put a folded towel under it for added height.
If your shoulders are narrower than that, please don’t get this pillow! Try the Therapeutica instead.
The Therapeutica pillow comes in 5 sizes, doesn’t have ear indentations, uses one side for both side and back sleeping, costs about $80 for the average size, is firm, and comes with a 5-year guarantee that it will hold its shape. It does not have ear indentations, but it does have “valleys” to minimize pressure on the jaw for side-sleepers.
It is non-allergenic and has a 90-day return policy.
If you have a favorite pillow or have tried either of these, I’m interested in your experience.
Quality and length of sleep affect the immune system. If you don’t get enough sleep or enough good quality sleep, you’re more likely to get sick from a virus, and it can slow your recovery.
While you sleep, your innate immune system releases cytokines (interferons, interleukins, growth factors). Some cytokines protect you from infectious illness, and lack of sleep reduces production. Antibody production, part of the adaptive immune system, also decreases due to sleep deprivation.
So get enough sleep (adults generally need 7-8 hours), and get good quality sleep to keep your immune system working well.
We can check in with ourselves when we wake each morning (always a good idea) to see if we feel rested or not. This is the biggest indicator of “enough good sleep,” but you may be wondering how to measure quality sleep.
I wear a Fitbit watch that monitors my sleep through movement (rolling over) and heart rate variability. Every morning when I wake up, I first tune into how rested I feel. Then I look at my sleep stats. I aim to get at least 7 hours, and I usually do.
Time asleep matters. I know I do best if I get 7 to 7.5 hours. I’m not using an alarm, so I let myself sleep as long as I want. I often awaken early but keep still with my eyes shut to see if I can go back to sleep, and I usually do.
I imagine lots of people are doing that while sheltering in place.
Fitbit measures sleep quality by duration and percent time spent in each of the three levels of sleep: light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep. It also measures how often I awaken during the night. From all that, Fitbit creates a sleep score. I hope to get 90 or better, but usually my score is in the upper 80s. I’m working on it!
We sleep in cycles of about 90 minutes, cycling between light sleep and deep sleep during the first part of the night, and cycling between light sleep and REM sleep in the later part of the night. We also awaken briefly, or for longer, multiple times during the night, usually about 5 percent.
We spend about 50 percent of total sleep time in light sleep. Our temperature drops. Our heart rate and breathing slow. Our muscles relax and may jerk. We can be awakened more easily.
We spend about 20 percent in deep sleep. Getting enough deep sleep is connected to feeling rested in the morning. It’s restorative. Our brainwaves slow way down. Our brain actually cleans itself during this stage. Tissue growth and cell repair take place. Blood pressure drops, and blood flow to muscles increases. It’s more difficult to awaken from deep sleep.
REM sleep takes up about 25 percent of sleep time. We dream during REM sleep, even if we don’t remember dreaming. The brain wave pattern of REM sleep is closer to wakefulness. This stage is where memory consolidation, problem-solving, and learning occur. Respiration and heart rate increase. Brain activity is high. The body becomes immobile to keep us from acting out our dreams (usually).
Sleep patterns change with age. As we get older we usually get less deep sleep. Some older adults take longer to fall asleep, spend less time in REM sleep, and wake more often during the night. Sleep may begin earlier in the evening, with waking occurring earlier in the morning.
Anxiety Affects Sleep
It’s especially relevant that the anxiety so many are experiencing because of the COVID pandemic may be robbing us of good quality sleep when we really, really need it.
We may be anxious about getting sick or about our loved ones following health guidelines or getting sick. We may be anxious about hospitals being overwhelmed.
Personal finances may have drastically declined.
For some, food and shelter and peaceful co-existence with others in the home are major issues.
Uncertainty about how long this pandemic could last, how long it may take the economy to recover, politics nearly everywhere, mixed messages from medical experts and politicians can keep us awake at night.
How can you improve the quality of your sleep in the time of corona? There are a lot of ways, and I’d love to hear what works for you.
For me, when dealing with my own anxiety, I recognize that it’s in my mind and it’s about the future. These are thoughts that may or may not happen. I realize how fortunate I am to have a home, food, family nearby, friends, and enough income to know I won’t starve.
And then I bring my attention to my body. I notice my breathing. I notice sensations, of textures and temperature and weight, of muscle tension and relaxation, of discomfort. I try to feel my heart beating in my chest.
