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Paleo sleeping (critical analysis for a laugh)

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

Could “paleo sleeping” help aches and pains? This short, bizarre old paper in the British Medical Journal offers some interesting raw data about “instinctive” sleeping postures in primates. Unfortunately, the author’s interpretation is so grandiose and silly that I decided to devote a post to rolling my eyes at it.

You probably do not know that nature has provided an automatic manipulator to correct most spinal and peripheral joint lesions in primates. In common with millions of other so called civilised people you suffer unnecessarily from musculoskeletal problems and are discouraged about how to treat the exponential rise in low back pain throughout the developed world.

That’s mighty big talk! All you have to do is sleep on the ground, and all your body pain will be solved! Sheesh. I think there are some benefits to roughing it, but it’s no panacea.

The whole thing is a classic example of wishful thinking based on romanticizing “primitive” and “natural” lifestyles. Specifically, I think the premise that primitive people have fewer musculoskeletal complaints at all — let alone that it’s due to sleeping postures — is undoubtedly the product of confirmation bias and not remotely reliable. It could be true, but it probably isn’t. It’s much more likely that it’s just what western observers see because it’s what they want to believe.

And, oh dear, way too many references for “correcting” joints! What does that even mean? The absurdity peaked for me with this statement:

The Achilles tendon of the leading foot can be inserted in the gap between the big toe and the first lesser toe to help correct a bunion.

What utter bollocks! This is simplistic hubris about biomechanics at its most absurd. For a more rational approach to the topic of sleeping position, see 6 Main Causes of Morning Back Pain.