The picture to the left is my son Reggie. His sleep position mirrors how I slept for the first forty years of my life. One knee hiked up, basically sleeping on the stomach which is just awful for the spine but easy for the psoas muscle. Technically this isn’t full on stomach sleeping which is even worse but really, who wants to win a misery contest?
Sleeping on the stomach flattens the curve of the lumbar spine from which no good can come. Sleeping with one knee raised over the other torques the pelvis for the duration of sleeping. Again no good can come from a pelvis that is misaligned for hours at a time. Why we do this is another story. I have always felt that the body finds itself in this position as a means of accommodating the psoas that might be tight and which will be much more comfortable with the leg and hip flexed.
For years I woke up with a stiff and achy back, and when I finally committed to sleeping on my side with my legs together and slightly bent, it didn’t take long for a lot of my nightly discomfort to pass. Personally, I didn’t need to tie my legs together to stop them from separating but I know plenty of people who had to go that far in order to change a lifelong habit.
The classic manifestation of the psoas when tight is for the affected leg and foot shortened into the hip socket and turn out with the pelvis and shoulder of the same side to draw closer to each other. The whole affected side shortens. The thing is that I don’t think Reggie has a particularly tight psoas so I am not exactly sure why he gravitates towards this position unless the pattern was in my DNA that I shared with him because he has never seen me sleep that way (my daughter never sleeps in this position).
So many people carry around aches and pains that are relatively easy to resolve but require a conscious approach to repetitive actions that we take for granted. Most people do not for a second consider that there sleep position could be harmful. And then there are those who intuited that the way that they sleep could be a problem due to the way they wake up but still don’t make the leap to necessary change.
There are injuries that we suffer as a direct result of an action—a car accident, a fall down stairs—but there are also repetitive stress injuries that add up over years of poor patterning. While I realize that most people wouldn’t consider sleeping as the cause of a repetitive stress injury I don’t see why not.