How Posture Affects Sleep Quality in Adults and Children

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If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, you’ve probably tried cutting down on your caffeine consumption, getting more exercise and reducing your light exposure when it’s getting close to bedtime. What you may not know is that your daytime posture—how you hold your body during your waking hours—could be to blame for your sleep problems. Keep reading to learn more about how posture affects sleep and what you can do during the day to get more rest at night.

Lack of Sleep and Poor Posture: A Vicious Cycle

Postural control refers to your body’s ability to maintain an upright posture. Maintaining this type of control requires your brain, eyes and nerves to work with your vestibular system to regulate sensory information, which helps you maintain your balance when you walk, run, stand still and move from side to side. The vestibular system consists of several structures in the inner ear, all of which are involved in sensing information about motion and body position and reporting back to the parts of the brain responsible for balance and posture. Poor sleep has the potential to interrupt this delicate system, making it difficult to maintain a normal posture when you’re awake. The more your sleep quality declines, the harder it is to maintain postural control during your waking hours.

How Posture Affects Sleep in Adults

Researchers aren’t sure exactly how posture affects sleep quality in adults, but they know daytime posture, sleep quality, and other health measures are connected somehow. In a 2020 article published in the journal Sleep Health, a research team led by Mitch J. Duncan reported that poor sleepers who were inactive during the day had the highest probability of poor sleep quality and the shortest sleep duration.

Duncan and his colleagues determined how often the participants engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity each week and how much time they spent sitting at work and home. They found that the inactive poor sleepers spent eight or more hours per day sitting, didn’t always get a sufficient amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity and had irregular sleep/wake schedules, highlighting the relationship between sitting too much and not getting enough high-quality sleep.

Posture and Sleep in Children

Posture also affects sleep quality in children and adolescents. Some children, particularly those with Down syndrome, fall asleep in unique positions. These positions may increase the risk for sleep apnea and make it difficult for a child to get enough sleep each night. Some of the symptoms and signs of sleep apnea include loud snoring, pauses in breathing, daytime fatigue, headaches and difficulty concentrating during the day. 

Activity levels and sleep quality go hand in hand for children of all ages. Canadian researchers conducted a study to examine the effects of physical activity, sedentary behavior and sleep on important pediatric health measures. They assessed each participant’s physical fitness, behavioral conduct, quality of life and other key indicators. The group with the highest amount of physical activity and lowest levels of sedentary behavior had better sleep quality, were less likely to be overweight or obese and had better cardiometabolic health than children in other groups, demonstrating yet another connection between daytime posture and sleep quality.

Tips for Improving Your Posture

Now that you understand the connection between good posture and better sleep quality, talk to your doctor about improving your posture. The tips below can help, but be sure to discuss them with your doctor first to ensure it’s safe for you to increase your physical activity or change the way you’ve been sitting and standing.

General Tips for Improving Posture

  • Think about your posture as you carry out your normal activities. If you notice yourself slouching while watching TV, adjust your posture immediately. When you’re out walking, make sure your head remains above your shoulders.
  • If you have a few pounds to lose, work with a doctor, dietitian or certified fitness professional to determine what dietary changes and physical activities are likely to help you shed excess weight. Losing these extra pounds can help you get more sleep, reduce the amount of snoring you do each night and make it easier to maintain good posture during your waking hours.
  • Stay as active as possible. If you get bored walking around the neighborhood, try an activity like dance or yoga. 
  • Make sure your desk and other work surfaces are the right height. If you’re tall, you don’t want to slouch or bend over to work at your computer; if you’re shorter than average, you shouldn’t have to tilt your head upward. Invest in a standing desk to reduce the amount of time you spend sitting and take some of the strain off your lower body.

Improving Posture if You’re Somewhat Sedentary

If you spend a lot of time sitting, you may have frequent backaches, stiff muscles and other physical problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle. It’s not practical to quit your job so that you don’t have to sit as much, but there are a few things you can do to improve your posture while sitting.

  • Take as many breaks as possible. During your break, get up and walk around the room. If you work in an office building, try walking up and down a flight of stairs or taking a few laps around the building.
  • Stretch your muscles several times per day.
  • Plant your feet firmly on the ground instead of crossing your legs.
  • If your feet don’t reach the floor on their own, use a footstool.
  • Use a lumbar support cushion or a pillow to support your back.
  • Keep your thighs parallel to the floor.
  • Avoid bunching up your shoulders or pulling them backward.
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