Throughout your day, gravity pushes on your whole body, constantly. You actively resist gravity all day long by consciously walking upright, standing straight and holding your head up. Gravity works against you when you sleep, too, aggressively trying to crumple you up into a ball. The difference is, while sleeping, you cannot actively resist it. Gravity is why it’s so easy to incur sleep injuries. The good news is, you can resist the negative effects of gravity in a passive way by making sure you position your body in an optimal sleep position.
The Floating Arms Trick
When you were a kid did you ever try the Floating Arms Trick on the playground? The Floating Arms Trick demonstrates Kohnstamm’s Phenomenon. In 1915 a German scientist named Oskar Kohnstamm found that muscles would continue to involuntarily contract for a moment after being voluntarily contracted for a sustained period. Watch this video to see how it’s done.
Nerves are either turned on (excited) or turned off (inhibited). When you push against someone’s arms while they resist, or push your own arms against a wall or doorway for a minute, you’re turning on your nerves, which signal your muscles to resist. This is called neuroexcitation. Your brain is telling your muscles to work, work, work. When you stop resisting and relax, the neural pathway is still turned on for a moment and wants your muscles to keep resisting, so you feel muscles raise your arms involuntarily.
Gravity works against you while you sleep.
The Floating Arms Trick is an excellent demonstration of the effect of gravity on your body. During the day, you’re like that kid standing on a playground, resisting the force of his friends pushing down on his arms. All day long your nerves are excited, providing the resistance you need to walk upright on this planet.
But, when you sleep, you stop resisting gravity. Your brain shuts down those neural pathways completely, because you aren’t trying to walk upright or hold up your head. So, your body gives in to gravity by gently collapsing inward. Your wrists go slack and flop over. Your spine curls into a fetal position, or your hips flops outward and your forearms pronate (palms down). Your head even rolls about on your neck. Think about the damage this can do to your spine if you aren’t in a proper position!
Resist gravity while you sleep.
Get the proper pillow! It’s the perfect tool for passively resisting gravity while you sleep. If you can align your neck, the rest of your body will follow. I will take this one step further and also encourage you to get a body pillow. If you can wrap yourself around a body pillow, you prevent your body from curling all the way inward. Picture yourself sleeping on your back with your arms encircled around a pillow. Now mentally erase the pillow and observe where your arms are positioned: away from the body. Your wrists? In proper alignment with your arms. The body pillow acts as a speed bump against gravity, so that you still remained slightly opened up. That little bit of help can mean the difference between health and injury!