Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How You Can Hurt Yourself in Bed

A mysterious ache crept into my neck and head as I slept. The pain lasted three days and nights, travelled down my arm, and impaired my right hand. How could something as innocuous as sleep summon a horrible headache and weak wrist? Or was another bedtime activity the cause?

Upon reflection, I realize that Paul Theroux is to blame. I’ve been reading Ghost Train to the Eastern Star each night, lying on my back with an extra pillow propped under my head and one under my knees. The compelling story and mellifluous writing have kept me up late many nights in a position that strained my upper spine. (I realize that the extra pillow is really to blame, not Theroux.)

Injuries are quite common when we get lost in our head (or in a book or watching TV), only peripherally aware of our bodies. The answer is to use the best possible ergonomics when involved in risky activities like reading in bed or working at a computer. I’ve piled up more pillows to create a back rest so I now read more upright. It also keeps me from reading for too long.

Pillows can cause neck pain when we’re fast asleep, too. A pillow that is too tall overstretches muscles and ligaments. A pillow that is too flat causes the muscles on the up-side of the neck to contract for hours. The answer is to adjust the pillow height to match your neck, and the sleeping on your right side might require a different pillow than sleeping on your left or on your back. My pillow has a different height on each side. The hard part is remembering to turn it when I roll over at night.

If you wake up with a headache or neck pain, evaluate your pillows and bedtime activities. A little investigation will help you troubleshoot the problem. Hopefully the solution will occur to you a little faster than it did to me.

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