Southwest Florida Neurosurgical Associates


The Connection Between Sleep and Back Pain

In June 2015, we published a post that described how standing and sitting posture relate to back pain. We also outlined how to improve your posture and strengthen your core so you do not experience further discomfort.

However, even though you might have perfect posture while conscious, you may still have back and neck pain because of your sleeping position. When you sleep, you spend around eight hours in the same position. If you have improper posture during those eight hours, your back muscles may strain as a result.

Below, we’ll tell you how to maintain proper posture as you sleep so you do not have to worry about aches or soreness in the future.


The Best Sleeping Positions for Back Pain Relief

Most healthcare professionals would say that if you sleep on your back, you keep it in proper alignment, so it represents the best possible position. However, you can sleep in other positions without straining your spine.


How to Sleep on Your Side

Side sleepers benefit from more open airways, so this position prevents snoring and helps people who may have sleep apnea. However, it also puts your back into unnatural positions depending on how you place your legs. If you pull your legs too close to your chest, your back curves out too much. If you keep your legs straight, then your spine curves in too far.

Prevent discomfort by bending your legs at a 45-degree angle and placing a pillow between them. Do not turn your chest at all as you sleep either.


How to Sleep on Your Stomach

Most experts say that stomach sleeping represents the worst possible position. It misaligns your spine and hips. However, if you cannot sleep in any other position, mitigate the strain on your back by placing a pillow under your hips and lower stomach. Try to sleep without a pillow under your head.


How to Sleep on Your Back

Sometimes you will experience strain even if you lie on your back. Put a pillow under your knees to preserve your spine’s curvature. Place a small pillow under your lower back if you need more support. Cradle your head and neck with an additional pillow.

The Best Mattresses and Pillows for Back Pain Relief

Personal preference matters more than any other factor when you choose mattresses and pillows. If you can sleep comfortably on a stiff mattress, then do so. If your back hurts when you sleep on something softer, then make sure you purchase firmer options from now on.

However, as a general rule of thumb, find mattresses that feel slightly firm, but still have some give to them, especially if you sleep on your back. Mattresses with these characteristics will cushion your body, but still allow your spine to maintain the same curve it has while you stand.

Side sleepers may do better with softer mattresses, as their shoulders or hips might not have the same width, so a stiff mattress could bend their spines too much. Stomach sleepers may need something firmer so their heads, necks, and chest have more support.

Test different mattresses to see how they feel on your back. Some companies may even let you rent the mattress for a few days to test its long-term effects.

Additionally, do not forget to shop for better pillows. Many patients find that contoured pillows support their heads best. Others find that thinner or fewer pillows eliminate the discomfort in their upper backs. But just as you will have to test mattresses before you find one that eliminates your pain, you will have to test pillows too.

Just make sure your pillow doesn’t make your neck bend too much—it should stay in the same position it has when you stand.


Additional Tips and Suggestions

If you cannot afford a new mattress right now, experiment with different options, like mattress toppers, to see if extra softness eases your pain. Or, if you have an old, sagging bed, put plywood between the mattress and the box springs for additional support. You can also put your mattress on the floor.  

However, if none of the tips on this page help you, the problem may lie with how you wake up rather than how you sleep. Do you leap or jerk in and out of bed? If so, you may injure your spine in the process. Move slowly, and transition to a sitting position before you immediately get up or lie down. Use your hands for balance.

If you still experience back pain, you may have an underlying condition. Meet with your chiropractor or rehabilitation professional for an evaluation. He or she can tell you if your pain results from posture or something else, like a herniated disc, osteoarthritis, or spinal stenosis.

To learn more about managing or treating back pain, browse the rest of our blog. 

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