It’s very calming and helps me fall asleep quickly. Turning off my mind like this took some practice.
What Helps Me Get a Good Night’s Sleep
I am admittedly not a person who loves routine. I don’t have much of a bedtime routine. I don’t put my screens away an hour before bed, but I do stay away from disturbing news late in the day.
I get tired anywhere between 9:30 pm and 12:30 am, though those are extremes. I usually go to bed about 11.
I use a sleep mask because some light leaks in through my curtains.
I don’t drink caffeine after 1 pm.
I put together a playlist of binaural beats for delta brain waves (deep sleep), and I listen to that using headphones sometimes. (Honestly, I’m not sure it makes much difference.)
I get some exercise every day, whether it’s taking a yoga class online, participating in ecstatic dance online, or simply walking. According to the National Sleep Foundation, even light exercise like a 10-minute walk can improve sleep quality.
I get outside and get some sunlight every day, unless it’s raining. Morning sun on my skin feels great and gives me more Vitamin D, which helps immunity.
I often drink a cup of bone broth in the evening, and I take my magnesium in the evening.
I take two supplements, both from Premier Research Labs, with whom I have a practitioner account. Tranquinol is a capsule that improves deep sleep, and Melatonin-ND is a liquid that improves REM sleep.
What helps you sleep better?
Catching Up on Austin COVID Stats
Austin implemented sheltering in place on March 24, so today, April 7, is Day 14.
You may have read in the news about the 70 UT students who chartered a plan to Baja California for spring break and took commercial flights back. Forty-nine of them have tested positive as of 3 days ago.
Zip code 78705, the area west and north of UT that houses many students, has 55 verified cases, the most of any zip code in the county. The 20-29 age group still has the highest number of cases of any age group in the area. It’s a younger city demographically.
Today is Day 2 of sheltering in place in Austin, Texas. We had 119 known cases as of last night (but no deaths so far), and we know the virus is being transmitted in the community. No one I know has it so far, that I’ve heard, but friends and relatives of friends do. The number of cases will almost certainly go up over the next two or three weeks. The hope is that then the number of cases will start declining because of first, social distancing, and now, sheltering in place.
For me, this means staying home, which I have been since Saturday, and for the week before, my outings were rare. I’ve ordered groceries online and picked them up. I have a wonderful daughter who can pick items up and bring them to me. I have groceries enough to last for at least a week, and I’m keeping a list on the fridge door of the items I run out of that I can get next time I shop (which will probably be online to be delivered or picked up curbside, but I do have a mask and gloves in case I need to venture inside a store). My fridge, freezer, and nonperishable shelves are full.
I feel pretty good about my chances of getting through this without getting sick, or of being mildly ill if I do get it. I had a cold in October that was mild and lasted two days, and I couldn’t remember how long it had been since I’d previously had a cold. My immune system is robust.
However, it’s unpredictable. I’m in the 60+ population and therefore considered at risk. I do yoga and dance regularly (now doing these online), I eat healthy (organic unprocessed food mostly), and I meditate, which helps keep my nervous system more balanced rather than going into stress, which is hard on the immune system. I’m working on improving my sleep, getting more deep and REM sleep according to my Fitbit.
I take really high quality supplements from Premier Research Labs and Wellevate. (I have practitioner accounts with both that you can order through if you wish.) I have homeopathic remedies on hand too. I have health insurance should I need it, and I hope that if I do, the health care system isn’t overwhelmed and can tend to me. I’m very very fortunate and grateful.
Y’all, no one is immune. This virus targets humankind. It’s a great equalizer. It doesn’t respect fame, power, talent, or riches. Movie stars, professional athletes, famous artists, royalty, and politicians have come down with it. Because it’s novel, no one has immunity, except those who have completely recovered from it.
I’m hearing people say things like “What a year this past week has been” and “there are many days in a day.” We’re in a time of rapid change.
I believe when this pandemic is over, some aspects of our lives will not go back to the way they were. This will influence people living through it for the rest of our lives. We will not take our health for granted. We will better understand the relationship between lifestyle and health. We will require that our governments take actions that support our health over corporate profits.
Dead people don’t buy stuff.
I hope the biggest takeaway is that we humans are ALL connected through our humanity. We are all dependent on this planet for our lives. Maybe we will treat each other, and our home planet, much better.
