Sleeping With Back Pain

Back pain can make it hard to get through your day. However, getting a good night’s sleep is almost impossible when you’re suffering from back pain. But, you need quality sleep to stay healthy and productive ― and being well-rested is an essential component of your overall well-being.

Below you’ll find tips to reduce your back pain and get a better night’s sleep. You’ll also learn about what positions are best for certain types of back pain and what positions can worsen your back pain.

Sleeping Tips for Reducing Back Pain

Here are 12 sleeping tips you can try to reduce your back pain and sleep better:

1. Buy a Better Mattress

Your mattress should be:

  • Fully supportive
  • Well made
  • Comfortable

Firm mattresses are usually best, but some evidence points out medium to firm mattresses could be better for those with long-term lower back pain.

Your body size, shape and proportions can help you decide the amount of support you need. A softer mattress may be better suited for wide hips and a firmer one for slim hips to keep your spine aligned properly.

Softer mattresses provide less support even though they seem more comfortable. When you sink in the mattress too deep, it can cause your spine to come out of its natural alignment and your joints to twist. You can use a foam mattress topper on a spring mattress to provide additional support. Or, you can place a plywood board underneath your mattress to enhance firmness. Many individuals find a latex mattress an excellent option for back support.

Ideally, you should replace your mattress every 10 years, or according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

2. Add Support to Keep Your Knees Open

Place a pillow or cushion between your knees when sleeping. It will keep your knees apart, helping to ease pressure off your pelvis. Another great option is using support under your knees, particularly if you sleep on your back.

3. Sleep on a Couch or Against a Wall

If you seem to always roll on your back when trying to sleep on your side, you’ll need some support. Sleeping on the couch can offer you this support. Or, if you don’t want to sleep on the couch, place your bed up against a wall and sleep on the side where the wall is. The wall will keep you from rolling over on your back.

4. Exercise Your Core

Improve sleep quality by getting enough physical activity on a regular basis. Perform targeted exercises for strengthening your core. Your core is the muscles in your:

  • Lower back
  • Abdomen
  • Pelvis
  • Hips

Exercising your core can help ease your back pain so you can sleep better. Building flexibility and strength in these muscles can help lower the risk of you straining your back and struggling with muscle spasms throughout the night.

Holding your body in a plank position can help tighten your core muscles as well. You perform this by placing your hands underneath your shoulders and your legs straight out. Begin by holding this pose for around 30 seconds and try maintaining proper alignment, with your abdominal muscles engaged and body in a straight line.

5. Do Yoga Before Bed

Research has found intensive stretching or yoga helps reduce lower back pain. It also helps reduce stress, thereby making you sleep better.

Speak with your doctor about the yoga poses that are safe for you to practice and those that won’t increase your back pain. When first starting out, try using yoga props like bolsters and blocks to add support so you can hold the poses more comfortably. You may want to take a few yoga classes to ensure you’re breathing and doing the poses correctly.

6. Loosen Your Back Muscles Before Bed

Stretch out the painful areas to help you release muscle tension. Apply heat therapy, such as using a heating pad, to the area to stretch and relieve your spine’s soft tissues. These two actions can help decrease your discomfort so you can sleep better.

7. Keep Your Room Warm While Sleeping

Raise the temperature in your room while you’re sleeping. Keeping the temperature down can reduce your circulation and make you feel too cold. Colder temperatures can cause you to stiffen and make it uncomfortable at night. They also make you prone to spasms because of the tightening of your muscles in response to the change in temperature.

8. Use Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques like mindful meditation have been found to decrease your perception of pain and could provide you with enough relief to help you fall asleep. Focused breathing, peaceful visualization and other relaxing bedtime rituals might also help keep your attention away from your back pain, creating a more comfortable sleeping environment.

9. Get out of Bed Carefully

Be extra careful when you’re getting in and out of your bed. Making quick, jerking motions or bending at your waist forward can cause you more pain in your back. So, take your time by rolling over onto one side and pushing your way up using your arms. Then, swing your legs out of your bed and slowly stand up. When it’s time to go to bed at night, reverse the movements.

10. Use a Body Pillow

Many side sleepers favor a body pillow since they can hug it to their chest, preventing awkward arm positions that can cause shoulder pain. Placing a body pillow between your knees will help keep your spine straight.

Body pillows are designed for back pain relief because they ensure you maintain proper alignment while you’re sleeping. They help you to relax and help you maintain proper muscle alignment. This allows you to stay still during the night by preventing constant movements that tend to wake people up.

11. Use a Neck Pillow

Many individuals sleep on fluffy pillows, but these don’t provide very much support. When you keep your cervical spine aligned, it reduces lower back pain later on in the night. By investing in a high-quality, supportive neck pillow, you can avoid lower back pain and neck pain and sleep in a more comfortable position during the night.

12. Bend Your Knees

If you tend to fall asleep on your back, place a pillow or two under your knees to keep them in a bent position. Keeping your knees bent helps tilt your pelvis back, reducing pressure from a front pelvic tilt.

The Best Sleeping Positions for Back Pain

Here are the best sleep positions for different types of back pain.

1. Sleeping With Lower Back Pain

Here are a few ideal positions for lower back pain:

Sleep on Your Back With Knee Support

The best sleeping position for lower back pain is sleeping on your back with your knees supported. Sleeping on your back distributes weight evenly of the full length of your body’s largest surface. Also, it helps minimize pressure points and keeps your neck, head and spine in good alignment.

Place a small pillow, like mentioned above, under your knees to provide extra support and help maintain your spine’s natural curve.

