A good night's sleep has more health benefits than we can count. However, back pain causes many people to have problems getting comfortable at night, leading to sleep deprivation and possibly the development of sleep disorders.
On the other hand, sleeping in the wrong position can worsen back pain. The way we sleep can cause our spine to become out of alignment and cause strain on muscles and joints, leading to increased pain.
Whether your back pain is causing issues sleeping at night or the way you sleep is causing more discomfort in your back, finding the right sleep position is critical for your sleep health and pain management.
What causes back pain?
Around 80% of adults experience back pain at some point in their life for different reasons.
Common causes for back pain that can negatively affect your sleep are:
Herniated or ruptured discs
Treating the cause can impact the level of pain you feel in your back or eliminate it. For example, if you are suffering from back pain due to constipation, adding fiber into your diet, laxatives, or even a prescription medication like Linzess can eliminate the issue and the pain.
Sleep positions for back pain
While there is no overall consensus on the perfect sleep position for back pain, certain positions have been shown to provide relief.
On your back with pillows under your knees
While only around 7% of people prefer to sleep on their backs, this position can alleviate pain in your back. Placing a supportive pillow under your knees makes this sleep position more comfortable for you while getting optimal relief from back pain.
Experts also recommend using a smaller pillow under your lower back for more support. Sleeping on your back with pillow support will keep the curve in your lower spine even.
You should avoid sleeping on your back if you are pregnant because this position can decrease blood circulation to your heart and baby.
On your back in a reclined position
You may notice it's easier for you to get comfortable and fall asleep in a reclining chair. That's because a reclined position can take the strain off your joints and spine, reducing the tension you feel in your back.
While it's not generally recommended to sleep in a chair long-term, there are ways to mimic the reclining effect in your bed. Adjustable mattresses allow you to raise and lower them so you can give your body more support by sleeping between a 40-70 degree angle. You can also use supportive or wedge pillows to prop your upper half and legs up.
On your side with a pillow between your knees
Placing a firm, flat pillow between your knees can help ease stress in your lower spine if you sleep on your side. As a result, your spinal nerves will have more room. Sleeping this way will also help line up your lower spine and hips while keeping the leg on top from creating pressure on your lower back and pelvis.
Placing a pillow under your head to elevate it slightly can align your shoulders as well, causing further relief from back pain.
Try to rotate what side you sleep on often, as continuously sleeping on the same side may cause muscle imbalance and pain. If you have sciatica, avoid sleeping on the affected side.
On your side with pillows under your waist
In addition to placing a pillow under the knees, side sleepers can also find relief from back pain by putting a lumbar support pillow under their waist as well. This is especially important if there is any space between your waist and your mattress.
The pillow support under your waist will help maintain alignment between your ribs and pelvis, as well as reduce strain on muscles.
On your stomach
Many experts, including the Sleep Foundation, advise against sleeping on your stomach if you suffer from back pain. However, there are ways to get relief if you can't break the habit.
Sleeping on your stomach puts stress on your neck and adds to lower back pain. However, placing a thin pillow under your neck with a more supportive pillow under your stomach and hips prevents sinking of the lower back and pulling the spine out of alignment.
More sleep tips for back pain
In addition to how we sleep, what we sleep on is also important for managing back pain. This includes having the right pillow and mattress for optimal sleep.
There's no one-size-fits-all mattress and pillow for back pain, so it comes down to personal preference. Some people prefer a firm mattress, whereas others like a softer option. And the same applies to pillows.
With so many options on the market, finding the right fit may require research and trial and error. Many mattress companies do offer a trial period. Online resources also provide reviews and suggestions for specific mattress brands and models based on the sleep position.
Back pain can bring several other issues that affect your life daily. Poor sleep and restless nights of tossing and turning don't have to be one of them. Sleeping correctly in a position can help reduce back pain without worrying about making it worse.
If your back pain is ongoing, new, or you show any usual signs or symptoms, it's always best to speak with your doctor. They can help you find a treatment plan that's best for you. At CareCard, we are passionate about helping make your prescription payments more affordable, saving members up to 85% on prescription drugs and medications. Learn how CareCard can help make your medication payments more manageable.