Blessings for health, immunity, resiliency, resourcefulness, and connection. 💚🙏🏽
It’s now January 2017, and I’m here to give you an update, prompted by a couple of comments I’ve received recently from readers who are suffering from SI joint pain.
I finally stopped wearing the belt last month, in December 2016. That’s right, I wore it most of the time for 18 months, a year and a half. My pelvis feels pretty aligned now. It’s not perfect, but it is strong and tight enough that the joint stays in place. Since I started wearing it, I haven’t had that unstable, painful feeling of my SI joint going out. Continue reading →
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.
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. Continue reading →
Even though I’ve had expensive chiropractic work done on my neck and have been told I need to sleep on my back, I’ve always found it difficult to do so. I feel so much more comfortable sleeping on my side and on my stomach, which really puts strain on my neck.
I’m not sure why this is. It just is. I get to sleep well, and I stay asleep well, but I toss and turn a lot trying to get comfortable.
Also, I know from experience and education that the atlanto-occipital joint and the upper cervical area where the neck and head converge is a critical juncture in the body that affects movement, including eye movement. My current chiropractor has actually helped my vision improve. She practices SOT, sacral-occipital technique, which is not mainstream chiropractic but works on the nervous system as much as on the bones.
When I mentioned my difficulty with sleep postures yesterday to Dr. Mary, she showed me a pillow especially designed to help people sleep on their backs and on either side while keeping their necks and heads properly aligned with their spines.
I took a look, read the packaging, tried it, and decided that even though I’m in a frugal phase, I couldn’t afford to not buy one. Back sleeping is so much better for the body, especially the head and neck, but also the internal organs. Not to mention preventing (more) wrinkles.
The packaging also says it helps reduce snoring by keeping critical air passages open.
For back sleeping, the pillow supports the curves of the upper back and cervical vertebrae and has an indention for the back of the head that helps keep it stable.
For side sleeping, it has blocky “wings” that keep the head aligned with the neck. It even apparently has a little “give” to it in just the right places for people who suffer from TMJ pain to sleep more comfortably.
Best of all, these wings come in different heights, depending on the width of your shoulders. Between child-size, petite, average, large, and extra large, there’s a size that fits everyone.
Average and smaller pillows fit into regular pillowcases; large and extra-large need king pillowcases.
Here’s what it looks like:
The Therapeutica sleeping pillow was designed by a chiropractor and an ergonomic designer. It currently sells for $71 on Amazon. There’s also a travel pillow without the wings that currently sells for $58 that would be good for people who only sleep on their backs.
These prices may change, of course, and if you’re on a budget, you may be able to find these selling for less through other Amazon third-party retailers.
You’re probably waiting to hear what it was like to sleep with it! I’ve only done it one night so far, but here’s my report.
I shifted from my back to each side numerous times, spending more time sleeping on my sides because it felt so darn comfortable. This is new, having my head supported at the right height.
I did sleep on my back occasionally but did not automatically become a back sleeper. I imagine that over time, I’ll become more comfortable back-sleeping.
And I’m extremely happy to say that I did not sleep on my stomach at all.
Today I can get rid of some of the many pillows I had on my bed to attempt to accommodate my various sleep postures. I am really grateful for this find.
Just received a wonderful testimonial from someone who hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in three weeks. I worked on her for two hours yesterday doing an integrative massage, and something really shifted for her.
I sit here at my computer after the best night’s sleep I’ve had in weeks. I am so deeply grateful for your loving energy yesterday. Your integrity, touch, and presence were exactly what I needed to break open the clogged dam of emotions that’s been keeping me from sleep.
All throughout the massage, I could feel and take in your love and healing energy which is abundantly transferred through your hands. When you said ‘How you feel matters,’ my soul got the message that you cared enough to hear, see, and touch me. When you did the cranial-sacral hold, I felt like I was being cradled by my mother.
You had asked the question, ‘What happened three weeks ago?’ … My insomnia has been “waking me up” to the fact of unfinished business…. Your work allowed me to dive through the opening and swim the turbulent waters on top of a still well. I’m not quite at the still well yet, but I have faith that I’ll get there.
All I can say in response is that it was a real pleasure and an honor to work on her. I feel grateful that opportunities to make a difference like this are coming my way in this new livelihood of massage and bodywork.
I’ve been doing massage since June, but I haven’t posted very much about it on this blog. I’ve been getting my bearings, gaining hands-on experience. I also maintain the confidentiality of my clients.
