» Blog
» The best way to sleep with lower back pain
The best way to sleep with lower back pain

The best way to sleep with lower back pain

The best way to sleep with lower back pain

Your back is aching like crazy, and all you can think about is how nice it will be to lay down on your comfy mattress and let it rest.  Like many other aspects of your health, getting a good night’s sleep is important in keeping your spine and back healthy and pain free.  However, certain positions and sleeping habits can actually exacerbate the problem, and you’ll end up waking up with even worse pain.

Here are a few tips on sleeping tight when managing lower back pain.

What causes lower back pain?

One of the most common causes of lower back pain is a pulled back muscle (or multiple muscles).  This occurs when overworked or overstretched muscle fibers get strained or torn.  Often, this kind of injury results from strenuous physical labor, bad posture, awkward sleeping positions, and other lifestyle habits.  A herniated disc, where the tough, flexible structure between two vertebrae slips out, is a less common but much more severe condition which can cause a significant amount of pain in the lower back.

The optimal sleeping position

The best position to sleep in is one that allows a natural curve to the spine and doesn’t put any excess pressure on your hips or knees.  Keeping your head, shoulders, and hips properly aligned is key here.  Here are some suggestions for maintaining a good sleeping position:

  • Lie on your back.

    A supine position will allow your spine to curve naturally, provides support along the length of your spine, and doesn’t put pressure on your joints.  Placing a small pillow under your knees or filling in any gaps between your body and the mattress with pillows can provide extra support.  Some people find this position less comfortable than others, however.  Other people tend to avoid sleeping on their back as it causes them to snore.  Sleeping on your back in a reclined position, such as on a bed that allows an adjustable angle, may be more comfortable.

  • Lie on your side with a pillow between your knees.

    Many people find lying on their side much more comfortable than on their back.  This can pull your spine out of alignment, however, and cause extra strain on your lower back.  This is easily corrected by placing a pillow in between your knees, which raises your upper leg and restores the normal alignment of the spine.  The pillow also keeps your upper leg from pressing too hard into your lower knee.  Switch sides periodically to avoid developing an imbalance.

  • Fetal position.

    Sleeping on your side with your back curled inward and your knees tucked into your chest can help relieve pain from a herniated disc.  This is because the fetal position reduces the swayed curve of the lower back and opens the joints in between the vertebrae.  Like other side-sleeping positions, it is good to switch sides from time to time so your body structure stays balanced.

  • On your stomach (with adjustments).

    Lying on your stomach is typically considered the least healthy position for sleeping.  The reason for this is because the spine is not supported well, and the head is usually turned to the side, creating a twist in the spine.  However, some people find this to be the most comfortable sleeping position.  If you wish to sleep on your stomach, place a pillow under your abdomen and hips to raise your midsection and allow better alignment of the spine.  You can also try lying face-down with your forehead propped against a small, firm pillow to allow you to breath.  Keeping your head down and not turned to the side reduces strain along the spine.  If sleeping face-down is not possible, try using a flat pillow, or none at all.


A good support structure

Is your bed itself giving you the support you need?  The wrong mattress or pillows could be contributing to your lower back troubles!

  • Find the right mattress
    • A sagging mattress will not provide adequate support for your spine
    • Doctors recommend firm mattresses for spinal health, but don’t choose a mattress that is too firm for you to sleep soundly
    • More expensive is not necessarily better- each person has different comfort and support needs, so try lying on mattresses at the store for a few minutes to find one that best suits you.

  • Find the right pillow

    • A pillow should help maintain the natural curvature of the neck and spine
    • People who sleep on their back may benefit from a thinner pillow than those who sleep on their side, so their head is not raised too far forward
    • Pillows should be changed every 12-18 months

In general, making sure you keep your spine in its natural position with ample support will let your back rest and heal, and prevent further lower back pain from problems with your sleep style.

If your back pain persists, you may benefit from seeing one of the experts at Blue Hills Sport & Spine Rehabilitation. We can help you figure out the reason for your pain and create a customized program to get you on the road to feeling and sleeping better.