Sleeping With Lower Back Pain: The Complete Comfort Guide
The World Health Organization estimates that 60-70% of people will experience lower back pain in their lifetimes. If you're among them, you know that sleeping with lower back pain can be a challenge. With the right information and bedding, however, it is possible to achieve proper back support for sleeping.
Back support during sleep relies on your position and bedding. Experts recommend sleeping on your back with a firm mattress, a slim, firm pillow under your neck, and a pillow under the knees and lower back. Side and stomach sleepers can also use modifications and supportive bedding to promote sleep.
The Relationship between Sleep and Lower Back Pain
Sleeping with lower back pain can be difficult. Sleeping improperly with lower back pain can also make your pain worse.
The causes of lower back pain can be notoriously difficult to diagnose. However, sleeping positions that put a strain on your back are often among the contributing or aggravating factors. Getting too little sleep can also impede your body’s natural ability to fight inflammation and repair itself.
Thus, finding a supportive sleeping position is important to living with—and even helping to address—lower back pain.
The Best Sleeping Positions for Lower Back Pain
The best sleeping positions for lower back pain remove the strain from your back. They also maintain the proper alignment between your head, shoulders, hips, and knees.
The Mayo Clinic offers suggestions for side, back, and stomach sleepers who suffer from lower back pain.
Sleeping on Your Back
If you naturally prefer to sleep on your back, you are already sleeping in one of the best positions for lower back pain.
With a few modifications, you can relieve strain on your back even further.
While laying on your back, put a pillow beneath your knees. Doing so will help maintain the normal curvature of your lower spine. Individuals who suffer from sciatica may also find relief by elevating their feet.
With or without your feet elevated, you can further support your lower back by placing a small rolled towel under the small of your back.
Use an additional pillow to comfortably support your neck. Also try to keep your head and neck straight.
Some people find sleeping on their backs is uncomfortable or can cause them to snore. If you encounter those problems, you can make modifications in other sleeping positions to support your back.
Sleeping on Your Side
With the right supports, sleeping on your side can also relieve lower back pain. The most common side-sleeping recommendations use pillows to reduce strain and maintain proper alignment.
While laying on your side, pull your knees up slightly toward your chest. Also place a firm pillow between your knees to stabilize the alignment of your spine. Alternatively, you can use a body pillow to provide this support.
Use an additional pillow to comfortably support your neck.
While sleeping on your side, you may feel strain or notice gaps between your body and the mattress. Consider supporting those areas with an additional pillow or small rolled towel. The waist is a common area that can benefit from this support.
Side sleepers can also experiment with sleeping in the fetal position. While laying on your side, simply curl up, tucking your knees into your chest.
This position can prevent your spine from bending uncomfortably during the night. It may also help create space in your joints and improve your mobility. For these reasons, the fetal position may be the best sleeping position for lower back pain caused by a herniated disc.
Sleeping on Your Stomach
Sleeping on your stomach puts the greatest strain on your lower back. If you prefer to sleep on your stomach, it may be worth trying to adjust to another sleeping position.
If you need to sleep on your stomach, though, you can make modifications to support your lower back. First, you can support your lower back by putting a flat pillow beneath your pelvis and lower abdomen.
If you can, try sleeping without a pillow under your neck, as this pillow can actually increase strain on your lower back.
Although sleeping on your stomach is generally the worst sleeping position, it may be helpful for individuals struggling with a herniated disc or degenerative disc disease.
Another modification for stomach sleepers addresses one of the biggest problems the position poses for spinal alignment. Most stomach sleepers turn their heads to the side, which twists the spine. Of course, doing so seems necessary to maintain proper breathing. Again, though, modifications can help.
Try putting a small, firm pillow or rolled towel beneath your forehead. This pillow can allow you to maintain proper breathing while keeping your head and neck straight. Alternatively, a firm neck or travel pillow can raise your face and create space for breathing.
Sleeping in a Recliner or Adjustable Bed
Perhaps you’ve tried each of these positions and still can’t get relief. In these cases, it may be worth trying to sleep in a reclining chair that supports your body at an angle.
Adjustable beds similarly allow you to sleep on your back at a slight angle. Sleep and back experts generally recommend setting the bed at a 30- to 45-degree angle for optimum support. This slight incline can reduce spinal compression and back pain.
If you suffer from isthmic spondylolisthesis, osteoarthritis, or spinal stenosis, this option may be worth investigating.
Choosing Bedding for Lower Back Pain
Finding the right position is an important step toward a good night’s sleep. However, it’s also important to choose the best mattress and pillow for lower back pain when sleeping.
Pillows that support your head and neck should be firm enough to achieve that purpose. That means that they should generally maintain their shape.
If you sleep on a pillow that is too soft, including one that is worn out, you are putting undue strain on your back. You should replace your pillow at least once every 12-18 months.
Back sleepers should look for a firm but flat pillow to support their neck.
Once again, stomach sleepers achieve the best results when sleeping without a pillow. If this is not possible, a flat pillow is best. A flat pillow can also provide the required support beneath your pelvis and lower abdomen.
If you sleep on your side, opting for a thicker pillow may be best. A thicker pillow can provide the support your head and neck need to maintain proper alignment with the spine. Choose one that comfortably fills the gap between the mattress and your neck.