I’d like to write about my work, as long as my clients remain anonymous. I would have liked to read about what it’s like to work as a massage therapist, so maybe me posting about it will serve that need for someone else.
I massaged a woman who had recently had jaw surgery. She was going to physical therapy, and the PT said her neck muscles were so tight, a massage was in order.
At her request, I just worked on her back, shoulders, and neck, and I persuaded her to let me spend some time working on her feet.
It is incredibly relaxing to have foot reflexology and/or foot massage. I gave her both. There are zones on the feet that correspond to the rest of the body, so working the feet softens tense areas before I even get to them.
If you ever just want to relax and don’t have time for a full body massage, foot massage and reflexology are wonderful.
I allowed plenty of time in our session to work on her neck both when she was face down and after she turned over. I did a combination of Swedish massage and deep massage (Lauterstein method) to work on her circulatory and lymphatic systems and her structure and energy.
She told me she was having difficulty sleeping. She said she had always slept on her stomach with no pillow. Post-surgery, she was having to sleep on her back, propped up on pillows. She found it awkward and uncomfortable.
I shared with her what had helped me after I had had some major chiropractic work on my neck and was told to sleep on my back: hugging a pillow against my body. The weight of it feels comforting to a stomach sleeper.
Afterwards, she said she felt much better.
That’s one of the things I love most about being a massage therapist. What I do makes a tangible difference in people’s quality of life.
I worked on another woman who had been on her feet all weekend at an outdoor music festival. She wanted a lot of attention to her feet and legs as part of her full body massage. She booked a 90 minute massage, which is twice as relaxing as a 60 minute massage!
Truthfully, I don’t know how to quantify how relaxing a massage is. That’s a subjective measure. I just know that when I give a 60 minute massage, if the person is larger than average or has an area that needs extra attention and still wants a full body Swedish massage, the massage feels rushed, to me.
I don’t know if it feels rushed to them. Maybe that’s all they’ve ever known, and they have no idea how much more relaxed they could feel if they had a longer session. It’s their choice — and I’m not beyond suggesting that a client book a longer session next time!
I did Swedish/deep massage and reflexology/foot massage on her and was able to work at a more relaxed and relaxing pace. IMO, she did herself a huge favor by booking 90 minutes. She relaxed very deeply and looked happy when I met with her after the session.
I like using aromatherapy. It adds a nice dimension to a massage both to the client and to me.
I often put the essential oil blend Valor (from Young Living) on the client’s feet before massaging them. The way I see it, everyone needs more valor to face life, and here’s a way to get some!
When clients turn over from being face down, their breathing is often congested. When that’s the case, I like to take a drop of Eucalyptus radiata oil, rub it between my hands, and then place my hands near the client’s nose. Their eyes are covered, so they don’t see it coming. They simply smell the eucalyptus, a pleasant surprise, and it clears their breathing passages.
At the end of a massage, especially when the client has gone into a deep trance or fallen asleep, I like to rub a drop of peppermint or rosemary oil between my palms and allow the scent to help wake the client up in a refreshing way.
Insomnia is a malady I have rarely had over the last few years. Only when I drink caffeine late in the day (I usually know better), and even more rarely, when I feel so disturbed about some issue in my life that my mind can’t let go of it do I lie awake at night unable to sleep and feel like a zombie the next day.
I have experienced months of insomnia every night in the past, however, and that experience has given me great compassion for those who suffer from it. A good night’s sleep is just essential for well-being.
I’ve posted about various remedies for insomnia occasionally. You can search my blog on “insomnia” to find those posts if you wish.
Cures or relief from insomnia is a topic of great interest. New information emerges. I’m interested in what works. Could it be that there is not a “one size fits all” cure for insomnia?
Today I stumbled across a video purportedly created by scientists to help you sleep. I listened to it (and did not fall asleep, but it’s morning and I am well rested already). I found it very peaceful. I can imagine that it would help me fall asleep.
The only other information I could find is that the video and music are by a band called Marconi Union. I don’t know if this is a band of scientists or what!
The best help I know of for insomnia (and the most expensive) is brainwave optimization. I wasn’t experiencing any insomnia when I did the five days of brain training in June 2011. But it has been known to help with insomnia, and a study is underway to learn more about its effects on insomnia.
Even more awesome, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is undertaking this study of insomnia, and other studies are planned for migraines, mild cognitive impairment, and traumatic brain injury/concussion later this year!