Author: Jeffrey A. Sklar
DC Medical Director of Chiropractor Services
Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Why is getting a good night's sleep so important to our overall well-being?
To consider the impact of high-quality
sleep on the brain, we can use the popular
analogy of the brain as a living computer.
Using this model we can note that our
brains need quiet time in the same way
a computer needs to be powered down.
But whereas computers become inactive
when they “sleep,” the human brain and
body continue to carry out important
Sleep is an opportunity to hit a reset
button. In today’s high-tech world of
screens and communication devices,
people are bombarded with information
overload. Sleep allows for information
from the day to be sorted and processed.
It allows for memories to be consolidated
and for effective functioning and learning
to take place during waking hours. In
looking at emotional well-being, a good
night’s sleep has been shown to reduce
irritability, anxiety, and depression,
whereas sleep deprivation invites these
uncomfortable feelings. Finally, lack
of sleep has a negative impact on the
immune system, potentially making one
susceptible to mild conditions such as
cold viruses, which in turn can create
greater challenges in recovering from
Why is it important to consider posture during sleep?
During the day our bodies do a great job
fighting gravity, and—like our brains—
our muscles and joints need a break at
night. Posture awareness during sleep
helps ensure this needed rest for our
bodies and helps us avoid aches and pains
during the day.
Just as an ergonomic approach during
the workday helps minimize physical
effort and discomfort and maximize
energy, focusing on ergonomics during
the six to eight hours we spend sleeping
helps us get the greatest benefit from that
period of rest. Allowing for maximum
support and relaxation of muscles and
joints during sleeping hours helps the
vascular, immune, digestive, and nervous
systems optimally recharge.
Is there an ideal posture to assume while sleeping?
The spine has natural curves that need
to be supported and maintained during
sleep as well as during waking hours.
There are a couple of sleeping positions
that reinforce the stability of these curves.
The optimal position for maintaining
spinal curves is lying supine—on your
back. A pillow should be placed under
the knees so that they are bent 25 to 35
degrees. A contoured cervical or neck
pillow can be used for the head and the
neck. If snoring or apnea makes sleeping
on the back impossible, side sleeping
is recommended. The contour pillow
can still be used in this position, with a
regular down or foam pillow between
the knees. These sleeping postures with
pillow support can profoundly improve
sleep and thereby reduce neck and low
Are there certain mattresses or pillows that will help me maintain good posture while I sleep?
Contour pillows designed to support
the neck provide good support for the
cervical curve and may slow degenerative
changes in the joints of that part of the
spine. These pillows are often made from
memory foam, which can provide a great
surface to rest the head. It should be
noted, however, that there are different
grades of memory foam; pillow prices
can range from $25 to $125. A lower-cost
memory-foam pillow may not be optimal
quality. At the other end of the spectrum,
a high-priced pillow may be top-grade
foam but uncomfortable for sleeping. For
these reasons seeking a moderately priced
pillow that offers support and comfort is
likely the best choice.
It is a bit trickier to recommend a
specific type of mattress, which is an
expensive, long-term investment. While
moderate firmness is again a general
rule of thumb, keep in mind that every
mattress is different—there are beds
that are part memory foam, entirely
memory foam, latex, different foam
layers atop traditional box springs,
and air mattresses. The best approach
is consumer research. Test various
mattresses, review your choices
with consumer advocacy groups or
publications, and ask friends for
recommendations. All consumers
should ensure that their purchase is
backed by a money-back guarantee
that allows them to test the mattress at
Are there steps I could take during the day to ensure that I get a good night's sleep?
With all the electronic stimulation we
are bombarded with throughout each
day, combined with caffeinated drinks,
sugary snacks, and stressful demands
from work and family, there seems
to be an arsenal of foes waging war
against a good night’s sleep. Some of
these things cannot be avoided, but
changes to daily activities can facilitate
a more restful night.
First, try to plan for eight hours of
sleep and set a goal for a consistent
bedtime. If it is 10 p.m., power down
all screens by 9 p.m. Spend the next
hour winding down: get ready for bed
and engage in quiet, mindful activities
like reading, doing a crossword, or
Here are some other steps you can
take to help ensure high-quality sleep:
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
- Engage in cardio exercise during the
day or early evening.
- Do not eat after 8 p.m.
- Avoid sugary foods.
- Try gentle stretching and deepbreathing
techniques to help settle
the body for a night of continuous
and peaceful sleep.
Finally, consider seeing a chiropractor
for a spinal evaluation. Sometimes a few
simple treatments can lead to countless
hours of beauty rest.
Jeffrey A. Sklar, DC, has been practicing
chiropractic and rehabilitative physical therapy
for more than 15 years. He earned a doctor
of chiropractic degree from Palmer College
of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa, and a
bachelor’s degree from Pennsylvania State
University. Dr. Sklar has extensive training
and clinical experience in treating patients
with neuromuscular and skeletal conditions
as well as more-complicated conditions,
such as cancer. He practices Palmer Package,
Flexion Distraction, Activator Technique, and
Impulse and Sacro-Occipital Technique. Dr.
Sklar is a board member of the Pennsylvania
Chiropractic Association Philadelphia District
and the alternate Pennsylvania delegate for
the American Chiropractic Association. He
is also a frequent presenter at chiropractic
conventions and national webinars on the
topic of chiropractic care for cancer patients.
In addition to his professional experience in
oncology, Dr. Sklar has witnessed the struggle
and the success of cancer survivors in his
personal life. His mother and brother are both
cancer survivors. His stepmother is a threetime
survivor and also the former co-chair of
the Komen Race for the Cure in Philadelphia.