To sleep in this position, you should:

  • Lie flat on your back facing the ceiling.
  • Avoid twisting your head sideways.
  • Use a pillow to support your neck and head.
  • Place a small pillow underneath your knees.

For additional support, use extra pillows to fill in any other gaps between the mattress and your body. For example, you might want to place a pillow under your low back.

Sleep in a Fetal Position

Sleeping in a fetal position can help individuals with a herniated disc and provide relief throughout the night. This is because when you lie on your side and tuck your knees into your chest, it keeps your spine from bending and opens up your joints.

To sleep in this position, you should:

  • Get into your bed and roll on your side carefully.
  • Position your pillow to support your neck and head.
  • Bring your knees into your chest until your back is relatively straight.

Sleep on Your Side With a Pillow

Sleep on your side and place a pillow between your knees. While lying on your side is a comfortable and popular position to sleep in, it can pull your spine out of alignment, placing a strain on your lower back. It’s easy to correct this, however. Those who sleep on their side can just place a firm pillow between their knees. Doing this raises the upper leg, restoring the natural alignment of the pelvis, hips and spine.

2. Sleeping With Upper Back Pain

A couple of sleep positions ideal for upper back pain are:

Sleep on Your Back

Lying flat on your back with your shoulders and neck slightly elevated is the best sleeping position for upper back pain. You can do this by placing a pillow under your neck and shoulder area and a pillow under your knees to maintain your spine’s natural curve.

Sleep on Your Side

If you sleep on your side, curl your legs up slightly to your chest and place a pillow between your knees to maintain spine curve.

3. Sleeping With Sciatica

Do you want to know how to sleep with lower back pain and sciatica? With sciatica, there’s no “correct” sleep position. Some individuals find relief sleeping on their back while others prefer sleeping on their side. Try first to elevate your knees. If this doesn’t seem to work for you, roll over on your side. You might even want to switch between the two positions throughout the night.

Finding a comfortable sleep position with sciatica is a big challenge for many individuals. Here are a few positions that may help for sciatica back pain:

  1. Place a pillow between your legs to help align your pelvis, hips and spine better.
  2. If you’re a stomach sleeper, place a pillow under your abdomen. Doing this is especially helpful for people with degenerative disc disease.
  3. Sleep in a fetal position. You’re opening the area between your vertebrae which provides pressure relief when you sleep in this position.

4. Sleeping With Pulled Muscles

A pulled back muscle is a common cause of lower back pain. It occurs when you have a lower back muscle that’s torn or strained due to being overstretched. Pulled back muscle symptoms usually get better in a few days, but the pain can be intense, making it hard to fall asleep at night. Even worse, the longer you lie there in your bed, the more your body becomes deconditioned which worsens your symptoms.

No one sleeping position works for everyone with a pulled back muscle, but you can try sleeping on your side first to see if that works. When you sleep on your side, try to:

  1. Find a pillow for your head that holds your head between each shoulder midway. If the pillow is too thick or too thin, it can result in your neck bending at an uncomfortable angle.
  2. Place a thin pillow between your knees to support your spine’s natural curvature.

Sleeping Positions That Can Worsen Back Pain

While no sleeping position is ideal for everyone with back pain, you can experiment to see which works best for you. However, some sleeping positions add pressure on your:

  • Shoulders
  • Neck
  • Knees
  • Lower back
  • Hips

Here are some positions you’ll want to avoid because they’ve been shown to make back pain worse.

1. On Your Stomach

Avoid sleeping on your stomach if you have

  • Lower back pain
  • Sciatica pain
  • Upper back pain

The stomach is the most common offender. It flattens your spine’s natural curve, putting additional strain on the muscles of your back. Sleeping on your stomach also means you’re rotating your neck, and this can lead to pain in your neck and back pain between your shoulders.

With upper back pain, you’ll also want to avoid sleeping on your stomach. Again, stomach sleeping is the worst sleeping position no matter whether you have back pain or not because of the strain it adds to your back muscles, shoulders and neck. If you do tend to sleep on your stomach, place a pillow in the pelvis and lower abdomen area.

You should avoid sleeping on your stomach especially with sciatica. If you must sleep on your stomach, consider switching to a medium to firm mattress. These beds offer more support to your body and help keep your spine aligned.

2. In the Fetal Position

When trying to figure out how to sleep with a pulled back muscle, avoid the fetal position. Don’t sleep in a tight curled-up fetal position — keeping your body slightly elongated is better.

Contact International Spine Institute for Back Pain Relief

If you’ve been struggling with back pain and are finding it hard to sleep at night, visit us here at the International Spine Institute in our Baton Rouge office. If you’ve received a diagnosis on your MRI and are looking for a second opinion, we encourage you to upload your MRI for a free review.

Our doctor, board-certified and fellowship-trained orthopedic spine surgeon, Dr. Marco A. Rodriguez, MD, will meet with you, review your MRI scans and symptoms and discuss with you the least invasive treatment plans we offer to help you find relief from your back pain. Dr. Rodriguez treats a comprehensive array of degenerative spinal conditions, including low back pain, sciatica, herniated disc, spinal stenosis and more. He provides stem cell therapy for low back pain, in addition to least-invasive endoscopic spine procedures.

You can contact us to set up a virtual consultation where you can have an online, face-to-face video with Dr. Rodriguez. We support medical tourism patients who are interested in traveling for the least invasive surgical spine care outside their local city, state or country.

Schedule your free consultation today by calling 225-313-4700 or completing our website form.