Gussetted pillows have side panels that make them appear more rectangular than traditional pillows. They can provide the thickness side sleepers need for optimal comfort and support.
Choosing a Mattress
Sleep and back experts generally recommend firm mattresses. Like firm pillows, a firm mattress provides your body with the support it needs.
However, a study published in The Lancet suggests that medium-firm mattresses may actually be a better choice for individuals with lower back pain.
Importantly, you should also take your body type into consideration when choosing a mattress. If you have wider hips, for example, you may be more comfortable with a slightly softer mattress. If you have narrower hips, a firm mattress is the way to go.
In general, soft mattresses are not recommended for any body type. Soft mattresses let your body sink too deeply. While this can feel comfortable at the time, it fails to support your body. In this way, it puts strain on your back and joints.
If you find that your mattress is too soft and simply cannot purchase a new one, you may find some additional support by placing a plywood board beneath the mattress.
Remember, however, that mattresses have limited lifespans too. Experts recommend replacing your mattress every 7-10 years to ensure proper support.
Additional Considerations and Questions
Knowing how to relieve lower back pain with the right position and bedding is important. However, you may wonder if you can take other steps to support your back during sleep. The following frequently asked questions can help you avoid mistakes, reduce your pain, and optimize your sleep experience.
What Is the Best Way to Get In and Out of Bed?
At all times, you can protect your back by moving carefully. Avoid making quick or jerky movements or bending excessively at the waist. Also try to avoid putting strain on your back.
Take your time when getting in and out of bed. Sit down on the side of the bed with both feet on the floor. Slowly lower yourself sideways onto your bottom elbow while bracing yourself with your top hand.
As you lift your feet, gently draw in your abdomen to brace your back. Also keep your shoulders and hips aligned, and avoid twisting your spine.
If you intend to sleep on your back, keep your knees bent and use your arms to brace yourself as you gently roll over.
In the morning, take your time as you reverse these movements.
Should I Wear a Back Brace to Bed?
A 2018 review of the literature on back braces suggests promising results—and no significant negative effects—for patients with lower back pain.
Braces can relieve your spine of some of the responsibility for keeping your body in alignment. Relieving your body of this responsibility by outsourcing it to a brace can give your body time to rest and heal.
Braces can also prevent you from moving in ways that might cause further damage. Again, this protection allows your body to heal.
If your brace fits properly and you are comfortable in it, you can continue to enjoy these benefits while sleeping.
An orthopedic lumbar support belt provides one option. This belt offers support, compression, and protection against further injury.
Lumbar support braces that include self-heating magnets offer these benefits. However, they also add the soothing powers of heat. This can calm your muscles, reducing the likelihood of painful muscle spasms.
One of the most versatile and supportive braces is the lumbar support belt. Among a host of other conditions, this belt can help individuals suffering from back pain caused by:
- Osteoporosis of the lower spine
- Lumbar fracture
- Herniated disc
Whatever brace you chose, it's important to select the right size and adjust its fit properly. Bracing your back in the wrong position can cause more harm than good.
Also remember to remove your brace or belt at least for short periods of time to allow your skin to breathe.
How Do You Decompress a Spine While Sleeping?
Decompression refers to efforts to reduce pressure on your spinal discs. Using traction to decompress your spine can relieve lower back pain, especially when it results from:
- Degenerative disc diseases
- Pinched nerves
When inflated, decompression back belts apply this traction. In doing so, they relieve pressure from your spine, gently stretch your back, and can provide pain relief.
Should I Use a Heating Pad While I Sleep?
Self-heating magnets in some back braces provide one option for individuals who seek to soothe their pain with heat. Heating pads and heated mattress pads are also available.
Besides soothing your pain, heat can improve circulation to an injured area. This, in turn, promotes healing. Using heat too soon in the healing process can be detrimental, though. In the days immediately following an injury, cold therapy is best. After 24-48 hours, however, you can usually begin to introduce heat. Always follow your doctor's advice to promote healing and prevent further damage.
If you use an external heat source, keep in mind that moist heat is best to relieve back pain and promote mobility. Also remember to protect your skin by placing a towel between it and the heat source.
Finally, remember that sleeping with an electric heating pad can be dangerous, especially if it doesn't include a timer and automatic shutoff. However, using a heating pad immediately before you go to sleep can relax your muscles and allow you to sleep better.
Can I Do Anything Else While I'm Awake to Help Me Sleep Better with Lower Back Pain?
The benefits of physical activity on sleep and overall health are well-documented. Exercising appropriately is especially important to promote healing and reduce lower back pain. Always check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.
With your doctor's guidance, you may find that gentle yoga stretches before bed may help you relax your muscles and relieve pain. Engaging in daily exercises to strengthen your core can also help you sleep better at night. A strong core can protect your spine and reduce the likelihood of muscle spasms.
Sleeping with Lower Back Pain: Make the Dream a Reality
Sleeping with lower back pain can be difficult. With the right positions, bedding, and information, however, it is possible.
Experts recommend sleeping on your back with a firm mattress and pillows for support. However, side and stomach sleepers can introduce modifications to make those positions more comfortable and supportive as well.
Braces, belts, and heat can complement a supportive mattress and pillow. Additionally, engaging in daily stretching and strengthening can promote healing and mobility.
As you implement these tips, count on the experts at PowerRebound to help. Contact us with your questions today.