Becoming a Sleep Master

According to a recent study analyzing data from sleep apps, Kiwis sleep an average of 8 hours and 4 minutes a night. That's pretty decent considering we're always being told to sleep at least 8 hours. We're ahead of many other developed countries, including Australia, France, Canada and the US, although we're just a smidgeon behind the Dutch.

This discussion on quantity of sleep all makes the quality of our sleep that much more important. There's no point patting ourselves on the back for the number of hours we sleep if the sleep itself is poor, or if we wake up feeling stiff and sore. Considering we spend a third of our lives in bed, we may as well invest in trying to make that third as comfortable and as effective as possible.

A major way to help improve sleep quality is sleep posture, and the kind of mattress and pillow you use. You'll need a good quality mattress that is firm but able to yield to the contours of the body. The right pillow should be the right softness and the right height for your sleeping posture. Pillows made from feathers or down should be avoided as the head sinks into it and the head cannot make the appropriate minor changes to head position throughout the night. Foam pillows generally have the right density for a good firm to soft ratio. Recommended pillows include the Complete Sleeprrr Pillow, the Denton Pillow, the Peace Pillow and a number of other memory foam pillows.

Lying on your stomach is the worst position for your spine, as your head will be twisted to one side, placing a lot of stress through the lower neck-upper back region. Lying on your back and side are ideal, but in each case they need to be supported by an appropriate pillow in order to keep your spine in a neutral position.

For back sleepers, the pillow under the head should be firm to allow the muscles to relax, and thin enough for the head to rest in a neutral position. Overstuffed (or multiple) pillows cause the head to tilt forward on an angle and make the surrounding muscles work hard to provide support. Additionally, to support the natural curve in the lower back, some people find it helpful to place a pillow underneath the knees.

For side sleepers, the pillow under the head should be firm to support the head, and thick enough to fill the space between shoulder and neck and allow the head to rest in a neutral position. If the pillow is too thin the head drops down and if the pillow is too thick the head is squished to one side. In both cases the neck muscles are put under too much strain. The neck should be able to lie flat so the head is in line with the shoulder. Additionally, to support the pelvis and prevent the hips from rolling forward and twisting the spine, some people find it helpful to place a pillow between the knees.

In order to improve sleep in other respects, this checklist below helps to track sleep quality. Compare sleep on days when you check most of these to days when you don't check as many. Additionally there are a number of sleep apps that you can use to measure the quality of your sleep and the amount of time you spend in deep sleep.

If you're doing most of the above and you're still having poor sleep or in pain when you wake up, perhaps it's time to get your spine checked by a Chiropractor. When your body is in balance with itself, it becomes more stress free, functions better and so sleep comes more naturally and freely.