Best Sleep Position For Musicians
Your sleep position as a musician matters more than you think. How your head and neck are positioned, your arms, shoulders, hands, and wrists. Your low back will also suffer if your sleep position is less than ideal.
Stomach sleeping is arguably the worst position. It requires that you turn your head to one side or another. If you sleep 6-8 hours a night, this could mean that your head is turned to one side for a long time. This head position puts a strain on your neck, head, and shoulders, and may lead to headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain, numbness, tingling, weakness, and even frozen shoulder. There is no ideal pillow for this position. The position, while it may feel comfortable, is too flawed to be helped by a pillow. Additionally, if you are on your stomach with a leg up, you are sleeping in the “Crime Scene Position.”
The Crime Scene Position
The crime scene position is halfway between stomach and side sleeping. It looks like a crime scene because it is a crime scene. The one leg up twists your low back and puts pressure on your hips and pelvis. If you are a drummer and sitting for long periods of time, we all know that this could spell trouble. Sitting is hard enough without 8 hours of sleep also beating you up. Typically an arm will be over your head in the crime scene position. This puts significant strain on your shoulder, tightening your neck, shoulder, and upper back, which could lead to nerve and blood flow issues in your arm. Your head will still be turned, like with stomach sleeping. So sleeping in the crime scene position is equally bad for your neck. There is no ideal pillow for this position either.
Side Sleeping (fetal position)
Side sleeping can be ok. As a musician you need to think about which side you are sleeping on, and what that arm is needed for when playing. Is it your dominant arm that is against the mattress? What kind of symptoms do you feel in the arm that is down? Do your arms go numb at night? Does your neck hurt? Do you wake with tension in your neck? Do you sleep with a pillow between your legs?
Side sleeping requires a pillow that covers the distance between the mattress and the side of your head, in other words, the width of your “shoulder.” If while on your side, your head is straight and flat, you’re all set. If your head is tipped down or up because the pillow is not thick enough or too thick, you need to go shopping.
A pillow between your legs will help prevent hip, low back, and pelvis issues. Twisting of the low back during sleep creates asymmetries and tension that will affect your playing, regardless of the instrument.
Sleeping on Your Back
Sleeping on your back is the best position. Unless of course, you have had a significant injury or issue that prevents you from safely or comfortably sleeping on your back. If it’s an issue of comfort, you should seek help to make it more comfortable. If it’s a safety issue, like one related to traumatic injury or breathing, other actions may need to be taken before attempting back sleeping.
On your back, your head and neck are in a neutral position. Your arms may rest comfortably by your sides. This reduces stress on your wrists, elbows, and shoulders. With a contour pillow, you may be helping your posture, which research has implied could positively impact the speed of your playing.
Sleeping on Buses and Planes
Sleeping on planes and buses is not an issue during the days of COVID-19 restrictions. If you know anything about the typical bus bunks, you know they are small, narrow, and worn. Sleeping in a sardine can is sometimes the best we can get, but the same rules apply, try to stay on your back. If you don’t fit in the bunk, try to negotiate alternatives. The last thing anyone wants is a “sleep injury” that ruins a gig(s).
When sleeping on our sides, we often curl our wrists and hands up to our chest. This flexion of the wrist over long periods of time makes us more vulnerable to carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as other aches, pains, numbing, tingling, and sensations of weakness in the hands, wrists, and forearms. Much of this may be avoided by wearing rigid wrist braces while sleeping. Keeping your wrists in a neutral position while sleeping will help prevent limitations while playing, and will reinforce healing that has already taken place.
Looking down at your instrument
If you spend much of your time playing looking down at your instrument, your neck is under a great deal of strain. If you work at a computer during the day, you are straining your neck. If you look down at your kids or pets, you are straining your neck. If you add a bad sleep position to all of these other factors and more, you should also be preparing yourself for neck, head, and shoulder pain in the future. It’s not just the instrument, it’s the stress from the rest of your life too. All of these factors, like practice, contribute to the cumulative effect of the stress.
Dr. Lou Jacobs is a chiropractor – acupuncturist in Portland, Maine who has been specializing in musician injuries and crew injuries for 20 years. Dr. Lou is available for telemedicine consultations for music-related injuries and health problems. Among those he has permission to mention, Dr. Lou has worked with Mumford & Sons, The Pixies, Steve Vai, Tommy Emmanuel, Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, Blackberry Smoke, Gogol Bordello, Trey Anastasio, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. PHOTOS