From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Could Sleeping Be the Problem?

Sure, a good night’s sleep can fix almost anything, but tell that to the person who has awakened with a stiff back or neck. Or the person whose sleep is causing back pain that’s more than just a little temporary.

Blame it on the bed, the pillow, the noisy neighbors or the sleeping position, but sometimes even the seemingly innocuous task of sleeping can be the cause of pain. One ergonomist reported working with an employee who was complaining about neck and shoulder pain (The Ergonomics ReportTM, September 2003). After asking questions and eliminating other possible causes, the ergonomist found out that the employee had been sleeping in a tightly clenched position that wasn’t allowing his body a chance to recover from his day’s activity.

Basically, sleeping is another task the body needs to perform. Whether the day’s activity was jogging, waiting tables or sitting in front of a computer, the task of sleeping gives the body a much-needed time to recover. And, like most other tasks, even sleeping has its share of “tools” (such as the mattress) that make the task more comfortable. Once simple, today’s mattresses come with a variety of features to accommodate not only sleeping but also an aching back. These features include extra padding, air-filled chambers, fabrics for summer and winter, adjustable portions and separate controls to make separate sides of a bed softer or firmer. But for the person with low back pain, which one is best?

A report in the Fall, 1996 Journal of Southern Orthopaedic Association reported that studies indicate a firm mattress provides the best sleeping posture for a person with low back pain. Still, mattress selection has to appeal to the sleeper. With that in mind, the journal developed the following guidelines for mattress selection: “The point of using a mattress is to have even support along the contours of the body, without applying too much pressure on the bony prominences. Further, the mattress should provide support without causing awkward, pain-producing contours of the spine. . . . [T]he mattress should be soft and give enough to fit the contours of the body, but it should not sag and cause stress to the spine.”

Sleeping and ergonomics was discussed in the September, 2003 issue of The Ergonomics Report, Ergoweb’s monthly subscription newsletter.

Sources: The Ergonomics Report; Journal of Southern Orthopaedic Association