It is well established and agreed upon by the CDC, NIH and many others that 7-9 hours of sleep a night is what most humans need to maintain good mental, emotional, and physical health as well as maintaining healthy weight. 

There are a few tips they all agree upon too. These include being in a cool, quiet, dark place; having a routine that is mentally cooling down for the night; avoiding excess caffeine or alcohol; avoiding later eating; getting lots of sunlight during the day but avoiding especially blue light near bedtime; a good mattress and pillow; and regular exercise.

Exercise and a good sleep position are the two main things people ask me about.

Exercise and Sleep

Exercise is important in life for so many reasons, but we are talking about sleep. So, we will focus there. Regarding sleep, the Mayo Clinic and others suggest that regular exercise can help a person both get to sleep more easily and get into deeper sleep for longer periods, allowing you to feel more rested. That said, the quality of sleep seems to matter more than the amount of time spent sleeping

Low-intensity activity like taking the dog for a walk, is good. Moderate activity, like a bike ride, or a fast walk is better. But the biggest bang comes from vigorous activity. This is the kind of exercise you do where you can talk, but only in three to four-word bouts. This also doesn’t need to last very long. Research does recommend aiming for about 25-30 minutes a day of moderate activity, or about half that if it is vigorous. Also, researchers agree that moderate to vigorous exercise can help decrease stress, depression, anxiety, and even sleep apnea. 

Two other pieces of advice regarding exercise and sleep. First, try not to exercise within 3-4 hours of the time you hope to go to sleep. Exercise tends to excite your body and mind and makes rest a little more difficult. Second, you can do some exercises like stretching or some forms of yoga that are intended to help you rest and relax right before bed without negative effects. In fact, those can often help as part of a routine to get you to sleep faster.  

Sleep Position 

The current “wisdom” suggests a new mattress every 8-10 years. The current technology in many mattresses also help keep you cooler while you sleep. Then, of course, there is the firmness, I find most people I have met are better on a medium to firm mattress. 

The pillow can be trickier. My experience tells me some people prefer a different thickness of pillow when on their back vs. on their side, and for good reason. When on your side, you have a bigger space to fill. And, when it’s not filled by a pillow, it usually means you stuff your arm in there or roll to a half stomach/half side position with one knee bent up which creates its own version of issues for your neck, shoulder, arm, low back and hips. 

Side lying pillows generally need to be about 4 inches thick after they squash to prevent you from putting your arm under your head. But then there is still the issue of putting your knees together. This can be painful for many people, pulling on your hips and back

 so you can add a pillow there, too. One thick enough to keep your thighs about parallel, and even better if it is long enough to reach between your feet as well. A medium-firm, king-sized pillow works well for most people. 

Back sleeping can be lovely, but not everyone is comfy on their backs. That is why I talked about the side first. When on your back, some people like to be more reclined instead of flat. This can take two pillows, one under the tops of your shoulders and one staggered under your head. Often this thickness is about the same overall as the side-lying pillow and sometimes that works. And then, to avoid the complaint of the back arching too much which leads to leg issues, you can put that leg pillow under your thighs, right next to your butt. And start counting sheep… 

I do NOT advocate for stomach sleeping. I have fixed way too many necks from that sleep position. It is often a symptom of the side-sleeping pillow being too low. Neither do I advocate for no pillow. Your spine is not built to be straight. 

Wrap it up

Everyone is different and there can be a lot to account for regarding sleep. Stress, anxiety, sleep apnea, and other things may need to be addressed by a different professional. But there is a lot you can control. See what you can do to fix your comfort, and maybe incorporate exercise. Please always feel free to ask questions of us at Forte.