Let’s face it: most of us simply don’t give much thought on how we sleep. We don’t always plan or measure how much we sleep or whether we sleep in the right position. We curl up, bend, twist and crouch in every position imaginable and, more often than not, we can wake up with a sore neck or back.

Although most of us see sore necks and sore backs as minor discomforts during our work day, these apparently trivial medical conditions can grow into more serious health concerns. For instance, some people may have an increased risk of heart attacks when sleeping on their stomachs, while heavy smokers or overweight people may find it difficult to sleep on their backs.

Similarly, not getting enough sleep may be detrimental to our mental and physical well-being, especially in the long run. It may affect our judgment, it can interfere with our decision-making, work performance and may create life-threatening situations in settings that involve the operation of a vehicle or heavy machinery. Physicians and sleep experts point out that prolonged sleep deprivation may lead to depression, anxiety and other serious conditions. On the other hand, when one is sleeping too much, it may indicate poor thyroid function or severe neurological issues which must be dealt as soon as possible.

So how much sleep should you get?

The simple, straightforward answer, which is promoted and supported by almost all medical studies, is that humans need between 6 to 9 hours of sleep for every 24 hours. More precisely, studies suggest that a healthy individual requires a median of 7 to 8 hours of sleep per day, the variance depending on certain biological factors such as age, sex, physical activity and mental health. Sleep deprivation, as it is defined by medical experts, occurs when a person is not able to get the required amount of sleep for more than five days consecutively. After this period, the human body tries to balance hormonal levels, control brain activity and raise awareness by consuming large amounts of energy. If this period lasts longer than ten days, serious symptoms may become apparent, such as extreme fatigue, hallucinations, anxiety, anguish and loss of balance.

Which are the best sleep positions?

Sleeping on your back, arms at your sides — this is generally considered the best sleeping position for humans, as it helps relax the vertebrae and the back muscles, but also the neck. When sleeping in this position, it’s best that you don’t use too many pillows, as they can create a bad posture, which may result in back pain. One downside for this sleeping position is the increased risk of sleep apnea, especially for overweight people or people with asthma.

Sleeping face down — while comfortable, should be done infrequently. This is because the neck will twist in order to allow normal breathing, which may cause neck pain. Sleeping face down tends to be comfortable because it improves digestion and relaxes the back muscles and the spine, but after a few hours it can become quite painful.

Sleeping in a fetal position — many people sleep with their knees drawn up to their chin and their hands curled up on their torso. While this position may seem comfortable for many of us, sleep experts and chiropractors point out that it is actually one of the worst sleep positions. It doesn’t allow muscle relaxation, puts pressure on your joints, and also stresses the spine and back. This position is also bad for breathing, as it doesn’t allow deep breathing — an essential element for quality sleep.

Sleeping on your side — if done correctly, this can do wonders for your spine and the muscles of your back. It reduces neck and back pain, and also eliminates the risk of sleep apnea. The problem, however, is that most people can’t control their exact sleeping position during the whole night. For instance, sleeping on the side with an arm stretched out can cause pain due to restricted blood flow and nerve pressure. Similarly, this sleeping position may cause some problems for pregnant women, as it can create unwanted gravity related issues. In general, you want to keep your shoulders, hips, and knees squared. Body-length pillows can be used to facilitate the proper orientation.

Your sleep hygiene can have a huge impact on your day, as well as your overall health. If you notice fatigue or recurring back pain, you may want to consider how well you take care of yourself while you’re sleeping off the day’s work. If it is severe enough, or has been an issue for some time, consider getting some medical advice and consult a chiropractor like Dr. Mark in Ashley Park to get relief.

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Flaviu Mircea is a freelance writer who sources his studies and experience to provide advice and opinion articles on a variety of topics affecting family life and the business world.